Among former Kentucky student-athletes, there are many Wildcats with better known names than Scott Downs. However, there are far fewer better at what they do than the 11-year MLB veteran.
Downs, 36, has cemented himself among the best left-handed relievers in baseball, posting an ERA of 3.09 or better in each of the past five seasons. In 2011, he had the best year of his career, winning six games with a miniscule 1.34 ERA out of the bullpen for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Downs, an All-SEC performer at UK in 1997, has once again been impressive in 2012, allowing just five hits and zero runs in his first nine appearances. Downs contended with an ankle injury earlier this month, but is now healthy and for the first time in his career, has been named the closer for the Angels in place of Jordan Walden.
In his first opportunity after winning the job, Downs tossed a scoreless ninth inning to salt away a 2-1 victory against Cleveland. Here's video of the final pitch:
As a heads up, expect to see just a little less of the everyday content you're used to seeing on the blog over the next couple weeks. I am currently working on a side project that will take up a chunk of my time, but things will still be pretty close to normal around here thanks to the help of Ryan Suckow.
Anyway, here are a couple noteworthy items for a warm Monday:
-In the wake of Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan being selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, a handful of other former Wildcats have also agreed to terms with NFL teams. Here they are:
Anthony Mosley - San Francisco 49ers
Matt Roark - New England Patriots
Ronnie Sneed - Detroit Lions
Ryan Tydlacka - Philadelphia Eagles
-The Kentucky baseball team is coming off its roughest week of the season having lost three of four games to Louisville and Vanderbilt, but the Wildcats remain highly ranked in spite of dropping their first weekend series of the year. UK is No. 3 according to Baseball America and No. 6 in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches' Poll. The Cats will face No. 7/5 Florida beginning on Thursday with the first game being televised on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. ET.
-Finally, Chanda Bell - who was player of the week in our weekly awards - was named SEC Pitcher of the Week on Monday. She was dominant in a pair of crucial upset victories over the weekend at No. 2 Florida. She turned in a pair of complete games, allowing just one run in the process and striking out 21 Gators.
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: Softball wins weekend series over No. 2 Florida
As Kentucky fights for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats did themselves a huge favor by taking two-of-three over the No. 2 ranked Florida Gators on the road this weekend.
The Wildcats started the series off right with a 2-0 win in the opener. Seniors Brittany Cervantes and Chanda Bell did the damage as Cervantes belted her 10th home run of the season and Bell shutout the Gators in the circle.
After the Gators evened up the series in game two, head coach Rachel Lawson sent her ace out again. Bell showed up in a big way. She allowed just one run to keep her team in the game. Then fellow senior Rachel Riley blew the game open with a bases loaded double en route to a four-run sixth inning to help capture the series in a 5-1 victory.
Player of the Week: Chanda Bell delivers two Ws in series win over No. 2 Florida
Senior pitcher Chanda Bell set the tone this weekend in their series win over the Gators. In Kentucky's game one victory, Bell hurled 7 shutout innings, allowing just four hits, walking one, and striking out eight in their 2-0 win. The win bumped her record to 13-10 on the season.
Bell was called upon again in the finale, as the Cats needed a win to take the series. As a true senior leader, with her team grasping to post-season hopes, she delivered once more. Facing one of the most vaunted offenses in the country, Bell shut Florida down. She struck out 13 Gators on her way to seven innings of one-run ball, nabbing her 14th win of the season.
Game of the Week: Orta, Nadzam impressive at Payton Jordan Invitational
Some Kentucky runners had huge days over the weekend in Palo Alto, Cal. In the Payton Jordan Invitational, Luis Orta ran the second-fastest 3,000-meter Steeplechase in UK history with a career-best time of 8:47.52. Orta's time was good for fourth, and he was just one second away from a second-place finish.
Josh Nadzam broke his own personal best in the 1,500m with a time of 3:45.10. Nadzam's previous best of 3:47.07 came in his junior year. It was a come from behind win for Nadzam, coming from fourth place, moving up to second on the last lap, and eventually taking the lead to grab the victory.
Several other runners participated in the meet. Sophomore Matt Hillenbrand ran a career-best 3:47.20 in the 1,500m. Junior Walter Luttrell over came his career-best in the 5,000m, beating his old best by 37.3 seconds with a 14:11.79 time. Freshman Keffri Neal finished second in his heat in the men's 800m with a time of 1:51.04, his career-best. And junior Megan Wright ran a 4:34.81 in the women's 1,500m run, also her career-best time in that event.
Video of the Week - "Born a Champion"
Alumnus of the Week - Bledsoe plays key role in historic playoff comeback
With a 9:30 start on the East Coast and the Memphis Grizzlies up by 27 in the 3rd quarter, not many people got to see the incredible finish to the first-round match-up between the Clippers and the Grizzlies in the NBA Playoffs. They also did not get to see former Wildcat Eric Bledsoe help lead the way.
Though they faced the large deficit, the Clippers never felt they were completely out of it. They used a 35-point 4th quarter to grab a 99-98 win in game one. Bledsoe scored 7 of his 9 points in the fourth quarter, including a big three-pointer, while chipping in two assists and grabbing four rebounds in the comeback win.
Overall Record: 36-9, 14-7 Record Last Week: 1-3, 1-2 SEC
Recent Results Tuesday, April 24 - lost at No. 20 Louisville, 2-10 Friday, April 27 - won at Vanderbilt, 5-2 Saturday, April 28 - lost at Vanderbilt, 3-4 Sunday, April 29 - lost at Vanderbilt, 1-6 Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Thursday, May 3 - vs. No. 1 Florida - 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU) Friday, May 4 - vs. No. 1 Florida - 7 p.m. (CSS) Saturday, May 5 - vs. No. 1 Florida - 2 p.m.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky baseball team suffered its first Southeastern Conference series defeat of the year last week, falling in a rubber match on Sunday at the hands of defending conference champion Vanderbilt, also dropping a midweek game at No. 20 Louisville. UK breaks for final exams and returns to action on Thursday, hosting No. 1 Florida in a three-game series at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (36-9, 14-7 SEC) sits in a three-way tie atop the conference standings, joining Western Division leader, No. 3 LSU and No. 4 South Carolina. UK has three conference weekend meetings remaining, hosting No. 1 Florida and Alabama, and traveling to Mississippi State. The Wildcats own league series wins over South Carolina, LSU, No. 10 Ole Miss, No. 9 Arkansas, No. 18 Georgia and Tennessee.
The UK series with Florida will pit the Wildcats against the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the nation, with the Gators setting a Baseball America record with seven members of the preseason All-America team. Florida will face UK at Cliff Hagan on Thursday in the ESPNU Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week at 7:30 p.m. ET, following College Baseball Live on ESPNU. On Friday, the series will resume at 7 p.m. ET and conclude on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats have been paced by an offense that ranks among the SEC leaders in nearly every offensively category, batting .309 with 94 doubles, 48 homers and 312 runs scored. Individually, freshman Austin Cousino owns a .348 average with 18 doubles, one triple, eight homers and 37 RBI, stealing 10 bases. Luke Maile has hit .329 with 10 doubles, 11 homers and 43 RBI, stealing nine bags. Thomas McCarthy as hit .323 with 15 doubles, five homers and 26 RBI, while outfielder Zac Zellers has hit .310 with eight doubles, five homers and 18 RBI. Freshman A.J. Reed has a .302 average with nine doubles, three homers and 39 RBI, while Cameron Flynn owns a .286 mark with nine homers and 30 RBI.
Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan combined for 263 tackles in 2011. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan spent their entire senior seasons as Kentucky Wildcats alongside one another, flying to the football and leading the Southeastern Conference in tackles.
Fittingly, the two heard their names called just a few minutes apart in the 2012 NFL Draft. Guy and Trevathan were each selected in the sixth round of the draft, with Guy going to the Seattle Seahawks at 181st overall and Trevathan seven picks later to the Denver Broncos.
A year ago at this time, Guy was making the transition from safety to a hybrid role in Rick Minter's new Kentucky defense. He wasn't sure what implications the move would have on his professional future and whether it would prove beneficial to him and the team.
After an extremely productive senior season and now a selection in the NFL Draft, it's safe to say the change paid off. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder made 120 tackles in 2011 and was the 14th safety selected in the draft. The Seahawks currently have four safeties on their roster, including Pro Bowler Earl Thomas. He will head to the Pacific Northwest looking to sustain the productivity of his final UK season, during which he made 120 tackles.
"He's very big and athletic," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "They moved him around a lot. He was not a true safety. He was basically a hybrid linebacker/safety combo...For a kid his size, runs pretty well, can cover the field, very long arms."
Trevathan was the only player in the SEC to top Guy in tackles, dominating from start to finish in 2011. He finished with 143 tackles, 11.5 of which came behind the line of scrimmage. He also had a team-leading five forced fumbles, three sacks and four interceptions.
"Trevathan's a guy that has pretty good speed," Kiper said. "They like the way he sifts through traffic, that's one thing about Danny Trevathan...He has this knack for just showing up where the ball carrier is, made a lot of impact plays during his career."
The 6-foot, 237 pounder joins a growing list of former Wildcats in Denver. Anthony "Champ" Kelly is in the team's personnel department while tight end Jacob Tamme, defensive end Jeremy Jarmon and linebacker Wesley Woodyard are on the roster.
Woodyard actually has a similar story to Trevathan in that he was extremely productive at Kentucky but saw his draft stock suffer due to less than prototypical size for his position. Woodyard signed as a free agent out of UK and carved out a role with the Broncos, first as a special teams player, then on defense.
"I think our football characteristics are similar and I strive to be like him," Trevathan said of his UK predecessor.
Congratulations and good luck to both Guy and Trevathan!
Earlier this week, the Southeastern Conference unveiled its Winter Academic Honor Roll. To be named to the list, student-athletes must have a grade point average of 3.00 or above for either the preceding academic year have a cumulative GPA of 3.00, among other criteria.
Forty-three Kentucky Wildcats were named to the Honor Roll, the fourth-highest total of any SEC school. Student-athletes from six different teams earned spots. Men's and women's swimming and diving led the way with 14 and 10 honorees each. Gymnastics and rifle each had six, while men's and women's basketball had four and three respectively.
Congratulations to all these Wildcats for their hard work and achievement in the classroom!
See below for a list of all 43 along with their majors.
Twany Beckham - M. Basketball - Communication Terrence Jones - M. Basketball - Communication Darius Miller - M. Basketball - Community Communications and Leadership Development Jarrod Polson - M. Basketball - Finance Kastine Evans - W. Basketball - Business Management Amber Smith - W. Basketball - Family Sciences Keyla Snowden - W. Basketball - Media Arts and Studies Caitlyn Ciokajlo - Gymnastics - Kinesiology/Exercise Science Audrey Harrison - Gymnastics - Business Management Kayla Hartley - Gymnastics - Hospitality Management and Tourism Storey Morris - Gymnastics - Community Communications and Leadership Development Whitney Rose - Gymnastics - Business Management Kayla Sienkowski - Gymnastics - Merchandising, Apparel, and Textiles Dayna Ferguson - Rifle - French Heather Greathouse - Rifle - Psychology Emily Holsopple - Rifle - Biology Henri Junghanel - Rifle - Mechanical Engineering Ed Ryznar - Rifle - Mechanical Engineering Stacy Wheatley - Rifle - Nursing John Bullock - M. Swimming and Diving - Finance/Business Management Greg Ferrucci - M. Swimming and Diving - Kinesiology/Exercise Science John Fox - M. Swimming and Diving - Political Science Blake Freeman - M. Swimming and Diving - Biology Travis Green - M. Swimming and Diving - Biology William Heidler - M. Swimming and Diving - Chemistry Luke Iannuzzi - M. Swimming and Diving - Biology Jonathan Keltner - M. Swimming and Diving - Finance/Business Management Pat Kemme - M. Swimming and Diving - Family Sciences Zack Peterson - M. Swimming and Diving - Kinesiology/Exercise Science Tyler Reed - M. Swimming and Diving - Secondary Education Matt Russell - M. Swimming and Diving - Psychology Maclin Simpson - M. Swimming and Diving - Marketing/Business Management Jacob Thomas - M. Swimming and Diving - Kinesiology/Exercise Science Claire Archibald - W. Swimming and Diving - Accounting Catherine Brueckbauer - W. Swimming and Diving - Marketing Megan Eppler - W. Swimming and Diving - Accounting Lindsay Lash - W. Swimming and Diving - Elementary Education Anna Mattox - W. Swimming and Diving - Communication Disorders Marisa McGlynn - W. Swimming and Diving - Marketing Chelsea Peterson - W. Swimming and Diving - Biology Jenna Willis - W. Swimming and Diving - Psychology Kristen Wilson - W. Swimming and Diving - Finance Samantha Wright - W. Swimming and Diving - Psychology
Thomas McCarthy is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Thomas McCarthy is in just his second year at the University of Kentucky, but he hasn't let that get in the way of making an impact on the baseball team, the school and the Lexington community.
In recognition of his work both on and off the field, McCarthy has been named one of 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. The award honors four areas of excellence - community, classroom, character and competition.
As a junior in first season as a Wildcat, McCarthy became the first UK third baseman to be named first-team All-SEC since 1972. He has continued his strong performance as Kentucky has transformed into one of the nation's top teams during his senior season. Off the field, McCarthy has a 3.4 GPA as a psychology major while volunteering his time to causes like the Bluegrass Miracle League and God's Pantry.
McCarthy, along with nine others, was selected as a finalist from a list of 30 candidates announced during the preseason by a media committee. Now, the winner will be decided by Division I coaches and media members, as well as an online vote by fans. Fans can vote once a day until June 11 with their tally counting as one-third of the final tally. The winner will be announced during the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
With the help of the Big Blue Nation, McCarthy has already risen four spots in the voting since Thursday. He still has work to do, so make sure to vote early and often.
It has quickly become a rarity to turn on an NBA game and not find a former Kentucky Wildcat on the floor.
Sixteen former Kentucky Wildcats finished the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season on NBA rosters, which ties UK with Duke for the most of any school. Nearly half of the league's teams - 13 to be exact - feature a player who used to don the Blue and White and exactly half of the 16 teams to make the playoffs will field at least one former Wildcat.
With six more talented Cats looking to be drafted this June, that number will climb yet again, but before then, let's reflect on another season in the books for UK players in the NBA:
Even with the infusion of talent since the beginning of the John Calipari era, Rondo remains the face of UK in the NBA. Rondo has evolved from a bit player on a championship team to an All Star who perennially leads the Celtics to the playoffs, and that's exactly what he did this season. He led the NBA in assists per game, averaging double-digit dimes for the second straight season.
He has been the subject of trade rumors for much of the past two seasons - like pretty much all of the Celtics' nucleus - but has only solidified his spot as arguably the best combination of passing, rebounding and defense that the NBA has to offer at the point guard position. In spite of sitting out three of Boston's final four games, he ended the season on a ridiculous streak of 24 consecutive games with 10 or more assists, most since John Stockton had 29 in a row for the Utah Jazz in 1992.
Rondo was also the only player in the NBA to post more than one triple-double this season, leading the league with six such performances. Among those triple-doubles was an insane 18-point, 20-assist, 17-rebound game in a win over New York, continuing his habit of posting some of the most unique lines in the NBA.
Rondo and the fourth-seeded Celtics will open the playoffs against the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks on Sunday at 7 p.m. on TNT.
John Wall (Washington Wizards) Season averages - 16.3 points, 8.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks
In his second season out of UK, Wall toiled once again on a struggling Washington team. The Wizards finished with the NBA's second-worst record, but they flashed some promise down the stretch, winning six straight and raising their win total from 14 to 20 in the process. Wall was spectacular, dishing double-digit assists in five of the six wins.
Wall's averages were about the same as during his rookie campaign, but he improved both his field-goal and free-throw shooting percentages. Perhaps most encouragingly, Wall started all 66 of his team's games after missing 13 due to injury a season ago.
Wall and the Wizards will look to take another step forward next season, and they will look to begin that improvement in this June's draft. They stand the second-best chance of winning the Anthony Davis sweepstakes in the draft lottery.
Cousins showed improvement pretty much across the board in his second season. He posted career bests in nearly every statistical category and is even in the conversation for Most Improved Player honors. He ranked among the NBA's top rebounders and finished the season on a tear, scoring 29, 32 and 23 points over his final three games. Like the Wizards, the Kings will look to get an impact player in this year's draft after finishing the year 22-44.
Knight showed why the Pistons picked him high in last year's NBA Draft, ranking among rookie leaders in scoring, assists and minutes played. He saw the floor in 65 of 66 games this season, starting 59. He showed himself to be a capable scorer and passer at times this season and is expected to be a cornerstone of Detroit's rebuilding process alongside big man Greg Monroe.
Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) Season averages - 12.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists
Now 32, Prince turned in another solid season after resigning with the Pistons this offseason. Patrick Patterson (Houston Rockets) Season averages - 7.7 points, 4.5 rebounds
Patterson, coming off an injury in the offseason, took a little while to get going for the Rockets, but settled in and turned in an encouraging season. He took on an enhanced role in his second season, playing nearly seven more minutes per game and attempting nearly three more field goals a game. While rebuilding, Houston has opted to hold on to Patterson even while being active on the trade market. He will push for a starting role this summer.
For the second season in a row, Meeks was Philadelphia's primary starter at shooting guard, draining 97 3-pointers as the Sixers' shooting specialist. He closed the season out strong, averaging 21 points over his final two games, including a 27-point outing against his former team, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Meeks and the 76ers will top-seeded Chicago in the first game of the playoffs on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Kanter stepped into a deep Jazz frontcourt as a rookie having not played a competitive game in over a year-and-a-half, but still dug out a rotation spot on a playoff-bound team. He played over 15 minutes per game, showing the strength around the basket and rebounding ability that made UK fans so eager to get him on the floor in Rupp Arena. Impressively, he finished his first season shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and had his first career double-double in the final game of the regular season.
The eighth-seeded Jazz will take on No. 1 San Antonio beginning on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Chuck Hayes (Sacramento Kings) Season averages - 3.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Hayes parlayed a career season in 2010-11 into a contract with the Kings, who were looking for him to provide a steady veteran presence on an otherwise young team. After starting most of the last two seasons with the Rockets, he stepped into a reserve role, helping to mentor Cousins in his breakout season. He served as a captain in his first season with the team.
Eric Bledsoe (Los Angeles Clippers) Season averages - 3.3 points, 1.7 assists, 1.6 rebounds
Injury kept Bledsoe out of the lineup for essentially the first two months of the season, as he played double-digit minutes just once before March. He played more often in that month, but it wasn't until April that he emerged as an effective backup for Chris Paul. He averaged over 16 minutes a game in April along with 5.6 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds.
He figures to play a significant role in the Clippers postseason run, which begins against the Memphis Grizzlies at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Josh Harrellson (New York Knicks) Season averages - 4.0 points, 3.8 rebounds
In January, Harrellson had carved out a role for himself on the Knicks, but then sustained a wrist injury that kept him out for six weeks. He returned to a slightly diminished role, but to a team that was playing much better basketball. He played double-digit minutes just twice in April before the final game of the season, but that's when he scored a career-high 18 points.
His Knicks will open the playoffs as a seven seed in one of the most anticipated series of the first round, taking on the Miami Heat beginning on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Nazr Mohammed (Oklahoma City Thunder) Season averages - 2.7 points, 2.7 rebounds
Mohammed has a well-defined role as a big man for the Thunder who provides between 10 and 12 minutes per night. He doesn't carry a heavy scoring load and is called on to defend and rebound when he is on the floor.
He'll be asked to do the same as Oklahoma City takes on the Dallas Mavericks - the team that knocked out the Thunder a season ago - in the first round of the playoffs. Game one is at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. Daniel Orton (Orlando Magic) Season averages - 2.8 points, 2.4 rebounds
Orton played the first minutes of his NBA career early this season, but it wasn't until All Star Dwight Howard went out with a back injury that he saw major playing time. He played at least 10 minutes in all but two of the Magic's final 10 games and had a career game against the Cavaliers on April 15 when he had 11 points, five steals, four rebounds and three blocks.
Orton figures to see plenty of action as Orlando takes on Indiana in the first round of the playoffs beginning on Saturday at 7 p.m. DeAndre Liggins (Orlando Magic) Season averages - 1.9 points, 0.9 rebounds
Liggins played in 17 games this season, all after February 20. He had career highs of 26 minutes, seven points and four rebounds in the final game of the regular season.
Magloire appeared in 33 games this season, making one start. Kelenna Azubuike (Dallas Mavericks) Season averages - 2.3 points
Azubuike fought his way back into the NBA after injury, signing with the playoff-bound Mavericks in March. He didn't appear in a game until the final week of the season, but scored seven points in the final one against the Hawks.
The Mavericks begin the postseason against the Thunder on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.
You know those DirecTV commercials where they tell you to get DirecTV to avoid a ridiculous and often hilarious set of happenings that ends up with you having a grandson with a dog collar or in a roadside ditch? Well here's Sports Video's spin on the idea.
It didn't really sink in for me until this morning, but the end of the 2011-12 athletics year is not far off. I guess I probably should have realized it at the CATSPYs on Monday or with finals just around the corner, but for me it took seeing that this weekend is our first without a home event since Christmas.
Anyway, that's all to explain why it's been somewhat of a quiet week around here. Of course, baseball, men's tennis, softball and track and field all have their postseasons ahead, but things are starting to slow down a bit.
This morning is not without news though, so here are a few notes for your Thursday:
After the best regular season in school history and an undefeated run through Southeastern Conference play, it's perfectly appropriate that the men's tennis team should dominate the conference awards announced on Thursday. Eric Quigley, the senior who is the top player in school history, was named Player of the Year, while Dennis Emery won Coach of the Year. Quigley was also named First Team All-SEC and was joined by teammates Anthony Rossi, Alex Musialek and Panav Jha. Tom Jomby was a second-team selection. Congratulations to all the Wildcats on these honors. Now, we look ahead to May 1, when UK will learn its path in the NCAA Tournament.
Another Wildcat got some excellent news yesterday, as baseball's freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino was named to the USA National Team. He is the first UK player to earn a spot on the team since 1999 when Chad Green did it.
Learfield Sports released updated standings in the annual Directors' Cup, which recognizes the top-performing athletic departments in the nation. On the strength of great performances by men's basketball, rifle, women's basketball and swimming and diving, UK ranks 23rd in the final winter standings, just eight shy of the top-15 goal set forth by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.
John Wall (21 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds, seven steals) and Jodie Meeks (27 points) each helped lead their teams to victory last night as the NBA regular season approaches. All 16 playoff spots have been locked up, so we now know the following former UK players will be playing in the postseason: Kelenna Azubuike (Dallas Mavericks), Eric Bledsoe (Los Angeles Clippers), Josh Harrellson (New York Knicks), Enes Kanter (Utah Jazz), DeAndre Liggins (Orlando Magic), Meeks (Philadelphia 76ers), Nazr Mohammed (Oklahoma City Thunder), Daniel Orton (Magic), Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics). Good luck to all nine Wildcats!
When it comes to college basketball analysis, it doesn't get much better than SI.com's Luke Winn, and I say that in large part because of how heavily he relies on Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free statistical analysis.
Well, on Thursday, Winn doled out his first annual "Data-Based Coaching Awards" in which he measures the success of coaches based on the efficiency of their teams in a few different categories. Of the eight different full-season awards Winn gave out, John Calipari won three. He was the only coach to win more than one:
1. Efficiency King: John Calipari, Kentucky
His Wildcats ranked No. 1 overall in kenpom.com's Pythagorean formula, which is based on efficiency margin. There is a running joke among the Flat Earth Society that Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has a trophy case full of Efficiency National Titles somewhere in the Kohl Center, but, as I said earlier, the title-winning team has, over the past eight seasons, also been the nation's most efficient team on six occasions. This is Calipari's first Efficiency Title, as his 2008 Memphis team came in second behind Kansas, just as it did in real life.
6. Dominating One's League: John Calipari, Kentucky
Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway tracks in-conference efficiency numbers all season in his Tuesday Truths, and the Wildcats' efficiency margin in SEC games was an absurd +0.26 points per possession -- better than any other leader of any other conference. They steamrolled, rather than tightrope-walked, their way to a 16-0 record in the SEC. For comparison, Syracuse (long the nation's No. 2 team) had an efficiency margin of +0.16 in the Big East, and Kansas (UK's title-game opponent) had a margin of +0.18 in the Big 12.
8. Most Success With The Least Experience: John Calipari, Kentucky
Only five teams had less experience, according to kenpom.com's index, than the Wildcats: Nicholls State, which ranked 332nd in efficiency, Niagara (238th), Rutgers (119th), Boston College (259th) and St. John's (152nd). None had a winning record. Kentucky went 38-2, won the national title and finished first in efficiency with an average experience level of 0.77 years.
Calipari was obviously aided by the fact that he had the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, including a superhuman, 6-foot-11 defensive menace, but making elite freshmen play well together is not easy. This UK team had less experience, top-to-bottom, than last year's (1.16 years) or the Wall-Cousins squad of 2009-10 (0.83 years), which means that Calipari's best team was also his youngest. And seeing that he grabbed three of our eight full-season awards, it might be wise to revise the COY list, with his name at the top.
If Coach Cal were asked about this, I'm sure he would deflect praise to his talented roster, but the coaching job he did this season cannot be overlooked.
Right now, Kentucky is the best team in that conference. The standings say so. Both the Cats and Tigers entered the weekend leading their respective divisions, yet tied for the overall lead at 11-4. Kentucky exited 13-5; LSU 12-6.
Remember, this is a UK baseball team that was 25-30 overall last year and 8-22 in the SEC. It had gone three straight years with a losing conference record.
Our projected field of 64 at the midway point features a trio of surprising No. 2 seeds in New Mexico State, Auburn and Oregon--none of whom projected as regional teams heading into the season. Kentucky was included in our preseason NCAA tournament projection, but the Wildcats have jumped from the last SEC team in our preseason field to a national seed in our midseason field. No one could have expected the Wildcats to sweep their SEC-opening series against defending champion South Carolina and win their first 22 games en route to a 27-2 start, which also includes back-to-back road series wins at Tennessee and Georgia.
After belting two homers and hitting .462 during a four-game week, Kentucky junior catcher Luke Maile has been named Southeastern Conference Co-Player of the Week, it was announced on Monday afternoon by the league office.
A native of Crestview Hills, Ky., Maile won his second SEC Player of the Week of the year after helping lead UK to its first series win over a No. 1 ranked team in program history last weekend as the Wildcats bested LSU.
A 2-1 series victory against LSU this past weekend pushed Kentucky's baseball team back to No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. The Cats were also ranked No. 2 by Baseball America and No. 3 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll.
The Southeastern Conference-leading Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball earlier this season, are fourth in the NCAA RPI, and have a 10-5 record against top-25 foes.
The trip to GABP was one of many stops Calipari has made in the three weeks since UK beat Kansas 67-59 in the national championship game April 2.
"My wife asked why I keep doing all of these appearances, and I said, 'You know what? What keeps you going is you're making people feel good,' " Calipari said. "Yeah, it takes a lot of your time and it takes a lot of effort, but you just think about putting a smile on someone's face, someone who has never met the coach of Kentucky and they've lived there their entire life."
But his visit was upstaged when Clinton, who was in town to give a speech to area students at Rupp Arena, popped in on the Cats and took pictures with UK players and coaching staff -- and the trophies collected as NCAA champions.
Coach John Calipari wrote about Clinton's visit on his website, coachcal.com, saying the former president told the team: "Problems in the world and problems in the United States can only be solved by teamwork. That's it. This team has taught us the lesson that the higher the mountain, the more the team must be connected."
Some of the more impressive plays in the spring game came from wide receiver Demarco Robinson, who caught two Maxwell Smith passes for touchdowns of 69 and 21 yards.
He finished the day with nine catches for 146 yards.
"His acceleration is ridiculous," Smith said of his favorite target of the day. "You get the ball in his hands and he can take off and just lose the guy in no time. Demarco has really good feet, he's like a ballet dancer."
UK senior right-hander Rachel Riley participated in her 16th start of the season, going the distance and allowing only three hits while striking out seven.
"She was great for us today, in a game like this where both teams bring their A-game you have to have a player to keep everyone calm," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said, "and that's what Rachel did today."
"It is a matter of earning your stripes and earning respect from other guys and doing what is best for the team," Knight said. "That is something that is earned over time and I definitely will embrace it and be more vocal.
"You've got to approach it the right way. As long as they know it is coming from the right place and as long as they know it is best for the team and you guys have good relationships. You have to be bold and be able to do it out of respect being basketball players rather than one guy being above the other."
Anthony Davis became the fifth-leading shot blocker in school history in just one season at Kentucky. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Anthony Davis hasn't missed out on the talk. He's heard the pronouncements by recruiting analysts that Nerlens Noel, the incoming freshman projected to step into his role at Kentucky, is a better shot blocker than he is.
On its face, the notion seems ridiculous. En route to being named the consensus national player of the year in his lone season as a Wildcat, Davis swatted his way into the record books with 186 blocks. Is it really possible that Noel is better?
It's hard to come up with a better person to ask than the man himself.
"I think he is," Davis said. "I can't block the ball like he blocks. He can block with either hand. I kind of tip it with my left."
Characteristically humble in his responses, the star does see one facet of shot-blocking where he might have an edge though. Davis drew comparisons to Bill Russell, one of basketball's all-time greats, for his ability to keep his deflections in play and direct them toward himself or a teammate. Based on what he's seen from his successor, it seems to Davis that Noel prefers the Dwight Howard-style, five-rows-into-the-stands block.
"(The) only difference is he likes to throw it into the crowd," Davis said. "I like to keep it in play. I'm pretty sure they'll change that here though."
Nonetheless, Davis thinks Noel has a chance at threatening his NCAA freshman and UK block record, though he would rather hold onto it himself.
"I think he does," Davis said. "Great shot blocker, I think he's better than me so he's just got to wait and see. I hope he don't though."
A couple weeks ago, Davis got to watch Noel in person at the Jordan Brand Classic, where the Everett, Mass., native battled foul trouble but still managed three blocked shots.
"I've seen him play," Davis said. "He's an outstanding player. He plays offense as well as defense, so he's going to be a great player."
It wasn't the first time the two had met either. Earlier in the season, when Noel opted to reclassify back into the class of 2012, he came on an unofficial visit to Lexington. The two got a chance to know each other a bit, and based on Davis' reaction, it seems Noel has more in common with him than a scouting report.
"He's a great shot blocker, great kid, humble and down-to-earth and just loves the game," Davis said.
On Monday night, Ann Armes (volleyball), Luis Orta (cross country/track and field) Eric Quigley (men's tennis), Rachel Riley (softball) and Keyla Snowden (women's basketball) received the most prestigious individual award the CATSPYs has to offer: Mr. and Miss Wildcat. The award is given for given for all-around excellence in athletics, academics, character and service. Above is the video that introduced them.
It's time for another video from Monday's CATSPY Awards. This one features the four teams that have won conference and/or national championships this season: men's basketball, women's basketball, rifle and men's tennis.
With spring football wrapping up this past weekend with the Blue/White Game, head coach Joker Phillips joined the Southeastern Conference Coaches Media Teleconference to talk about his team. Here is the complete transcript of his comments:
On UK's team coming off of spring practice ... "We think we made some tremendous progress. We got a lot of our goals accomplished that we set out for spring ball, which is, one, just make sure we got all of our players in the right position. We've had some position changes early in spring that we want to give our kids an opportunity to compete and give ourselves a chance to get the best players on the field. We feel good about the position changes. You don't want to go start making position changes this time of year after spring ball and waste the opportunity to get people in the best position during those 15 practices. A lot of young kids that got a chance to continue their development on both sides of the ball, on offense, defense and also the special teams. We're looking forward to getting back with these young men in August."
On which specific position changes have been executed ... "We moved a young running back, Marcus Caffey, from running back to one of our corners. He's made the transition really smooth. We think he has a chance to be a big-time player. He was recruited by a lot of teams to be a corner, but we offered him an opportunity to be a tailback and we did give him that opportunity his first year. Then he came into us after this season and wanted to be given an opportunity to play at the corner position so that's worked out really well for us. He finishes the spring as our starting boundary corner and he's a big, strong physical guy that's very athletic and looks like the corners you play against in this league. We were able to move Josh Forrest, who came in as a wide receiver, to an outside linebacker. The thing that we have to do is project and we projected Josh Forrest to be a wide receiver/tight end or an outside backer someday. He has settled in at the outside linebacker position and doing it very well. Now we have a 6-foot-3-and-a-half, 230-pound backer that came here after two years of playing high school football at 190 pounds, so we feel good about that change also. We moved Daryl Collins from an outside receiver to a slot receiver and we will not work him at both positions and just getting him settled in at the slot receiver, I think that's been a real helpful move for us also. We moved Teven Eatmon(-Nared), who is our backup left guard, he was playing some tackle last year to guard. We moved (Kevin) Mitchell from inside guard to a right tackle and he's actually starting at the right tackle now."
On what impressed him about Mikie Benton enough to offer a walk-on spot and what he's done to become a starter at safety ... "First of all, he was a smart kid. He came here as an engineering student on an academic scholarship and he had won and competed in the state championship here in Kentucky in track. It was a guy that was smart and could run and was blessed with a pretty good body. Once we got into this thing, and he's been a guy that we've used as an example in terms of when we bring walk-ons into our program. Mikie Benton was invited back for the 105 after the first year. He was not invited back with the 105, which is to start training camp, after his second year. Not until his third year was he invited back for training camp even. (He was) a guy that was real persistent and worked his tail off and got a chance to get on the field as a special teams player and then moved from a special teams player to a guy that, when we changed defenses, he was one of the guys that picked up and grasped it quicker than anyone, which gave him an opportunity to get on the field and compete. We've used Mikie Benton a lot in homes when we're tying to talk guys into walking on." On John L. Smith taking over as head coach at Arkansas ... "I know John L. a little, have spent a little time with him in my time at Cincinnati when we competed against him at Utah and at Louisville. In terms of him taking over this time of the year, I don't really know the situation but the teams that I have competed against him, they are always very competitive. We know that Arkansas has a lot of good athletes returning, good football players returning. John L. will have those guys competing at a high level."
As usual, the marketing and Sports Video departments put together a
great show on Monday night at the 10th annual CATSPY Awards. Over the
next couple days, we'll be sharing some of the videos shown during the
event. Appropriately first is the introduction.
During Kentucky's Final Four win over archrival Louisville, Terrence Jones chased a loose ball past the baseline at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and bowled into a Cardinal cheerleader. The young woman hit her head on the play and received four stitches before returning to cheer the rest of the game.
Afterward, Jones found out that she had gotten hurt on the play and said that he needed to buy her flowers. At the time, most who heard him say it - me included - thought it was a funny comment that wouldn't be followed up on. We were wrong.
On Monday, Jones brought a bouquet to U of L cheer practice to apologize for the collision. Louisville television station WHAS11 was on hand and captured the moment. Here is the video:
Baseball - With No. 1 LSU coming to Cliff Hagan Stadium, No. 2 Kentucky won the series over top-ranked LSU with wins in the second and third game of the series. Kentucky's series win is the first over a No. 1 ranked team in the modern era of the program, with the Wildcats producing record crowds during the three-game set. - UK leads the nation in wins, sits atop the SEC standings and owns a 12-3 record in one-run games and an 11-5 record in games against top-25 teams. The Wildcats have opened up the year with series wins over No. 2 South Carolina, at Tennessee, at No. 18 Georgia, No. 10 Ole Miss, at No. 9 Arkansas and No. 1 LSU. The Wildcats are off to the best start to a season in the over 100-year history of the program, with its SEC start the best in program annals. - The Wildcats have been paced by a team offense that leads the conference in nearly every category, hitting .316 as a team, with a .488 slugging and a .403 on-base percentage, belting 47 homers in 41 games and stealing 36 bases. Individually, freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino leads UK with a .351 average, with a league-leading 17 doubles, seven homers and 34 RBI, stealing nine bases.
Football - The Kentucky football team held its annual Blue/White Game Saturday evening at Commonwealth Stadium. The first teamers, who went by Kentucky on the scoreboard, won 35-28 over the second team (Wildcats). The first team outscored the second team 35-14 overall, as the Wildcats were spotted 14 points as part of the spring game format. - Quarterback Maxwell Smith led Kentucky to victory, totaling 353 yards on 29-of-45 passing and two touchdowns. - Wide receiver Demarco Robinson led Kentucky's receiving corps with nine catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcats' leading receiver was tight end Anthony Kendrick with three catches for 40 yards and one touchdown. - On defense, linebacker Tyler Brause was the Wildcats' leading tackler with seven, while linebacker Avery Williamson charted a team-high eight tackles, including two for loss and one sack for the Kentucky squad.
Men's tennis - The sixth-ranked Kentucky men's tennis team made its second consecutive appearance in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals over the weekend before falling to fourth-ranked Georgia in the title match. This was Kentucky's third all-time appearance in the final match. - Kentucky defeated No. 43 Vanderbilt and No. 13 Ole Miss to advance to the finals. The win over VU was Kentucky's 25th of the season, helping UK surpass the 25-win mark for three consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. - Senior No. 3 Eric Quigley led Kentucky with a 2-0 record in singles action, helping him break the school record for most wins in a single season with a 47-6 record this year. Kentucky junior Anthony Rossi and sophomore Tom Jomby were named to the SEC All-Tournament team after the final match.
Softball - The Kentucky softball team traveled to the state of Mississippi for a five-game road swing. UK began the week well with a sweep of Ole Miss, which marked the fifth consecutive time the Wildcats had earned a series from the Rebels. - Both senior pitchers in Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley earned victories, while freshman Griffin Joiner led the bats with an .800 average against the Rebels. - Mississippi State took all three against UK during the weekend series, winning all three outings by just one run each game. The final two wins came in walk-off fashion.
Track and field - Junior Luis Orta finished ninth in the 3,000-meter run at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., running the third-fastest 3,000m run (8:49.45) in school history. - Sophomore Brandon Bagley ran a career-best time in the 400m hurdles Saturday, clocking in with a 53.93 to finish third. - The women's 4x100m relay team finished first with a time of 45.62, Andrew Evans won the men's discus with a 176-02 and Terri-Ann Grant won the women's high jump at 5-10.50. - Jennifer Svoboda threw a season-best mark in the women's shot put with a mark of 50-08.75.
Women's tennis - The women's tennis team traveled to Oxford, Miss., for the SEC Championship. The 11th-seeded Wildcats faced 6th-seeded South Carolina in the first round of the tournament. - In doubles play, the 82nd-ranked team of Jessica Stiles and Caitlin McGraw took on No. 37 Dijana Stojic and Jaklin Alawi in a highly-competitive match. UK mounted a late comeback to hold off Stojic and Alawi from taking match-point on multiple occasions, holding the score at 7-6. Ultimately, Stojic and Alawi were able to barely edge out Stiles and McGraw to take the 8-6 win and the doubles point. - In singles play, multiple Wildcats found strength in their second set. Unfortunately, the late surges were not enough to grab the singles wins. South Carolina secured its win as the No. 4 and No. 5 matches ended simultaneously to give the Gamecocks a 5-0 victory. Women's golf - The University of Kentucky women's golf team placed ninth at the 2012 SEC Championship. - Senior Ashlee Rose led the Wildcats, finishing in a tie for 12th at 14-over-par 230. Rose led Kentucky with 35 pars, the second most by an individual on the weekend. - Junior Betsie Johnson finished in a tie for 29th at 21-over-par 237.
Men's golf - Kentucky finished seventh at the SEC Championship, going 6-under-par in the final three holes to finish at 26-over-par total. - Joseph Barr and Stephen Powers led UK, tying for 19th at 4-over-par. - Kentucky's final team score of 868 was its second-best score at the conference tournament since 2006.
Tuesday, April 23 Softball hosts Morehead State - 4:00 p.m. Baseball at Louisville - 6:00 p.m. Thursday, April 25 Track and field at Penn Relays (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Friday, April 26 Softball at Florida - 6:00 p.m. Baseball at Vanderbilt - 7:30 p.m. Track and field at Penn Relays (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Saturday, April 27 Softball at Florida - 1:00 p.m. Baseball at Vanderbilt - 3:00 p.m. Track and field at Penn Relays (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Sunday, April 28 Softball at Florida - Noon Baseball at Vanderbilt - 2:00 p.m. Track and field at Payton Jordan Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Apr. 22:
Baseball: Austin Cousino
Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino was key for UK during a four-game week at the plate, leading UK from the leadoff spot to its first series win over a No. 1 team in program history, taking two of three from No. 1 LSU … Cousino hit .368 (7-for-19) during the week with two home runs, two doubles, five RBI, 15 total bases, a .789 slugging percentage and swiping two bases on two steal attempts … In the midweek blowout of Cincinnati, Cousino went 2-for-4 with a home run and one RBI … Cousino batted .333 (5-for-15) during the weekend series win of LSU, with one home run, two doubles and four RBI … Cousino went 2-for-5 in game two of the weekend series, hitting his seventh home run of the year and 16th double of the year to go along with three RBI … In the rubber-match win over LSU, Cousino led Kentucky at the plate, going 3-for-5 with his league-leading 17th double of the year … On the year, Cousino has hit a team-high .351 (60-for-171) with seven home runs, a league-leading 17 doubles, .585 slugging pct. and 34 RBI.
Baseball: Luke Maile
Junior infielder/first basemen Luke Maile led UK during a four-game week at the plate, leading UK to its first series win over a No. 1 team in program history, taking two of three from No. 1 LSU … Maile hit .462 (6-for-13) during the week with two home runs, one double, five RBI, 13 total bases and a 1.000 slugging percentage … In the midweek blowout of Cincinnati, Maile went 2-for-3 with a home run and one RBI … Maile batted .400 (4-for-10) during the weekend series vs. LSU, with one home run, one double and four RBI … Maile went 2-for-3 in game two of the weekend series, drilling his 11th home run of the year to go along with three RBI … In the rubber-match win over LSU, Maile went 1-for-3 with his fourth RBI of the weekend … On the year, Maile has hit .331 (50-for-151) with 10 doubles, an SEC-leading 11 home runs and 41 RBI.
Baseball: Alex Phillips
Alex Phillips shut down LSU in two appearances out of the Kentucky bullpen, including earning a three-inning save in Kentucky’s 8-1 win on Saturday over No. 1 LSU and a 2-inning save in the rubber match on Sunday, winning the series for Kentucky … Phillips faced just 10 batters in his nine-out save on Saturday, allowing just two hits and forcing one strikeout … Phillips notched his fourth save of the year in the rubber match vs. No. 1 LSU, allowing just one run on two hits … Phillips has become a go-to reliever in the UK bullpen, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.33 ERA, four saves, 30 strikeouts and just seven walks in 38.2 innings pitched.
Nearly a decade ago, the Kentucky Athletics Department gathered in Memorial Coliseum, student-athletes, coaches and staff. They came together to celebrate the 2002-03 athletic year, Mitch Barnhart's first at UK. They came together to celebrate the first-ever CATSPY Awards.
On Monday night, the same personnel, though comprised of many different people, united for the same purpose. The feel this time around was unmistakably unlike that inaugural event.
"This is 10 times," Barnhart said in his comments that closed the 2012 CATSPYs. "We started this in (2003) and the first time we had some folks that showed up in blue jeans and t-shirts and it has escalated to quite a different event."
And it wasn't just for the wardrobe choices that were different.
The 2012 CATSPYs were celebrated under the auspices of the best year in recent UK Athletics history. Kentucky's 22 varsity sports have attained an unprecedented level of success this season. From women's soccer to volleyball to men's basketball to women's basketball to rifle to baseball to men's tennis, the department as a whole is approaching the ambitious vision for on-field success that Barnhart laid out upon his arrival and later with his 15 by 15 by 15 plan.
"What you've accomplished athletically this year, unbelievable," Barnhart said. "Really, really good stuff. Never in this history of this program have we had this many champions in one year."
UK's championship pedigree was on full display from the outset of the CATSPY Awards. Members of the men's and women's basketball, men's tennis and rifle teams, the four squads who have already claimed conference championships - and in the case of men's basketball, a national championship - were called to the stage in recognition of their achievements. With their successes, Kentucky has 10 conference or national championships since 2008, just five short of the goal put forth by Barnhart. Moreover, UK ranks 21st in the latest Director's Cup standings, just six spots shy of his objective with men's tennis and baseball still in the midst of strong seasons.
"Unbelievable that we'd get this far this quickly," Barnhart said to student-athletes and coaches. "That's hats off to you all who have been a part of those championships. To you all that have not, there's still time to put your name on that list."
The work is not over as UK reaches new heights on the field of competition, but Barnhart believes firmly in the ability of the people involved with the program to take it there. With that bright future in mind, he is calling on players, coaches and staff to aspire for greatness in all aspects.
"My greatest concern is not our ability or desire to compete," Barnhart said. "We've clearly established that. You've done that amazingly well. It's how we get there and what we'll do once that moment arrives."
Closing out the 10th annual CATSPYs, Barnhart unveiled a new plan with a familiar format but a different message: "60 by one by 60." He is asking those at UK to improve themselves and the world around them by taking three simple steps in their daily lives.
First, Barnhart is calling for the Wildcats to spend 60 minutes a week communicating on a person-to-person level with a friend, colleague, family member or classmate. He is asking student-athletes, coaches and staff to speak face-to-face or via written note, eschewing Twitter, Facebook and other means of communication that dominate the modern world.
"We've got to get back to the relationships that help drive locker rooms, that drive people, that drive jobs and helps you go where you want to go," Barnhart said. "We've got to be able to communicate."
Next, Barnhart wants to inject the department with a sense of gratitude. To that end, he is calling on everyone involved with it to, once a day, say a genuine word of thanks to someone who has provided for them in some way.
"You cannot be grateful for what you think you're entitled to," Barnhart said. "You can't. We are not entitled to things; they are given to us. We got to be thankful."
Last, he wants student-athletes, coaches and staff to give others a reason to be thankful. He is calling on them to spend 60 minutes a week committing to help another, incorporating the example from the service trip he and members of the football program took to Ethiopia last summer.
"Who do you go to help?" Barnhart said. "Who do we have that we provide joy to in spite of circumstances? I'm asking you to find somebody like that. I'm asking you to pour 60 minutes into somebody else every week."
Just as with the 15 by 15 by 15 plan, Barnhart knows he is asking a great deal. At the same time, the way UK attacked that first gauntlet he laid down leads him to believe the group he leads can handle this next one too.
"Are we perfect in what we do?" Barnhart said. "Absolutely not. You're not perfect and we're not perfect. But at the end of the day, this is a heck of a good place and there's an awful lot of people in this room I am so proud of because you have represented Kentucky well and in doing so, you've done an awful lot for a lot of people. But I'm saying don't stop."
Freshman Sam Mahar will make the second start of his UK career on Tuesday at Louisville. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Consistency and resilience have been the name of the game for Kentucky baseball from the season's opening pitch. There have been inevitable losses along the way in the punishing Southeastern Conference, but even the majority of those have been tight affairs.
The Wildcats aren't accustomed to laying eggs this season, which is what made a 12-0 drubbing two weeks ago at the hands of rival Louisville so surprising. Close to nothing went right as the Cats established tied season worsts in runs scored, hits, errors and runs allowed.
UK will have a chance to redeem itself in another game with the Cardinals on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Louisville, the finale of the annual two-game set between the in-state foes. Head coach Gary Henderson can't pinpoint exactly what happened in that April 10 defeat, but he does know he expects his squad to play better the second time around.
"I guess if I really knew, we wouldn't have done it the way that we did," Henderson said. "But we were probably a little excited and we have a chance to get that out of our system and show up and play a whole lot better tomorrow night and I think we will."
Henderson is spending little time addressing that earlier loss with his team and even less on the theme of retribution for that night at Cliff Hagan Stadium they'd all rather forget.
"We won't talk about that," Henderson said. "It'll be game number 42 and we just need to show up. It's an important game. They're all important but we need to show up, we need to do a much better job on the mound and we need to have much better at-bats than we did last time. I think we will."
The evidence is on his side.
The U of L defeat was the first of the only two-game losing streak of the season for UK (35-6, 13-5 SEC), and since then, the Cats have played arguably their best baseball of the season. Following a series-opening loss at No. 9 Arkansas, Kentucky has won five of six games, two coming against Arkansas and two more against LSU, then ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The Tigers boast one of the nation's top pitching staffs, and they proved why in striking out 29 batters in three games. However, the Wildcats were able to pound out 32 total hits in the series and 15 runs over the final two games in reclaiming sole possession of first place in the SEC. UK also moved back into the No. 1 ranking according to Collegiate Baseball, tied with Baylor.
"You're never happy about (the strikeouts), but I think you got to give credit to those guys on the other team," Henderson said. "We're not going to do that every game and we've kind of proven that, but sometimes you've got to be able to win when you get up against a talented arm. I thought all three of their arms were outstanding and I thought it was a tribute to our guys on Sunday to punch out that many times and still we had 10, 11 hits and a bunch of doubles."
During the LSU series more than perhaps any other this season, it was a balanced offensive attack that carried UK to its sixth-straight win in an SEC series. The Wildcats five through nine hitters (Cameron Flynn, Zac Zellers, J.T. Riddle, Michael Williams and Matt Reida) combined for 17 of the team's 32 hits, 10 of 19 runs and nine of 19 RBI.
"You see guys whose swing is getting better throughout the course of the year, whether you're talking about Zac Zellers or Matt Reida, they're obviously swinging the bat at a much higher level than they did early on in the year," Henderson said. "I think our sense of offense and putting together some things has gotten better through the course of the year."
As evidenced by a 21-0 start, Kentucky has been good from the outset, but steady improvement is what has allowed the team to thrive in conference play. The offensive evolution has been accompanied by the development of the pitching staff, especially UK's crop of six freshman pitchers.
One of those newcomers will get the start against No. 23 Louisville (28-12, 10-5 Big East). Lefthander Sam Mahar (3-1, 1.71 ERA) made the first 13 appearances of his collegiate career before getting his first career start last Tuesday against Cincinnati. He turned in a superb outing, tossing six scoreless innings while allowing just two base runners and striking out five batters.
"I just thought that he was much more aggressive and much more confident than he had been," Henderson said. "I don't think that's any real surprise for a freshman. I think as the season goes along, they got a chance to continue to develop and get confidence as they go along and they pitch better. He pitched really well."
With another solid outing, Mahar has a chance to put a stranglehold on the midweek starter role that has been in somewhat of a state of flux for much of the season. Incredibly, just two such games remain in a dream 2012 season that has flown by.
UK will continue to prioritize those SEC weekend series as it chases a conference title, but the importance of these final non-conference games isn't lost on the Cats. They recognize the preciousness of wins in their charge toward hosting a potential Regional and Super Regional in the NCAA Tournament, as well as the opportunity to develop pitchers who could play crucial roles in those games.
"The emphasis on the midweeks has been the same all year and will continue to be the same," Henderson said. "That emphasis is that they're important and we need to really play well. It gives you a chance to do some things potentially that you don't do on the weekends in terms of the pitching depth."
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: Baseball wins three of four, takes series from No. 1 LSU
In what could be considered one of the biggest weeks in UK baseball history, the No. 2 Wildcats came through in a big way. After taking down UC earlier in the week 7-0, Kentucky fell to No. 1 LSU in Friday's opener of the three-game series.
Per usual, Kentucky bounced back and took the final two games of the weekend as it has in every SEC series since sweeping defending national champions South Carolina in the opening weekend of SEC play. The Wildcats dominated the top-ranked Tigers 8-1 on Saturday to even the series, and won a nail-biter in the finale, 7-6.
Kentucky (35-6, 13-5 SEC) has yet to lose an SEC series this season, and with the two wins over LSU, holds a one game lead in the conference. The big weekend, despite less than ideal weather conditions, broke a weekend series record for attendance with 9,496.
Players of the Week - Rossi, Jomby named to SEC All-Tournament team
Kentucky junior Anthony Rossi and sophomore Tom Jomby were named to the All-Tournament team this weekend. The Wildcats fell to Georgia in the final of the SEC Tournament, losing their first match in conference play.
Rossi recorded big wins this weekend in the tournament, defeating Jeff Offerdahl 6-4 to take the set and clinch the match against Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals. He was also in position to win his match against Mississippi's Jonas Lutjen, leading 5-1, when play was suspended and Kentucky had clinched a birth into the tournament championship.
Jomby was key in doubles play all weekend, getting wins along side Alejandro Gomez against Vandy and Ole Miss. The sophomore also won singles matches Vanderbilt's Blake Bazarnik (6-3, 7-6) and Mississippi's William Kallberg (6-3, 6-3) before falling in the championship to Georgia's Ignacio Taboada.
Game of the Week - Baseball takes series over LSU with 7-6 win in rubber match
The top two teams in the country and SEC split the first two games of their weekend series in Lexington, Ky. this weekend, forcing a decisive game three for conference superiority. Both Kentucky and LSU entered the series with an 11-4 mark in the SEC, and the winner of Sunday's game would hold a one-game lead in the conference.
In a see-saw battle, the Tigers and Wildcats exchanged jabs with some of the best talent in the country, but despite LSU's best effort, Kentucky came out on top. It was a total team effort for the Cats, as a balanced offensive attack along with a huge bullpen effort staved off the Tigers while earning a 7-6 win.
After Kentucky had fallen behind 5-4 in top of the sixth inning, they answered with three runs on four doubles in the bottom of the frame. Zac Zellers, Matt Reida, J.T. Riddle, and Austin Cousino each recorded doubles that inning. Meanwhile, the bullpen duo of Tim Peterson and Alex Phillips combined for 3.1 innings of one-run baseball to close the game out and finish of the Tigers.
Photo of the Week- Cousino elevates
Photo by Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Video of the Week -Highlights from baseball's series clincher
Alumnae of the Week - Brandon Knight scores career-high 28 in win over Cleveland
Brandon Knight, one of a long line of successful point guards to play for John Calipari, put up a career-high 28 points in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night.
In Detroit's 116-77 blowout of the Cavs, Knight shot 11-of-12 from the field while adding 7 assists. In an up and down season for the first-year point guard, Knight is ending the season on a high note. Knight is averaging 18.3 points and 5.5 assists in the last six games and 15.1 ppg and 3.8 apg in his rookie campaign.
Overall Record: 35-6, 13-5 SEC Record Last Week: 3-1, 3-1 SEC Recent Results Tuesday, April 17 - won vs. Cincinnati * 7-0. Friday, April 20 - lost vs. No. 1 LSU * 4-5 Saturday, April 21 - won vs. No. 1 LSU * 8-1 Sunday, April 22 - won vs. No. 1 LSU * 7-6
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, April 24 - at No. 22 Louisville - 6:00 p.m. Friday, April 27 - at Vanderbilt - 7:00 p.m. Saturday, April 28 - at Vanderbilt - 3:00 p.m. Sunday, April 29 - at Vanderbilt - 2:00 p.m. PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Luke Maile 6-2 * Jr. - C/IF - Crestview Hills, Ky. Week Stats: .462 (6-for-13), 2 HR, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 13 total bases, 1.000 SLG%, SF
Notes: Junior infielder/first basemen Luke Maile led UK during a four-game week at the plate, leading UK to its first series win over a No. 1 team in program history, taking two of three from No. 1 LSU ... Maile hit .462 (6-for-13) during the week with two home runs, one double, five RBI, 13 total bases and a 1.000 slugging percentage ... In the midweek blowout of Cincinnati, Maile went 2-for-3 with a home run and one RBI ... Maile batted .400 (4-for-10) during the weekend series vs. LSU, with one home run, one double and four RBI ... Maile went 2-for-3 in game two of the weekend series, drilling his 11th home run of the year to go along with three RBI ... In the rubber-match win over LSU, Maile went 1-for-3 with his fourth RBI of the weekend ... On the year, Maile has hit .331 (50-for-151) with 10 doubles, an SEC-leading 11 home runs and 41 RBI. PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Alex Phillips 6-4 - Sr. - LHP - Tenino, Wash. Week Stats: 0.00 ERA, 2 app, 5.0 IP, 4 H, R, 0 BB, 1 SO,
Notes: Alex Phillips shut down LSU in two appearances out of the Kentucky bullpen, including earning a three-inning save in Kentucky's 8-1 win on Saturday over No. 1 LSU and a 2-inning save in the rubber match on Sunday, winning the series for Kentucky ... Phillips faced just 10 batters in his nine-out save on Saturday, allowing just two hits and forcing one strikeout ... Phillips notched his fourth save of the year in the rubber match vs. No. 1 LSU, allowing just one run on two hits ... Phillips has become a go-to reliever in the UK bullpen, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.33 ERA, four saves, 30 strikeouts and just seven walks in 38.2 innings pitched. FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Austin Cousino 5-10 - Fr. - CF * Dublin, Ohio Week Stats: .368 (7-for-19), 2 HR, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 15 total bases, .789 SLG%, 2-2 SB Notes: Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino was key for UK during a four-game week at the plate, leading UK from the leadoff spot to its first series win over a No. 1 team in program history, taking two of three from No. 1 LSU ... Cousino hit .368 (7-for-19) during the week with two home runs, two doubles, five RBI, 15 total bases, a .789 slugging percentage and swiping two bases on two steal attempts ... In the midweek blowout of Cincinnati, Cousino went 2-for-4 with a home run and one RBI ... Cousino batted .333 (5-for-15) during the weekend series win of LSU, with one home run, two doubles and four RBI ... Cousino went 2-for-5 in game two of the weekend series, hitting his seventh home run of the year and 16th double of the year to go along with three RBI ... In the rubber-match win over LSU, Cousino led Kentucky at the plate, going 3-for-5 with his league-leading 17th double of the year ... On the year, Cousino has hit a team-high .351 (60-for-171) with seven home runs, a league-leading 17 doubles, .585 slugging pct. and 34 RBI. TEAM NOTES With No. 1 LSU coming to Cliff Hagan Stadium, No. 2 Kentucky solidified the buzz, winning the series over top-ranked LSU with wins in the second and third game of the series. Kentucky's series win is the first over a No. 1 ranked team in the modern era history of the program, with the Wildcats producing record crowd during the three-game set.
Kentucky (35-6, 13-5 Southeastern Conference) returns to action with four-game road trip during the week, visiting in-state-rival No. 22 Louisville on Tuesday in a midweek matchup, before heading to Nashville, Tenn., for an SEC East series against Vanderbilt, starting Friday at 7:00 p.m. ET.
UK leads the nation in wins, sits atop the SEC standings and owns a 12-3 record in one-run games and an 11-5 record in games against top-25 teams. The Wildcats have opened up the year with series wins over No. 2 South Carolina, at Tennessee, at No. 18 Georgia, No. 10 Ole Miss, at No. 9 Arkansas and No. 1 LSU. The Wildcats are off to the best start to a season in the over 100-year history of the program, with its SEC start the best in program annals.
The Wildcats have been paced by a team offense that leads the conference in nearly every category, hitting .316 as a team, with a .488 slugging and a .403 on-base percentage, belting 47 homers in 41 games and stealing 36 bases. Individually, freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino leads UK with a .351 average, with a league-leading 17 doubles, seven homers and 34 RBI, stealing nine bases. Freshman A.J. Reed has hit .311 with nine doubles, three homers and 39 RBI, while senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy has batted .329 with 15 doubles, five homers and 25 RBI. Catcher Luke Maile leads the club with 41 RBI, batting .331 with 10 doubles and 11 homers. Outfielder Cameron Flynn has also belted nine homers.
Matt Reida drove in the go-ahead run against LSU with a sixth-inning double. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Another Southeastern Conference series and another win for the
Kentucky baseball team. It was by no means an ordinary series, however.
the No. 1 ranked LSU Tigers in town for a three-game series, Kentucky
(35-6, 13-5 SEC), the No. 2 ranked team nationally, took down the Tigers
(32-9, 12-6) in the final two games of the series, including Sunday's
7-6 win in front of a packed Cliff Hagan Stadium.
win has given UK the overall lead in the conference, and the fans have
came out to watch this team show that they are one of the best in the
With 3,086 in attendance Sunday and a
weekend attendance of 9,496, Kentucky broke the record for attendance
at a weekend series, something that head coach Gary Henderson believes
helped his team all weekend.
appreciate all of our fans coming out," said Henderson. "It makes it
easier on us. It's a fun environment. Our kids our fun to watch, we've
been fun all year to watch. I appreciate the fans coming out, and I hope
they continue to come out."
As long as
Kentucky continues to take series after series the way they have this
season, UK's play will be enough to bring the crowds back. It was the
sixth consecutive series that the Wildcats have taken from SEC
But they haven't all been easy.
sweeping South Carolina in the first series of conference play,
Kentucky has dropped the first game in four of the next following five
series. But in true Kentucky form, the Wildcats have battled back to win
the second game and the rubber match to earn series victories.
think we're pretty resilient," said Henderson. "I've said since early
on we got a tough group of kids. They're confident. We've got some
depth. It's one thing to be tough and confident, but you've also got to
have some skills, and we do. It's a good group; they're pretty level in
that regard. They show up, and we've got a pretty steady group of
Sunday afternoon had Kentucky
facing that same situation, needing a win in the rubber match. With
Sunday starter sophomore Corey Littrell on the bump, who is perfect in
the conference this year, the Wildcats felt confident they would be able
to gain another series win. LSU got to Littrell in the second inning
for their first run, but as usual, the vaunted Kentucky offense came to
The third inning garnered three runs
from the Cats, ignited by freshman center fielder Austin Cousino.
Cousino led off with a screamer past the second baseman to get things
going, and after Thomas McCarthy doubled down the right field line,
freshman A.J. Reed put the UK ahead 2-1 with a double of his own.
has been one of the best centerfielders in the country, and, despite a
five-strikeout performance in the series opener, was crucial in both
Kentucky wins. Though Friday night's struggles disappointed him,
Cousino, who was 3 for 5 with an RBI Sunday, clearly didn't let it get
the best of him.
"I definitely lost some sleep
over it, a little kink in my neck coming out Saturday," said Cousino.
"You just got to shake those off. Coming out for (batting practice), I
still had that smile on my face and no one on the team ever questioned
my ability coming back out."
another run in the third and one in the fourth on a Zac Zellers solo
home run after LSU had answered with two in the top of the fourth. LSU
then regained the lead as left fielder Raph Rhymes, who destroyed UK
pitching all weekend, put the Tigers up 5-4 in the top of the sixth
inning to knock Littrell out of the game. Rhymes was 8 for 12 in the
series, including a 4-for-4 showing Sunday afternoon coming just a
triple short of the cycle. He's also batting .500 (70 for 140) on the
Cue the Comeback Cats.
LSU ran out their top-tier relievers, UK greeted them rudely with a
parade of doubles in the bottom of the sixth. Zellers, J.T. Riddle, Matt
Reida, and Cousino each had extra-base hits in the frame on their way
to a three-run sixth that put Kentucky ahead 7-5.
The Tigers wouldn't go down without a fight, for they were battling for SEC supremacy themselves.
and reliever Alex Phillips found themselves in a jam in eighth. A
McCarthy error after LSU had singled twice allowed a run to score, with
the Wildcats finding themselves in familiar territory: holding onto a
one-run lead. Phillips came up with his biggest pitch of the day,
inducing a 4-6-3 double play to get out of the inning.
was a key moment in the game, where LSU looked to grab momentum back.
But as Kentucky has done all season, they were able to grind it out.
It's something that they've done all year.
the biggest grinders in the country hands down," said Littrell. "I
didn't have my best stuff, but I know they're going to find a way to
win. We always do. We're resilient. There's no way they're going to beat
Phillips made sure LSU didn't. With
UK closer Trevor Gott warming in the bullpen, Henderson opted to leave
Phillips in for his second inning of work. The southpaw made the
decision look great retiring the side in order as UK clinched yet
another one-run SEC victory.
While it may be
one of the biggest series wins in school history, defeating the No. 1
team in the country and earning a potential No. 1 ranking for themselves
this week, the season is hardly over, and there are more wins to be
had. As those wins pile up and UK tastes more success, Henderson makes
sure to remind his players to be humble despite their high-level of
"I'm pleasantly surprised; I would
not say shocked," said Henderson about his team's torrid start to the
season. "And at the same time, you don't take anything for granted. And
that is a constant theme, message, that I pound into them on a weekly
basis. And to our club's credit, they don't take anything for granted."
Demarco Robinson caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns during Saturday's Blue/White Game. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Another spring football season has come and gone, capped by Saturday evening's Blue/White Game, which was attended by 4,500 fans in spite of conditions that had the players calling it the "winter game" rather than the "spring game."
Since it was a nontraditional game, we're going to structure our postgame coverage a little differently. So, here are a few of the salient themes I picked out from the Blue/White Game and spring practice at large: Robinson the playmaker - Joker Phillips and his coaching staff have raved at every possible juncture about the steps forward Robinson has taken in his second season in the UK attack. A season ago, he struggled with a strength deficit and an understanding of the offensive, but during the Blue/White Game, Robinson showed why the coaches believe he can be so dangerous.
Smith looked for Robinson early and often for passes both short and long, and he responded with big play after big play. He finished with nine catches for 146 yards, both game highs, displaying the after-the-catch ability fans already knew about as well as a talent for attacking a jump ball. That was never more apparent than on his second touchdown, when Robinson rose over a defender and reeled in a 21-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
"It's just all about concentration," Robinson said. "(Wide receivers) Coach (Pat) Washington, we've been working on it a lot, back shoulder, throwing into the end zone. It was perfect, Max threw a perfect ball."
Smith and Robinson displayed a chemistry and feel for one another that is encouraging heading into the summer, and the two aren't going to stop working either.
"Over the spring we've been getting a lot of work," Robinson said. "Extra passes and extra throwing and stuff and its really showing that it's helped. We're going to keep it up this summer."
Perhaps the most encouraging part of Robinson's effort is that it wasn't an outlier. In every previous scrimmage, the wide receiver made a play belying his small stature.
"We got an idea of who some of our playmakers are," Phillips said. "I worked a training camp one time with (former Washington Redskins head coach) Joe Gibbs and one of our coaching meetings said, 'There's something to be said about a guy, every time you have a scrimmage, he makes a play.' Demarco Robinson was that guy. Every time we came into this place, he made a huge play for us. Today he made a lot of big plays for us."
If anyone could assess Robinson, it's cornerback Marcus Caffey, who lined up alongside him much of the spring and had to switch onto the second team defense to match up with him one on one.
"He's just quick," Caffey said. "To me, I told him he played like DeSean Jackson. It's hard to check him, you got to always stay on your toes and be ready for a double. He's real shifty. He's just a good player." Smith not satisfied - The sophomore quarterback may have led the first team offense to 414 total yards, but Smith was not happy with his play. He had a strong start to the game, but made a handful of mistakes that he is unwilling to accept, which resulted in two interceptions.
"I didn't think I played well to be honest. I made a couple of bad throws," Smith said. "Actually, too many. I didn't think I played too well. I thought as a team, collectively, we played well. We blocked well, ran it well."
UK's 15 spring practices may now be over, but for Smith, the work is just beginning. He plans on further developing his relationships with his receivers, both on and off the field to make sure the Wildcats capitalize on every opportunity afforded them.
"Working with my receivers, getting together more this summer and just working on throwing deep balls because I missed a couple deep balls I probably should have hit," Smith said.
The mistakes he made on Saturday put somewhat of a damper on things, but Smith still feels good about the progress he's made.
"I do feel encouraged," Smith said. "I feel a lot further along that last spring. I have a good understanding of the offense now, a lot better that last year. I feel good, but we got a lot of work to do." Neloms a leader - Senior safety Martavius Neloms has long been a contributor on Kentucky's defense. As a sophomore, he was a hard-hitting starting cornerback. As a junior, he transitioned to safety and garnered a big-play reputation.
In his final season, Neloms is taking on another new role: leader.
In the past, Neloms may not have entirely understood all it takes to be a powerful example to his teammates. But with the end of his college career closing fast, he's beginning to grasp that leadership doesn't begin and end on the field of play.
"(Martavius) Neloms is becoming the leader we need him to be," Phillips said. "He's becoming the guy we can trust off the field. He takes care of his business in the classroom and those things. And those things matter. People don't understand. Those things matter and (Martavius) is getting it now."
With defensive stalwarts Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Ronnie Sneed now departed, replacing their presence as leaders is perhaps just as important as compensating for their production. Neloms has always been a supporting actor to those stars, but his emergence in all facets is allowing him the chance to step into the forefront.
"He's always been a good player," Phillips said. "Now we think he can be a great player with the way he's leading."
According to Phillips, Neloms thriving in that new role has allowed Caffey to emerge in his.
"The reason why he is picking it up so fast is (Martavious) Neloms," Phillips said. "Neloms is doing a really good job with him."
Tight ends a threat - A season ago, UK's tight ends combined to made just 30 catches for 262 yards and two touchdowns. On Saturday, Tyler Robinson, Ronnie Shields, Anthony Kendrick and Jordan Aumiller had 12 total catches for 165 yards and one touchdown.
The fact that they were featured more prominently in the offense was no accident.
"Ronnie played well," Smith said. "(Kendrick), too made a couple good catches and like I said they really helped stretch the field. Like I said, I really like throwing to tight ends because you know they are big targets and they can beat linebackers one-on-one. They played well for us today."
Shields, who had three catches for 42 yards after a couple early drops, has emerged in the spring as UK's top threat.
"They have a better understanding of separating," Phillips said. "Ronnie Shields is a guy that we didn't trust, we didn't trust him to be where he is supposed to be and on time and now he is getting it."
Spring pleasantly injury-free - Fifteen spring sessions weren't without the occasional bump or bruise, but the Wildcats enjoyed a relatively healthy spring. Considering all the physical work they got in, that's a pleasant development.
"For us to do those things for 15 days and not have any major injuries in spring is really big, really key in that we have nobody that has to rehab from now until fall camp," said Phillips.
The only injury sustained in the spring game itself was a thigh bruise to cornerback Cartier Rice, but that's nothing to be concerned about.
Austin Cousino had two hits on Saturday against LSU, including a home run, after striking out five times on Friday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Going through a Southeastern Conference slate for the first time, the occasional struggle is all but inevitable for a freshman. There are simply too many good teams, too many good pitchers for even the best newcomers to star from start to finish.
Austin Cousino got a first-hand lesson in that on Friday night. In five at-bats against LSU, the centerfielder had the dreaded "platinum sombrero," striking out each time against Tiger ace Kevin Gausman and reliever Nick Goody.
Cousino isn't accustomed to that kind of failure, so you couldn't help but be concerned that doubt might seep into the mind of a player who has been Kentucky's sparkplug in the leadoff spot from the moment he made his college debut.
Unless, of course, you've ever spent time around him.
"I came in the cages this morning smiling and laughing like I'd just hit five home runs," Cousino said. "It's just kind of my personality."
That's not just idle talk either, because his comments came on the heels of a Saturday afternoon performance that made Friday night a distant memory. On Cousino's first swing, he stroked a double to right field, starting a two-run rally to answer the run LSU had scratched across in the top of the frame. For the first time in the last 28 pitches he had seen, Cousino put a ball in play, over which time he had struck out six consecutive at-bats dating back to a win over Cincinnati on Tuesday night.
And he wasn't done there.
UK was clinging to a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning of the crucial middle game of a three-game set and the Wildcats needed some insurance to ensure they would pull back into a tie for first place in the SEC. With runners on first and third and just one out, Cousino, at the very least, needed a fly ball to the outfield to chase home J.T. Riddle.
When he hit a skyscraping drive to right-center field, that's what most of the 2,625 fans in attendance at Cliff Hagan Stadium thought he had done, with Cousino himself being a notable exception.
"It's pretty short here to right center and the ball was traveling pretty well today," Cousino said. "I saw the outfielder kind of go for it, but I think right when I hit it, I knew it was out."
The ball carried, then carried some more before landing well into the Party Deck for a three-run home run and a comfortable 6-1 lead for starter Jerad Grundy (4-1, 3.95 ERA). From there, the second-ranked Wildcats (34-6, 12-5 SEC) didn't look back, going on to defeat No. 1 LSU (32-8, 12-5 SEC), 8-1.
Cousino's bounce-back performance the most notable one on an afternoon full of them, as the Cats recovered from Friday's 5-4 loss.
"That's what you got to do," said Cousino, who finished batting 2-for-5 with three RBI and two runs. "A rough Friday night, I might have lost a little sleep last night, but credit to LSU and credit to Gausman, a great pitcher. It's amazing what one night can do in baseball. That's what the best thing about this sport is. You can bounce right back."
He credits his ability to shake off a bad night to the kind of fun-loving approach that brought him to the batting cage grinning earlier in the morning.
"The game's going to beat you up, it's going to rattle you, it's going to do a lot of things," Cousino said. "It's all about how you respond. Last night I couldn't sniff it, I couldn't try to put a ball in play and today it's a whole different story."
It's an attitude that has been a key component to UK's surprising ascendance in 2012. Designated hitter Luke Maile, who connected on his 11th home run of the season against LSU, called him "one of a kind," and head coach Gary Henderson said it didn't take long to identify that swagger.
"He's got deep-seated confidence, no doubt about that, which is the reason why he's here," Henderson said. "You figure that out very early in the recruiting process and you want to get as much of that in your program as you can. Obviously skill is important as well, but you put those two together and you got something. We've certainly got something in him."
Confidence will certainly play a role as UK prepares for Sunday's finale at 1 p.m. vs. LSU. It marks the fifth consecutive series the Cats have gone into the final game of an SEC weekend needing a win to clinch the series, and five times they have delivered with Corey Littrell (6-0, 1.95 ERA) on the mound.
"We've kind of been in these spots before where we've been down in the count and anytime you're in the SEC, it's hard to win these games period," Maile said. "It's really hard to win when they get the first one from you, but we've responded well every weekend this year and we're not in a place where we haven't been before."
However, LSU is ranked atop the polls for a reason. The Tigers are also particularly dangerous with Aaron Nola (5-1, 3.15 ERA), one of the top freshman pitchers in the nation, starting.
"I think we're real confident, but you still respect who you're playing and you respect the game and you don't take anything for grant, but we've been pretty good on Sunday," Henderson said.
Austino Cousino and UK fell to LSU 5-4 on Friday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The way things started, Friday night's series opener against LSU looked like it could get ugly quickly.
The three-game set, which pits the top two teams in both the country and the Southeastern Conference, was billed as one of the biggest in recent Kentucky history. At least to begin with, the Wildcats looked like the stage had gotten to them.
Two first-inning runs left UK in an early hole, and against Tiger ace Kevin Gausman, the deficit seemed close to insurmountable, but the Cats stayed true to form, stayed in it and manufactured runs. At the end of the day, the shaky start was too much to overcome.
"I thought the moment was a little bit for us there, one of the few times this year," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "We're jacked, the kids are ready to play, they're a little over-pumped. If we play catch, it's a completely different inning."
UK was poised to escape the opening inning unscathed, as starter Taylor Rogers caught LSU's Arby Fields in a run down between first and second, but an errant throw by first baseman A.J. Reed prolonged the frame. The Tigers, as a team ranked first in the nation is wont to do, capitalized.
Raph Rhymes, the nation's leader in batting average, reached on an infield single, scoring Fields when second baseman J.T. Riddle threw wide of first base. The next batter, Austin Nola, would bring around another run with a single up the middle.
UK battled, and against a pitcher who was allowing barely seven hits per nine innings coming into the evening, pounded out 10 base knocks and four runs. The Cats managed to tie the score at three when they scored two runs in the fourth, capped by Zac Zellers' run-scoring single, one of his three hits on the night. They looked poised to scratch across the go-ahead run in that inning with runners on first and second with no out, but couldn't push across another tally.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats (33-6, 11-5 SEC) were unable to put the ball in play consistently enough to capitalize on their 11 base runners in the first seven innings. Fifteen of the 27 outs recorded by Tiger pitching came via the strikeout.
"You're going to have to give some credit to their pitching," Henderson said. "That guy (Gausman) is good. Clearly, when you punch out that many times, it makes it really tough, but not impossible."
There were certainly moments when the Wildcats had a season-high crowd of 3,785 at Cliff Hagan Stadium believing, particularly when Gausman finally departed after the seventh inning. LSU relievers Chris Cotton and Nick Goody closed the door though, leaving UK to wonder, "what if?" about that first inning.
"That's kind of Friday night in our league," Henderson said. "That's how thin it is and that's how tight it is and there's your margin of error. We've been, for the most part of this year, making those plays and we didn't tonight and we paid for it."
This marks the fourth time in six SEC series that the Cats have lost the Friday game, leading Henderson to conclude that the team needs to figure out how to take down an opposing ace.
"One of the reasons that our league is so good in the postseason as we move on and we play other people is that we go through those experiences," Henderson said. "We've got to learn how to beat a guy like Gausman."
On the plus side, each of the previous three times the Wildcats have lost the opener, they've rallied to win the next two games and the series.
"We've been in that situation before, a lot of one-run games and losing the first game of the series, so we'll come back tomorrow ready to play," Zellers said.
Joker Phillips met with the media on Friday after Kentucky's final practice before Saturday's Blue/White Scrimmage. He talked about a range of topics, including the team's progress over the spring and Maxwell Smith's development at quarterback.
Freshman Austino Cousino led off UK's 7-0 win over Cincinnati on Tuesday with a first-inning home run. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In the midst of a dream season, Kentucky has been hailed as the story of college baseball. With a 33-5 start to the season, attention and praise has been showered on the Wildcats as they have continued to pass test after test in the rugged Southeastern Conference.
This weekend, things will be ratcheted up another notch.
Beginning on Friday evening, UK will play host to No. 1 LSU (31-7, 11-4 SEC) in a battle of not only the top two teams in the country, but also the nation according to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. However, even with the nation's eyes fixed on a pair of projected College World Series contenders and two of the games being broadcast on television, the Cats aren't going to make this series something it's not.
"In some respects, it's a huge weekend," head coach Gary Henderson said. "In other respects, it's three of 30 league games and you try to find that balance. We won't have any shortage of adrenaline going. Our kids will be ready."
It's difficult to argue with Henderson's approach based on the results it has yielded so far this season. UK is yet to lose an SEC series en route to an 11-4 start identical to LSU's and is a sparkling 21-1 outside of the nation's toughest conference.
"Our game is monotonous repetition of the basic skills of the game," Henderson said. "That's baseball. If you get a group of guys that enjoy that part of it and do it regardless of whether it's Tuesday night or Wednesday night or Friday night, then you got a chance to enjoy your group and we do."
Even with all the success that has come in the first two months of the season, the Wildcats are focusing their attention on what's to come.
"Coach has hit it on the head: the season so far has been great and you can't take anything away from that, but we still have five more weeks in the SEC," Austin Cousino said. "A lot can change and you can see teams that get hot and you can see teams who fall. We hope to be one of those teams that are going to get hot now."
Cousino went on to amend his statement, saying he wants his team to stay hot, which is particularly appropriate for him. The freshman centerfielder has been a star from the second he set foot on campus, and has been UK's best offensive threat in facing SEC opponents for the first time. In 15 conference games batting leadoff, Cousino leads the team in slugging percentage (.569), walks (eight) and runs (18) and is tied for the team lead in home runs (three), extra base hits (nine) and steals (two).
The Dublin, Ohio native has spearheaded an offensive attack that ranks among the nation's best on the season, but the Cats have gotten the job done in conference play with pitching and defense more than anything else.
"This past weekend, we won two one-run games and we don't have to score many runs with our defense and pitching," Cousino said. "That will take us a long way."
In taking last weekend's series at Arkansas, UK scored just seven runs in its two wins, continuing a trend. Five of Kentucky's 11 SEC wins have come when the offense has tallied five runs or fewer and six in one-run games. UK has scored 5.8 runs per game in SEC play, 1.6 fewer than its season average.
Cousino's glove has had a lot to do with some stellar defense by the Wildcats, which has backed up a pitching staff that has allowed just 2.8 runs per game in five SEC series. Somewhat incredibly, UK has managed to hold down opponents in spite of an ERA of 4.69 from its three starters. Sunday starter Corey Littrell (4-0, 2.01 ERA in SEC games) has dazzled, but Taylor Rogers and Jerad Grundy have struggled.
"We'd like them to get more than four or five innings when they're starting, but right now that's what we have and we're going to keep working with them," Henderson said. "They're our guys, we're sticking with them and I suspect that they'll improve and they'll get better."
Fortunately, the bullpen has ably picked up the slack. Relievers Trevor Gott, Alex Phillips and Tim Peterson have anchored a group that has combined for a 7-2 record and 2.45 ERA in conference, a level of play they will look to sustain against a Tiger team that has outscored its opponents 264-131 on the season.
The series with first place on the line is one the Wildcats are certainly looking forward to and they're eager as well to protect their home field at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
"I think every SEC weekend, I at least get amped up for it and I think if you ask the other 35 people on our team, they would say the same thing, especially since LSU is ranked pretty high," Cousino said. "They're coming into our park and it's definitely hard to win here at the Cliff, I'm not going to lie."
Especially if UK takes yet another SEC series, the Wildcats know and hope that each subsequent weekend will be more anticipated than the last.
"We'll do the very best job we can and then we'll go down and face really good pitching in Nashville and then the (Florida) Gators will be here," Henderson said. "Hopefully we'll be having this same conversation about how good the Gators are and how it's the biggest weekend that we've ever had. That's what you hope, that we'll keep playing well."
Matt Roark quarterbacked UK to a 10-7 win over Tennessee, triggering "Cats Win for Kids." (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
It started with a comment made in passing on his radio show.
On an August installment of Larry Glover Live, he fielded a call from an optimistic Kentucky football fan. The caller was convinced UK was going to win the 2011 Southeastern Conference title, but Glover tried to slow him down.
Not wanting fans to get to ahead of themselves, Glover said the first concern should be defeating a pair of conference powers the Wildcats had long losing streaks against.
" 'If they just beat Tennessee or Florida, I'll walk from Somerset to Lexington if it happens,' " Glover recalls telling the caller.
His proclamation was brought up routinely on the show, but Glover was relatively sure he could keep his walking shoes in the closet after the Cats fell to the Gators in September. He felt even safer when Matt Roark, a player who hadn't played the position since high school, took his first shotgun snap at quarterback against Tennessee.
"When I found out that Max (Smith) wouldn't play and they'd have a wide receiver playing quarterback, I felt pretty comfortable," Glover said.
The rest, of course, is history.
UK would end a 26-year drought with an unlikely 10-7 win over the Volunteers, touching off a raucous celebration. Glover, knowing his listeners well, could rest assured he would be made to keep his word.
"When it happened, it was kind of a surreal moment," Glover said. "The next time I was on the air, I had people on the air calling in asking when I was going to do it. They were going to hold me to it."
"I decided to do it, but I told my audience I would only do it if we could raise some money for a good cause," Glover said.
Glover would make the 75-mile trek between Somerset and Lexington in support of the Shriners Hospital for Children, a cause near to Glover's heart. His daughter was born three-and-a-half year ago with club feet and has been successfully treated at the Lexington branch of the hospital for nearly her entire life.
Two weeks ago, Glover began his lengthy walk, breaking it up into seven- to 10-mile chunks. On Thursday, he concluded his journey with a 12-mile hike from just south of Nicholasville to the place where it all really started: Commonwealth Stadium.
"I'm glad that it's over, but I'm glad that I did it," Glover said. "It's for a very worthy cause and it's a way to commemorate the win over Tennessee and at the same time draw some attention to an organization that really needs help."
In a grand tradition that was kick-started at Kentucky by John Wall three seasons ago, it's time to begin getting excited about the newest future Wildcat by watching highlight videos and high school mix tapes. Here are a few featuring Nerlens Noel.
By any standards other than his own, John Calipari had an elite recruiting class.
With Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein all signing early, Coach Cal's fourth class at Kentucky was ranked second nationally according to most major outlets. Perhaps nothing has been more revealing about the unprecedented wave of talent converging on the Bluegrass than the fact that the group felt incomplete.
You see, UK fans aren't accustomed to seeing their team ranked anything other than No. 1 these days. And after a commitment from the consensus top prospect in the class of 2012, it appears they aren't going to be reminded what it's like this offseason.
On Monday morning, Nerlens Noel faxed his National Letter of Intent to Kentucky, likely ensuring Coach Cal would have his fourth consecutive top-ranked recruiting class since arriving in Lexington in 2009.
A 6-foot-11 center, Noel is rated as the No. 1 prospect in his class according to ESPN and Scout.com. The Everett, Mass., native is expected to step in immediately and be a centerpiece on a team that will defend UK's eighth national championship. For Noel, the lure of pursuing another title as a Wildcat was too much to resist.
"I just thought it was the best fit for me personally," Noel said on the ESPNU Signing Day special where he initially announced his commitment on Wednesday night. "I talked to my mom. She liked it as well. She liked all three schools (UK, Georgetown and Syracuse), but when it came down to it, she liked Kentucky. She met with Coach Orlando (Antigua) and Coach Calipari and they just had a great idea. Just watching them on TV with what they do with Anthony Davis, she thought it was the best fit for me, and I did too."
Lauded by experts as the best high school shot-blocker in recent memory, Noel's scouting report is a near facsimile of Davis', the reigning consensus national player of the year. It remains to be seen whether he can even threaten Davis' 186 blocks, a record for NCAA freshmen, but it seems a near lock the product of Tilton School will make an instant impact.
"I've been blessed three times in my career to have a player that can change the game without really scoring with Marcus Camby, Anthony Davis and now Nerlens Noel," Calipari said. "I will tell you that Nerlens, just like Anthony, is not a finished product. He's got a lot of work to do and we have a lot of work to do to get him to where I think he's capable of being, but he is a special player who I am ecstatic to have an opportunity to work with."
As happy as Coach Cal and the fans are at the news of Noel's commitment, it would be hard for them to top the elation felt by his fellow signees. Goodwin and Poythress were both in studio for the announcement of his verbal commitment during ESPNU's Signing Day special and did not yet know his destination.
In fact, probably the only people who did know where he was headed were his family members and the barber who shaved a logo representing his choice in the back of his signature high-top fade. The world at-large only learned he was a Wildcat when he turned his head to the camera to show off the interlocking "UK" logo he'll wear on his jersey next season. It was a unique introduction to those few Kentucky fans who didn't already know of him and it sent Goodwin jumping into Poythress' arms in celebration.
"Obviously he's a dynamic player on defense," future teammate Goodwin said on ESPNU's Signing Day Special. "(He) has a lot of great athletic ability. Long arms, great talent on defense and also a great offensive player. He just brings a lot to the table with the way he works and the way he times the blocked shots. He's another Anthony Davis in my eyes because he doesn't need offense to make an impact on the game."
Each one of the individuals that comprise UK's 2012 class is a good player in his right, but Coach Cal believes it's the way the parts fit together that will make this group special - and similar to the one that just cut down the nets in New Orleans.
"As we recruit, just like last year, it's like piecing together a young group that will play off one another," Calipari said. "The four that we've now signed will all play off one another. They're all great kids who have a desire to win, have terrific talent and who all complement each other."
With Noel in the fold, attention now turns to the few unsigned recruits that still remain. Calipari is still working on putting the finishing touches on another masterpiece of a class, but that's not to say the already-signed foursome isn't already pretty good on its own.
"We're coming for a repeat," Poythress said. "We're coming for it again next year."
UK men's tennis opens play in the SEC Tournament on Friday against either LSU or Vanderbilt. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
It's been since 1992 that the University of Kentucky men's tennis team won the SEC regular season title. While that is a tremendous achievement for this group and the program, this season's regular season championship was just one of many goals set for this team from the onset of the season.
Though the regular season is complete, the real competition begins this weekend in the SEC Tournament in Starkville, Miss. With these Wildcats, the stiff competition awaiting them on the path to the Tournament Championship is something they look forward to.
"We've only ever won one (SEC Tournament), which is in '92," said Emery. "So it's not like this is just old hat for us going down there, and we can just set it aside. We're going down there to win."
Because of the number of nationally ranked teams in the SEC, for the No. 6 Wildcats (24-4, 11-0 SEC), who enter the as the No. 1 seed and had won't play until Friday with a first round bye, winning the conference tournament would go a long way in ensuring one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
"If we would go down there and win the tournament," said Emery, "We would be a top-four seed in the NCAAs, and that would be a really big thing. That really does help your draw as you're moving forward in the NCAA Tournament."
But not even an SEC Tournament Championship or a high seed going into the NCAA Tournament will satisfy this bunch.
Kentucky has their sights set on something bigger, something more illustrious. Something that even their head coach Dennis Emery hasn't spoke about much to the media.
At least not until Wednesday afternoon.
"We want to get to a Sweet 16. We'd love to get to a Final Four," said Emery of his hopes and expectations for the team.
His players, however, are singing a different tune.
"One of our players reminded me the other day that, 'you know, you keep saying our goal is to get to a Final Four. Our goal is to win a national championship. We wish you would tell the media that,' " said Emery.
Emery previously had spoken of getting deep into the NCAA Tournament as a goal that they had set before the season had started, but it in looking forward, his team has been able to focus on each individual step that could lead them to greatness.
"The thing that we've done very well this year, better than any year here I've ever coached," said Emery, "These guys have really taken it one match at a time. It's something, as a coach, you stress. I don't think it's something you pound into your players. We have two very good senior leaders and a junior in Anthony Rossi, and I think they've learned from the past that you don't look ahead. Not in our league, and not in the NCAAs."
A big reason for that, the ability to focus on take each match "one match at a time," is the competitive nature of this group. They have a desire to win, they genuinely love the sport, and the thrill of competing manifests itself in the way this team plays. This starts from the top with seniors Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek, two of the top players in the country, along with Rossi.
That attitude has seemingly permeated through a group that lives together in an apartment complex. They've all bought in. Though many of the events are individual, each player has adopted a winner's mentality to help take this team to such a high level.
"The thing about this team is, it's the most competitive group I've seen one to six," said Emery. "They all love to win, they all love tennis, and you don't always have that mix of people who love to compete, love to win, and love the game."
Quigley is a player who loves to win. He loves it so much, in fact, that he rarely loses. The Pee Wee Valley, Ky. native has saved his best for last going 45-6 on the season including an undefeated 11-0 in conference play his senior year. Those numbers are good for third overall in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll for the second consecutive week.
For his coach, this season has been one of, if not Emery's best, during his tenure at the University of Kentucky. In his 30th year of service at Kentucky, the two-time SEC Coach of the Year and two-time runner-up for NCAA Coach of the Year, is certain to have more accolades coming his way if his team reaches the goals they've set.
It was evident Wednesday when Emery talked just how excited he was about his team and how much he looked forward to this weekend and beyond. And while there are still, hopefully, many matches to be played this season, he's elated with how this team, after losing two very good players, have matured and exceeded expectations.
"Our guys have come to play every match," said Emery, "And just from a personal standpoint, it's been very good to see how professional our players have become. We knew we were the best team athletically in the country, we were not sure we were the best team in the country competitively or emotionally. And to this point, we've been right there with anybody."
Matthew Mitchell served under Pat Summitt at Tennessee as a graduate assistant in 1999-2000. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Wednesday afternoon, the University of Tennessee announced that long-time women's basketball coach Pat Summitt was stepping down after 38 season to accept a position as head coach emeritus. In the wake of her decision, Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell issued the following statement in support of the woman who helped jumpstart his career:
"I want to thank Pat Summitt for all she has done for the sport of women's basketball. Her 1,098 wins, eight national titles and numerous conference titles are just a few of her staggering statistics and accomplishments. What I think is more important about Pat Summitt than her impressive statistics, is the millions of people she has and continues to inspire. She motivated so many people during her 38 years to accomplish their dreams. Words can never express adequately how much gratitude I personally have for Coach Summitt. I am living a dream, coaching at Kentucky, because she gave me an opportunity to learn from her many years ago. Jenna and I will continue to support the Pat Summitt Foundation and Coach Summitt's effort to bring awareness to this disease that she is so courageously fighting. I wish Coach Summitt nothing but the very best as she starts the next chapter in her very impactful life. I love her very much."
UK will hold its final practice of the spring on Friday before Saturday's Blue/White Game. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With just a Friday practice and Saturday's Blue/White Game left in football's five-week spring session, head coach Joker Phillips spoke to the media on Wednesday about the scrimmage and what he has seen out of his team. Here are a few notes from his comments:
Scrimmage to pit first team, second teams
For the second year in a row, the spring scrimmage will be played like a regular game with the first team (White) lining up against the second team (Blue). The Blue will start the game with a 14-0 lead to even things up.
In an intense closed scrimmage this past weekend, head coach Joker Phillips saw what he hopes will be a preview of Saturday's event in Commonwealth Stadium.
"I want to see them compete," Phillips said. "We really think we know right now who our playmakers are, guys that make things happen."
On offense, Phillips sees wide receivers Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins, quarterback Maxwell Smith and even guard Larry Warford as standout performers, as well as tight end Ronnie Shields, who has grabbed hold of the position with a strong spring. The coaching staff is asking him to balance a heavy workload as a receiver and blocker, a role he has grown into throughout these March and April practices.
"We're asking him to do a lot of things and I was concerned early in the spring how he would handle that, but I think he's stepped up to the plate and done the things he needs to do," Phillips said.
Defensively, linebacker/defensive end Bud Dupree was the first name out of Phillips' mouth, as has often been the case. The sophomore has been a revelation as a leader and outside pass rusher. Middle linebacker Avery Williamson, safety Martavius Neloms and defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble are also expected to do big things in the spring game, while converted running back Marcus Caffey will bring a different dimension to the cornerback position.
"This guy's got a chance to be a real physical corner that can get his hands on people and reroute them and now he can be over the top so I think that's one of the things I'm most excited about," Phillips said. Smith solid at quarterback
Phillips was asked on Wednesday how confident he is that this year's team will have the ability to stretch the field in the passing game more than a season ago. His answer revolved around one player.
"I'm confident, because I'm confident in what I've been seeing out here in Maxwell Smith," Phillips said. "Max has done a really good job."
After starting down the stretch as a freshman, Smith has taken steps forward in his understanding of the offense, but he still has room for improvement. After last Saturday's scrimmage, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders ordered that he run the stairs of Commonwealth Stadium as punishment for how many sacks he had taken.
"In our system, we don't ask our quarterback to win games with his legs," Phillips said. "We ask him to get out of his hands as quickly as he possibly can and get it to guys that we're asking to make plays to make plays."
Offensive line depth a concern
Having to replace three starters from last season's experienced unit, offensive line figured to be a issue this year. This spring, that's proven to be the case, but not for necessarily the expected reason. Sophomore Darrian Miller and redshirt freshman Zach West have looked good stepping into starting roles, while seniors Warford and Matt Smith have helped anchor the first unit.
However, Phillips expressed some worry over the backups, saying that a couple of UK's incoming freshman - who will enroll in June - may be called upon.
"I don't feel good at all about the depth," Phillips said. "We're hoping that we'll have a young Darrian Miller in this freshman group. We've got to find out in a hurry."
Punting a work in progress
Another position where a freshman is expected to have an early opportunity is at punter, where Joe Mansour and Jay Wilmott have battled this spring. UK has experienced an inevitable decline at the punter spot with the departure of Ryan Tydlacka.
"Our punting situation right now is not up to standards, and we're spoiled too," Phillips said. "We've had a guy that just got a Super Bowl ring last year (Tim Masthay) and we got a guy that I think could be a Super Bowl (punter) someday (in Tydlacka)."
Highly regarded kicker/punter Landon Foster will arrive on campus this summer and compete for the spot.
These Wildcats played the game the way basketball purists dream for it to be played: Intelligently, fairly, aggressively and, now more than ever, selflessly.
Six-time NBA champion Scottie Pippen once said, "Sometimes, a player's greatest challenge is coming to grips with his role on the team." Among the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats, senior Darius Miller gave up a starting job because it made sense to bring his scoring ability off the bench; Davis refurnished his house with trophies despite taking the fourth-most shots among the Wildcats, and Jones took fewer 3-point shots because these loaded Wildcats didn't need him to force offense.
These Wildcats buried those myths just like they buried Western Kentucky. And then Iowa State. And then Indiana. And then Baylor. And then Louisville. And then Kansas in the national title game to prevent Bill Self from winning his second championship in five years at Calipari's expense. They finished 38-2 while going undefeated in the SEC and inside Rupp Arena. Along the way they shattered everything some people -- simple-minded people, but people nonetheless -- thought they knew about this sport, and they gave Calipari eternal credibility with young players because love him or hate him there's no debating this anymore: His way works.
You can win it all in college as a player his way.
You can reach your NBA dreams and secure riches as a player his way.
This is the new reality that John Calipari has wrought - piecing together nearly new teams on an annual basis and making runs at the championship. He has rewritten the title timeline, and never more successfully than this season. This was his greatest team, a 38-2 juggernaut that rarely was challenged during its stampede through the season.
These five, plus senior sixth man Darius Miller, will be drafted in June. That is what Calipari is selling to players, and selling it better than anyone - the express lane to NBA riches.
All five seemed sad at times -- Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones each choking up at least once -- but all beamed when the subject turned to their lifelong dreams of becoming pros. And the wealth that comes with it, which one reporter reminded Davis.
"That's right," said a grinning Davis, "I am going to be rich."
Today, I met Darius Miller the human being. I'm still not sure which amazes me more. After observing Darius for four years in the blue and white, there was nobody I was happier for when the confetti began falling from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome rafters than the SEC Sixth-man of the year. He has won more games in Rupp Arena than any player before, has given his heart and soul to the state of Kentucky and its most acclaimed institution, and finally had the pleasure of delivering the University of Kentucky banner number eight. But none of this came to mind when his 6'7 frame came through my door. Suddenly, Room 492 was the place to be in all of the hospital.
Kentucky (30-4, 9-3 SEC) is one team that may find itself among the final eight at the CWS in June. The Wildcats boast the second-highest team batting average (.328) in the country and are 9-3 in the stacked Southeastern Conference. However one deceiving thing about their record is that the Wildcats have yet to play some of the tougher teams in the SEC such as LSU, Florida and Arkansas. The opportunity is there for the Wildcats to prove themselves against these powerhouse teams and ride the momentum of the school's recent victory in basketball all the way to the CWS.
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders complained after last weekend's scrimmage that his group started out sluggish and lacked the mental focus that he expects.
It was a different story Saturday as Smith directed a 13-play, 70-yard drive against the starting defense to open the scrimmage. He capped it with the 21-yard touchdown to King, who finished with seven catches for 76 yards.
Undefeated. That is what the seventh-ranked University of Kentucky men's tennis team is in Southeastern Conference play this season, clinching its first SEC Championship since 1992. Kentucky completed its historic run to the SEC title with a dominating 6-1 win over No. 43 Vanderbilt on Saturday at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex in Lexington, Ky.
The Wildcats earned the championship after posting an unblemished 11-0 record in SEC matches, becoming the seventh team since 2000 to go undefeated throughout the SEC regular season. This is the first time in school history that UK has gone undefeated in league play. UK's previous best start was 8-0 in 1988.
Common wisdom tells you that all NBA participants, whether they're on the end of a bench or starting for the All-Star team, were go-to players at some point in their career. That they dominated in grade and high school before moving on to mostly starring roles in college or overseas. It's the NBA, and that spot on the end of the bench, that humbles. Orlando Magic center Daniel Orton is turning that old adage upside down.
When Brandon Knight declared for the 2011 NBA Draft, there was little doubt that he'd succeed in the National Basketball Association, despite spending just one season with the Kentucky Wildcats.
And by all accounts, that one year at Kentucky may have been a waste of the 6-foot-3, 189-pound point guard's time, because this kid can flat-out play with the big boys. He was a man-child terrorizing defenses in college, and he's on track to become one of the top scoring guards in the NBA.
This is the first in a four-part series of videos chronicling spring football. March and April practices will culminate in the Blue/White Spring Game Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will pit the first team (White) against the second team (Blue) in a regular-game format with Blue starting with a 14-0 lead.
Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague announced their decisions to turn pro in a joint press conference on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
From this point forward, everything is going to change for the underclassmen starters who led Kentucky to its eighth national championship.
After all five declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday evening, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb will begin to go their separate ways. They will finish classes and spend time with one another in the coming weeks, but preparations for their professional futures now begin in earnest.
With things about to be so much different for a group that has been inseparable from the outset, it felt only right that they stand together one last time to announce to the world they were taking the next step toward their dreams.
"It just shows how together we are," Davis said. "We went through it together. We all came to Coach (John Calipari) and said, 'We all want to do this together. We're a team and this shows people how we did this together this year to win a national title. We should do this together.' "
Coach Cal, unaware of the plan to hold a joint announcement, was surprised to hear of it, but in hindsight, he probably shouldn't have been.
"I didn't even know they wanted to do it together," Calipari said. "We say all the time, 'Be the teammate you want to play with.' This team has done that by showing up what they're doing today. They taught us a lot."
For a brief moment, the plot appeared to be in danger. With the press conference announced for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, it became clear one of the five would be unable to attend due to a snag in travel arrangements. Even so, they weren't about to be deterred. Schedules were rearranged and the event pushed back a few hours.
"It got backed up because one player couldn't be there at that time and we made it work," Jones said. "We all wanted to be there and just do it together like we've done everything else together."
Together was certainly the word of the evening, but it also marked the end of the all-for-one approach that carried the Cats to a title. With every in-season goal achieved as a team, it's now the time for players to make decisions for themselves.
"During the season, it's about our team," Calipari said. "You saw it in this year's team. They were about each other. It's about how we play together, how we share. When the season is over, it's about moments like this. It's about these young people getting with their families, getting information and making decisions about their future."
With that in mind, let's talk briefly about the decision each made:
Davis makes the logical choice
After a season of hearing Coach Cal preach the virtues the "easy play," Davis had an apparently easy decision in declaring for the draft.
College basketball's consensus player of the year is unanimously projected to be the top overall pick. In fact, Davis has been referred to as the biggest lock to be the No. 1 pick since LeBron James in 2003. That's decent company to keep.
On the face of things, the choice may have seemed an uncomplicated one, but leaving the school where he became a household name in just one season was something he didn't take lightly.
"I know a lot of people say it should've been an easy decision, but I'm just going to miss this place," Davis said.
Ultimately, Davis had to make the smart move, though the fact that he's on the cusp of reaching basketball's pinnacle hasn't sunk in quite yet.
"When we got done, Doron said, 'This isn't real, man,' " Davis said. "And in the hallway, I was talking to Twany (Beckham) and said, 'This isn't real.' We're actually going to the NBA. This is our dream since we was little watching Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, all those players. I can't wait to be them and now we're finally getting the opportunity."
What also hasn't sunk in is the reality that Davis is about to be a wealthy man.
"I actually haven't thought about that yet," Davis said. "I am going to be rich."
Coach Cal preaches financial responsibility to his players on a regular basis, a message Davis has absorbed.
"You got to know how to manage your money," Davis said. "You can't go out there and just buy anything. You can't trust a lot of people.
"The good thing is I like math, so I should be fine."
Kidd-Gilchrist grows up
The youngest Wildcat, Kidd-Gilchrist won't turn 19 for a few more months. No one ever questioned his game, his physical maturity or his readiness to compete on an NBA floor, but there were times when not even Kidd-Gilchrist was sure he'd be prepared for the next level so soon.
He has come into his own off the floor though. From the moment he stepped on campus, he recognized a need to improve in his interaction with the media, so he went to work. By the end of the year, Kidd-Gilchrist - who routinely asks the opinion of his interviewers - had everyone agreeing that he had gotten markedly better.
Having coped with the often unwelcome attention showered on Kentucky basketball players, he doesn't see the bright lights of the NBA as an issue.
"I got a lot better at it I think," Kidd-Gilchrist. "I think I'm ready for anything to come my way now."
Although he's ready for what's next, that doesn't mean leaving behind where he is now is easy. When talking about moving on from all the relationships he's cultivated in Lexington, Kidd-Gilchrist couldn't help but get emotional.
"I got friends for eternity here I think, just everybody here," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "That's why it's so hard."
Jones got what he came back for
Nearly a year ago, Jones thrilled the Big Blue Nation and transformed UK into an early title favorite by spurning his first round status in the 2011 draft and returning to school for his sophomore season.
He came back with the stated goal of improving his game, bettering his draft stock and winning a national championship. On all three fronts: mission accomplished.
The result was a year he won't forget.
"It's special, real special, being a part of something special like this with all these great players," Jones said. "The staff that we had, just being part of something like that is something I'll never forget."
Even though this year's draft class is deeper than last, Jones finds himself in likely lottery position (he's the No. 8 prospect according to ESPN and No. 11 according to Draft Express). He clearly made the right decision to return last May, and he believes he's making the right call again.
"(It's hard) just because of how much love I have for the school and the staff here and just how much of a great opportunity it is to play at Kentucky, but I felt I was ready to make that next move, and hopefully it will be the best one," Jones said.
Teague's perseverance pays off
Things weren't always easy for Teague at UK. He arrived on campus already bearing the burden of his superstar predecessors at point guard, and was picked apart from tipoff of the season opener.
Experts were more likely to say that Lamb needed to take over at the point than that Teague would be in position to be a first-round pick, but that's exactly where he is after shining during SEC play and especially UK's tournament run.
In fact, Teague's brilliance in the Final Four led in part to Coach Cal doing something he's never done before.
"I have never watched the last game of our season in all of my 20 years of coaching; until this year, I have already watched this one," Calipari said. "Let me tell you something, we won those last two games in a large part because of how Marquis Teague played."
Teague isn't far removed from his early-season struggles, so he remembers well that his teammates and coaches never wavered in their belief he was the man to lead this team.
"I want to thank the coaching staff, the assistants through this rough season," Teague said. "I know it was tough, but we made it through. I want to thank my teammates just for sticking with me when times were rough. We just stuck together as a family. I want to thank Coach Cal for giving me the opportunity to be the point guard for this great school."
Now, Teague is thought to be a near lock to be picked in the first round, but he's not letting his bright future detract from the sense of gratitude for the fans that stayed by his side from the moment he announced his commitment two years ago.
"You know I just want to thank Big Blue Nation," Teague said. "You all supported us every game and we fought it out for y'all." Lamb looks to his mother for guidance once more
As teens approach adulthood as UK's five underclassmen are doing, they often sing a familiar refrain of, 'I wish I had listened to my parents.' Lamb, however, isn't, and it's not because his parents had bad advice.
In fact, Lamb has listened to his mother, Brigitte Grant, all along. It was her who helped him decide where he would attend his final two years of high school and her who directed him to UK.
"My mom always makes choices for me. Every time she makes a choice for me, it always comes out good," Lamb said. "She wanted me to go to Oak Hill and that came out good. She wanted me to come here and it turned out good."
After how well those two decisions turned out, it made sense that Lamb should heed her counsel when making the decision to return for his sophomore season and now opt to turn pro.
"She's the one that told me to come back (last year) and she's the one that told me to leave (this year)," Lamb said. "She thought it was the best for my family and myself. She just thought I'm ready for the next level. I had a great time here. It went to the Final Four and won the national championship, so she knows there's nothing better than that."
Her wisdom, though, was accompanied by one mandate.
"She told me I've got to finish school though," Lamb said.
When a freshman makes his first start of the year on the mound, the hope is for the offense to have his back. When it's the vaunted Kentucky offense providing the run support, the starters can usually relax.
Freshman southpaw Sam Mahar looked relaxed, alright. In fact, he made it look easy.
"I had a blast out there," said Mahar about his first start of the season. "It's great playing with the defense I have, it gives me all the confidence in the world to throw strikes."
Making his first start of the season after making 13 appearances out of the bullpen, Mahar took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before the leadoff batter T.J. Jones lined a single to left field. Not too bad for a guy who had only learned a day earlier that he would make the start.
"I got (the news) on Twitter, after class," said Mahar. "Yesterday, about five (o'clock)."
Mahar went six innings in his debut, needing just 70 pitches while striking out five Bearcats on his way to his third win of the season. Mahar also lowered his ERA to a sparkling 1.71.
And there was plenty of run support in his favor.
After Mahar mowed down the first three Cincinnati hitters, fellow freshman Austin Cousino, who turned 19 years old Tuesday, looked to set the table by reaching with a leadoff bunt single. His attempt went foul, falling short of one of his goals for his birthday. His home run on a subsequent swing, however, which landed deep in the right field parking lot, stayed fair and UK jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead.
He could mark the home run off of the goals list.
"I actually told someone that I wanted to hit a home run on my birthday," said Cousino. "I actually wanted to get a homer and a bunt for a single. I didn't get the bunt, but I got the home run."
And he got all of it.
After Cousino, the third leading home run hitter on the team, hit his sixth long ball to get the Wildcats on the board, the team leader joined the homer parade. Catcher Luke Maile, who went 2-3 on the night, lined his 10th homer of the year on a 2-0 pitch just over the left field fence to go up 2-0 off UC starter Brad Mergen. The two runs were important in supporting their freshman on the mound.
"Well, I think anytime you can get a lead early on and create a little breathing room for the guy whose getting his first start of his career, that's beneficial," said Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson. "Beyond that, we could have given them right back if we don't pitch well, so it doesn't determine anything other than to give Sam just a little bit of breathing room early on. Certainly, that was nice."
That was more than enough for Mahar, but the Wildcats felt compelled to add some insurance for the young left-hander.
They scored in the third, fourth and fifth innings, including a three-spot in the fourth, highlighted by sacrifice fly from shortstop Matt Reida and a two-run single from third baseman Thomas McCarthy. Sophomore second baseman J.T. Riddle added a home run of his own, his fourth of the season, to give UK their seventh and final run.
When Kentucky played in Cincinnati earlier this season, Kentucky found themselves in an eerily similar situation. The Wildcats had built a 7-0 lead through the first five innings. Earlier in March, the UC rallied for two runs in the sixth and four in the seventh inning as the Bearcats looked to crawl back, cutting the deficit to 7-6. The starter, Chandler Shepherd went 5.2 innings in his first road start of the year allowing just two runs. The bullpen, however, gave up five runs as Kentucky staved off the late comeback, 10-7.
Tonight was a different story with the 7-0 lead holding up as Mahar dominated Bearcat hitters through his six innings of work. The bullpen was equally effective as Shepherd, Spencer Drake, Taylor Martin and Walt Wijas combined to throw three innings of one-hit, shutout baseball as the UC batters failed to cross the plate.
"Well we addressed that," said Henderson about their earlier meeting against UC. "The game had a similar feel through five innings, and we had talked about that prior to the game. You know, 'Don't get lulled to sleep.' I just thought our guys did a really nice job."
With the win, Kentucky (33-5, 11-4) continues best start in school history. This weekend, they play host to top-ranked SEC foe LSU, who shares the lead for first place in the conference, also at 11-4. As for tonight's starter, his role for the rest of the season is still up in the air. Henderson said after the game that Mahar would pitch against the Tigers this weekend out of the bullpen, but if the southpaw has his way, he'll get another start in the near future.
When asked if he wants start again, Mahar put it simply.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Apr. 15:
Softball: Lauren Cumbess
In the series-clinching victory vs. No. 10 Georgia, sophomore pitcher Lauren Cumbess did the unthinkable. In just her second start in SEC action and against a top-10 ranked team with a .276 batting average and a .463 slugging percentage, Cumbess pitched her first career no-hitter. She limited the Bulldogs to a mere five base runners, with three reaching by way of a walk one on a hit by pitch and one on an error. She struck out seven in her second shutout win of the season. It marked the first no-hitter of the season for the Wildcats, and the first no-hitter against the Bulldogs since former Tennessee All-American Monica Abbott turned the trick in 2007. No UGA base runner advanced past second base in the game to add to her impressive performance.
Not only did Cumbess turn in the best pitching performance of the season for the Wildcats, she was equally impressive offensively for UK this week. She batted .471 for the week with a team-high eight hits and two doubles. Cumbess contributed in nearly every scoring inning for the Wildcats as she has found her stride and currently leads UK with a .409 average in SEC action. She had a career-high three-hit performance in UK's win over Arkansas, while also notching two hits in three other games this week.
Softball: Emily Jolly
Sophomore Emily Jolly had simply the best week of her career in helping lead the Wildcats to three SEC victories including taking two from No. 10 Georgia. Jolly logged a team-high .500 batting average with a 7-for-14 combined performance at the dish. She scored a team-high five times, drove in six runs and hit two homers and provided an offensive spark nearly every time the Wildcats needed one. In the opening victory over Arkansas, Jolly had a career-high three-hit performance which included a solo homer in the fifth inning. In the nationally televised victory over Georgia, Jolly plated the first run of the game with a sacrifice bunt before hitting a solo homer as an insurance run in the sixth inning. Jolly is currently on a career-long eight-game hitting streak. She also charted a perfect 1.000 fielding clip in splitting time between second base and center field for the Wildcats while logging 11 putouts and nine assists for the week. She played a part in eight of UK's 13 scoring innings this week.
Baseball: Corey Littrell
For the fourth consecutive weekend, Kentucky turned to Corey Littrell to start the finale of a series with the outcome of the set hanging in the balance ... Littrell delivered his fourth consecutive win, with his sixth quality start of the season, tossing 6.1 innings on short rest, allowing only one run with three strikeouts ... Littrell has paced the UK rotation in the Sunday spot all year, sporting a 6-0 record and a 1.95 ERA in nine starts, tossing 55.1 innings, allowing 14 walks and striking out 48.
Baseball: Thomas McCarthy
Senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy led UK during a four-game week at the plate, leading UK to its first series win at No. 9 Arkansas since the 2002 season, with UK snapping a nine-game home series winning streak of the Razorbacks ... McCarthy hit .471 (8-for-17) during the week with five doubles, three RBI, 13 total bases and a .765 slugging percentage ... McCarthy batted .462 (6-for-13) during the weekend series at Arkansas, with four doubles and three RBI ... McCarthy went 2-for-4 during a rivalry game with No. 19 Louisville, including his first double of the week ... In the series-opener at Arkansas, McCarthy went a season-best 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI ... In the second game of the series, McCarthy collected a pair of hits, including a double down the opposite-field line, sparking a UK comeback rally to even the series ... In the rubber-match win over Arkansas, McCarthy again ripped a double, leading off the inning that led to UK's two runs in the 2-1 win ... On the year, McCarthy has hit .319 (45-for-141) with 13 doubles, five homers and 23 RBI.
Men's tennis: Alex Musialek
Grabbed two singles wins over ranked opponents during the week, taking doen No. 38 Roy Kalmanovich and No. 94 Gonzales Austin. Has won five of his last six matches, including four against top-100 ranked players.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
Won both his singles matches on the week, defeating highly ranked foes in both matches. Started the week with a victory over No. 5 Dennis Nevolo, before taking down No. 34 Charlie Jones on Saturday. The victory over Jones sealed a undefeated regular season in conference play, ending 11-0 vs. SEC foes. It was also the decisive fourth point for Kentucky.
So, there's apparently some kind of press conference tonight.
Tuesday evening's men's basketball press conference featuring Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and John Calipari is getting the kind of attention usually reserved for the naming of a new coach. At 7 p.m., the five underclassmen are expected to announce their NBA Draft intentions and the Bluegrass as well as much of the sports world will stop and listen.
There are certainly plenty of outlets that will be covering the press conference live and there has been some confusion over which ones, so here is a list of the places where you can follow along:
UK's five top underclassmen are expected to make their NBA Draft intentions known in a press conference on Tuesday at 2 p.m. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
**UPDATE** Due to unforeseen travel arrangements and academic schedules, the men's basketball press conference originally scheduled for 2 p.m. has been moved to 7 p.m.
On Monday, it was announced that a men's basketball press conference has been scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and John Calipari will all address the media, with Kentucky's five underclassmen likely to make their NBA Draft intentions public.
Since UK won the national championship game on April 2, the five have been weighing their professional options with the help of Calipari. Coach Cal advised them to abide by the NBA's early-entry deadline of April 29.
On Monday night, Davis and Calipari were in Oklahoma City for a ceremony during which he received the Wayman Tisdale Award as the top freshman in the country. Jeff Latzke of the Associated Press caught up with both, so check out this story with quotes from each about Tuesday's decision.
While we await the announcement, let's take a look at where the five as well as senior Darius Miller rank among this year's draft class according to ESPN and Draft Express:
- Kentucky posted two impressive wins
over the week to conclude regular-season action, defeating No. 23 Illinois and No.
43 Vanderbilt. The win against Vanderbilt sealed the outright SEC Championship
for Kentucky, who went 11-0 in league play for the first time in school
- The victory over Vanderbilt
completes a nine-match winning streak to end the season for Kentucky. During
those nine matches, the Wildcats have defeated some of the best teams in the
nation, posting wins over six teams that are currently ranked in the
Intercollegiate Tennis Association's top 25.
- UK won both doubles points during
the week, moving to 17-0 this season when it wins the doubles point. Seniors Eric
Quigley and Alex Musialek, along with junior Anthony Rossi and sophomore
Alejandro Gomez went 2-0 in singles on the week.
- UK receives a first-round bye in the
SEC Tournament and will play the winner of LSU-Vanderbilt in the second round
Friday at 3 p.m. ET.
- Facing its toughest test in an
historically unprecedented season, No. 1 Kentucky baseball traveled to Baum
Stadium and won a series at No. 9 Arkansas last weekend for the first time
since 2002 and just the second time in the history of the program. UK won two
of the three games at Arkansas, also suffering a midweek loss to No. 19
Louisville during the four-game week.
- The Wildcats are continuing the best
start to a season in the history of the program, with its 11-4 opening through the
first half of the 30-game league schedule. UK's series win at Arkansas was the
first in a nine-game home series span for the Razorbacks, and UK's doubleheader
sweep on Saturday was the first allowed by Arkansas to one team since the 1996
- UK leads the nation in wins, sits
atop the SEC standings, own an 11-2 record in one-run games and a 9-4 record in
games against top-25 teams. The Wildcats have opened up the year with series
wins over No. 2 South Carolina, Tennessee, No. 18 Georgia, No. 10 Ole Miss and
No. 9 Arkansas.
- The Kentucky softball team charted a
3-2 week against Arkansas and Georgia to keep the Wildcats in the hunt for postseason
play. The series victory over the top-10 ranked Bulldogs is just the second
time in school history UK has taken a series from Georgia and first since 2000.
- The sophomore duo of Emily Jolly and
Lauren Cumbess were instrumental in leading the Wildcats. Jolly batted .500 with
a team-high five runs scored, six RBI and a pair of homers. Jolly played a part
in eight of UK's 13 scoring innings this week.
- Sophomore Lauren Cumbess put the
exclamation point on a tremendous pitching performance by UK's staff. Senior Chanda
Bell limited Georgia to just one-hit and one-run in the opening game of the
series. Cumbess topped her teammate with the first no-hitter of her career in
the series-clinching victory on Saturday. Cumbess allowed just five base
runners while striking out seven in the win. It was the first no-hitter for UK
since April of 2011 and the first thrown against Georgia since former Tennessee
All-American Monica Abbott turned the trick in 2007. In 14 innings of two wins
over the Bulldogs, UK pitchers limited Georgia to one hit and 11 total base
- Cumbess was also a spark offensively
with a .471 batting average and a pair of doubles. Senior Brittany Cervantes homered
three times in five games and has hit six in the last eight games for UK.
Track and field
- Keilah Tyson won the 200m dash at
the Border Battle Kentuckiana with a UK freshman record time of 23.68. Tyson's time
is the third fastest 200m in UK history and is her fourth UK freshman record.
- Terence Boyd had career-best marks
in the long jump and triple jump. Boyd's long jump of 24-04.50 is the fifth
best in UK history, and his triple jump of 50-00.50 is the eighth best in
- Kayla Parker won the 100m hurdles
with a career-best time of 13.72, the seventh fastest time in UK history.
Parker also had a career-best long jump mark of 18-08.75.
- Kentucky's 4x100m relay team of
Julie Nunn, Kayla Parker, Shiara Robinson and Keilah Tyson finished first with
a time of 45.28, the fourth-fastest in UK history.
- The women's tennis team faced No. 24
Vanderbilt for its last match of the regular season. The Wildcats fell to the Commodores,
- Freshman Stephanie Fox and sophomore
Misha Testerman grabbed a doubles victory for the Cats, defeating Megan Gorney
and Nelly Redeva, 8-5.
- The Wildcats will next travel to
Oxford, Miss., for the SEC Championships. As the 11th seed, they will face
6th-seeded South Carolina at 10 a.m. ET on April 19.
Tuesday, April 17
Baseball hosts Cincinnati - 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 18
Softball at Ole Miss (DH) - 5:00 p.m.
Thursday, April 19
Women's tennis vs. South Carolina -
10:00 a.m. (Oxford, Miss.)
Each weekend, the Wildcats take on another Southeastern Conference foe looking to prove the biggest surprise in the NCAA is a mirage, but UK has passed every test thus far. This past weekend, it was Arkansas that tried knock the Cats off their perch, but Kentucky took a doubleheader on Saturday against the Razorbacks to make it five won SEC series in a row.
For a while, the Cats were viewed as a nice story. Only now is that perspective beginning to fade in favor of what appears to be reality: UK is a really good team.
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America, college baseball's preeminent writer, took on this topic and came to a conclusion sure to please the Big Blue Nation:
Kentucky was leaving Fayetteville with a couple of wins for the first time in a decade. It was just one more big weekend in a season filled with big weekends for the Wildcats.
SEC coaches always talk about the importance of winning series at home and managing not to get swept on the road. Kentucky has trumped that, winning all three of its conference road series (at Tennessee, at Georgia and now at Arkansas) plus taking down a pair of top-10 opponents at home (South Carolina and Mississippi).
Kentucky has gotten off to strong starts against soft nonconference schedules before, but its dominance of a loaded SEC is something else entirely. It's natural for people in college baseball to wonder if the Wildcats are for real, or if they have just played above their heads. By now, that question has been answered--UK is a very complete, very deep, very dangerous team, and it is a legitimate Omaha contender.
Kentucky Sunday starter Corey Littrell in 6-0 on the season with a 1.95 ERA. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
In the midst of the best opening to a season both overall and to Southeastern Conference play in school history, the Kentucky baseball team has ascended to unprecedented heights. With seemingly every win - and there have been plenty of them - another record falls.
Take this past weekend as an example. The Wildcats, after a tight defeat on Friday night, responded with a pair of one-run victories over Arkansas on Saturday. The series win marked the first on road against the Razorbacks in a decade and the first doubleheader sweep by a road team at Baum Stadium since 1999.
Particularly given that the endless parade of victories and accomplishments has come as somewhat of a surprise, UK is not allowing it all to go uncelebrated. However, the last thing these Cats are planning to do is rest on their laurels.
"It's nice to have a little bit of success and do some of those things," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "I think it's great for the kids and good for the program, but there's no shortage of me reminding them that we got 15 league games left and then we go to Birmingham (for the SEC Tournament). There's a lot of baseball to be played."
Kentucky (32-5, 11-4 SEC) sits in the top three of every major poll and has been almost universally hailed as the story of college baseball, but none of that makes them invulnerable to the immutable truths that come with playing in the SEC.
"It's a humbling league," Henderson said.
One weekend of even mediocre baseball could send the Cats tumbling from their perch atop the conference standings to the muddled middle, regardless of the opponent.
"You don't have to look very far to see somebody in the bottom half beating somebody in the top half," Henderson said. "Two weeks ago somebody in the bottom half swept somebody in the top half. This is my 13th year in the league and so I've seen all those things and been a part of them, good and bad."
Although his team is young and has yet to lose an SEC series in five tries this year, the Cats figure to be intimately familiar with that concept after this weekend when they came dangerously close to being humbled by Arkansas. They entered the series having lost in blowout fashion to Louisville in a midweek game, then dropped the opener when Austin Cousino's diving attempt to snag a seventh-inning line drive came up empty, clearing the bases and turning a two-run lead into an 8-7 deficit, Friday's final score.
Facing a pair of dynamic pitchers in a raucous environment in Saturday's doubleheader, UK managed to circle the wagons and win both games with timely hitting, a stingy bullpen and yet another fantastic start by Corey Littrell. Littrell has anchored the weekend rotation all season and has pitched with series on the line each of the last four weeks. He has a perfect 4-0 record in that span with a dazzling ERA of 1.38. The Louisville, Ky., native has come a long way from a promising but inconsistent freshman season.
"He's a much more mature pitcher (with) a steady approach," Henderson said. "He's making the pitch when you really need to and it's been fun to watch his growth."
Littrell has helped the Cats to an 11-2 record in one-run decisions, which is simultaneously proof of why this season has been so special and how easily it could be not nearly so much so. Especially in baseball, winning at a high level requires at least a small measure of luck, but it's not as if UK doesn't have something to do with it.
"I think that speaks a lot to defense and the ability to match up a little bit and have guys that like to compete in the bullpen," Henderson said. "It's really no more complicated than that. You've got to have guys that like to pitch in those games and you've got to be able to make tight defensive plays late if you're going to win those games."
With half its league schedule left to play, UK should expect to play plenty more of those close games, meaning the bullpen and defense will need to sustain their strong contributions. They'll have their first chance to do so in conference play this weekend in a showdown with LSU, who ranks fourth in the nation according to Baseball America and is tied with UK for first place in the SEC.
First comes another midweek matchup with a nearby foe from the Big East. UK takes on Cincinnati on Tuesday at Cliff Hagan Stadium a rematch of a 10-7 Wildcat win on March 21. In that game, Kentucky raced out to a seven-run lead before the Bearcats (12-23, 2-10 Big East) cut the deficit to 7-6.
"We won't look past Cincinnati, I can promise you that," Henderson said. Starter vs. Cincinnati not yet named
Chandler Shepherd and A.J. Reed have gotten the call for all 10 games not started by the weekend rotation of Taylor Rogers, Jerad Grundy and Littrell, but Henderson announced plans to change that for the Cincinnati game. Shepherd started two weeks ago against Dayton and Reed started against Louisville, but neither lasted past the third inning.
Henderson said he plans to unveil the starter for Tuesday's game sometime on Monday afternoon.
It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week:
Team of the Week - Men's Tennis captures outright SEC title
For the first time since 1992, the men's tennis team can lay claim to the Southeastern Conference Championship after completing an 11-0 record in the conference for the first time in school history. They finished off their undefeated conference slate with an impressive 6-1 victory over No. 43 Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats dominated in doubles, winning all three matches. Then in singles, only dropped one match and got wins from Eric Quigley, Anthony Rossi, Alex Musialek, Alejandro Gomez and Grant Roberts.
Kentucky has wrapped up the top seed in the SEC Tournament this week, which starts Thursday in Starkville, Miss. The Wildcats have a first round bye and will begin play on Friday.
Player of the Week - Cumbess hurls no-hitter to clinch series win over Georgia
For the first time in her career, Lauren Cumbess threw a no-hitter on Saturday to defeat No. 10 Georgia, 4-0. Kentucky got a big win Friday night on national television, where Cumbess went 2-for-3 on the night at the plate, but it was on the mound Saturday where she made her greatest impact.
Cumbess shut down an impressive hitting Georgia team and struck out seven Bulldogs on the day while allowing just five base runners. The win was important in that it got UK to .500 in the SEC as the Wildcats battle for postseason position in the SEC Tournament.
Game of the Week - Baseball holds on to take series in finale
After dropping a heart-breaking game at Arkansas in the series opener, the UK baseball team rallied on Saturday and swept a double header to take their first series in Fayetteville since 2002.
Kentucky got a 5-4 win in first game of the twin bill, and got involved in another one-run game in series finale. The Wildcats tallied their only runs of the game on Cameron Flynn's fourth inning two-runner homer in the fourth inning. Correy Littrell turned in another stellar outing in the rubber match allowing just one run in 6.1 innings. Tim Peterson, Alex Phillips and Trevor Gott finished things off. Gott came in with two men on and two outs in the eighth inning, and promptly got the final out of the eighth and retired the side in order in the ninth to preserve a 2-1 victory for his eighth save of the season.
Photo - SEC champs
Photo by Steve Harp, UK Athletics
Video -Highlights from Cumbess' no-hitter
Alumnae/Alumnus of the Week - Daniel Orton has best professional game
With All-Star center Dwight Howard out with a herniated disk, the Orlando Magic turned to former Wildcat Daniel Orton for big minutes Sunday. Orton logged over 28 minutes against Cavaliers filling in for Howard and had his best day as a pro. Orton went 5-8 from the field while scoring 11 points, pulling down four rebounds and five steals.
Orton's previous career-high in minutes was 11 on April 9, and his previous high in points was 4. Orton more than doubled both figures in the Magic's 100-84 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Overall Record: 32-5, 11-4 SEC Record Last Week: 2-2, 2-1 SEC
Recent Results Tuesday, April 10 - lost vs. No. 19 Louisville, 0-12 Friday, April 13 - lost at No. 9 Arkansas, 7-8 Saturday, April 14 - won at No. 9 Arkansas, 5-4 Saturday, April 14 - won at No. 9 Arkansas, 2-1
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, April 17 - vs. Cincinnati - 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 20 - vs. No. 3 LSU - 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21 - vs. No. 3 LSU - 2:00 p.m. Sunday, April 22 - vs. No. 3 LSU - 1:00 p.m.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Thomas McCarthy 6-2 - Sr. - 3B - Corvallis, Ore. Week Stats: .471 (8-for-17), 5 2B, 3 RBI, 13 total bases, .765 SLG%, SF
Notes: Senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy led UK during a four-game week at the plate, leading UK to its first series win at No. 9 Arkansas since the 2002 season, with UK snapping a nine-game home series winning streak of the Razorbacks ... McCarthy hit .471 (8-for-17) during the week with five doubles, three RBI, 13 total bases and a .765 slugging percentage ... McCarthy batted .462 (6-for-13) during the weekend series at Arkansas, with four doubles and three RBI ... McCarthy went 2-for-4 during a rivalry game with No. 19 Louisville, including his first double of the week ... In the series-opener at Arkansas, McCarthy went a season-best 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI ... In the second game of the series, McCarthy collected a pair of hits, including a double down the opposite-field line, sparking a UK comeback rally to even the series ... In the rubber-match win over Arkansas, McCarthy again ripped a double, leading off the inning that led to UK's two runs in the 2-1 win ... On the year, McCarthy has hit .319 (45-for-141) with 13 doubles, five homers and 23 RBI. PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Corey Littrell 6-3 - So. - LHP - Louisville, Ky. Week Stats: 1-0, 1.42 ERA, 1 GS, 6.1 IP, 8 H, R, BB, 3 SO,
Notes: For the fourth consecutive weekend, Kentucky turned to Corey Littrell to start the finale of a series with the outcome of the set hanging in the balance ... Littrell delivered his fourth consecutive win, with his sixth quality start of the season, tossing 6.1 innings on short rest, allowing only one run with three strikeouts ... Littrell has paced the UK rotation in the Sunday spot all year, sporting a 6-0 record and a 1.95 ERA in nine starts, tossing 55.1 innings, allowing 14 walks and striking out 48. TEAM NOTES Facing its toughest test in a historically unprecedented season, No. 1 Kentucky baseball traveled to Baum Stadium and won a series at No. 9 Arkansas last weekend for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in the history of the program. UK won two of the three games at the high-octane Razorbacks, also suffering a midweek loss to No. 19 Louisville during the four-game week.
Kentucky (32-5, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) returns to action with four-game homestand during the week, hosting Cincinnati on Tuesday in a midweek matchup, before welcoming No. 3 LSU in a weekend series with conference standings implications, starting Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Wildcats are continuing the best start to a season in the history of the program, with its 11-4 opening through the first half of the 30-game league schedule the best in UK history. UK's series win at Arkansas was the first in a nine-game home series span for the Razorbacks, and UK's doubleheader sweep on Saturday was the first allowed by Arkansas to one team since the 1996 season.
UK leads the nation in wins, sits atop the SEC standings, own an 11-2 record in one-run games and a 9-4 record in games against top-25 teams. The Wildcats have opened up the year with series wins over No. 2 South Carolina, Tennessee, No. 18 Georgia, No. 10 Ole Miss and No. 9 Arkansas.
The Wildcats have been paced by a team offense that leads the conference in nearly every category, hitting .317 as a team, with a .483 slugging and a .406 on-base percentage, belting 41 homers in 37 games and stealing 34 bases. Individually, freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino leads UK with a .349 average, with 13 doubles, five homers and 23 RBI, stealing seven bases. Freshman A.J. Reed has hit .336 with eight doubles, three homers and 36 RBI, while senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy has batted .319 with 13 doubles, five homers and 23 RBI. Catcher Luke Maile leads the club with 36 RBI, batting .319 with nine doubles and nine homers. Outfielder Cameron Flynn has also belted nine homers.
After completing a perfect regular season in Southeastern Conference play, Kentucky men's tennis has earned the top seed in the SEC Tournament. Tournament play begins on Thursday, but the Wildcats won't take court in Starkville, Miss., until Friday, when they'll face either Vanderbilt or LSU. Here's the complete bracket:
Lauren Cumbess pitched a no-hitter in Saturday's series-clinching win over Georgia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Lauren Cumbess had a tough act to follow. Facing No. 10/11 Georgia the day after fellow Kentucky pitcher Chanda Bell had posted a complete game one-hitter in a series-opening 4-1 victory, Cumbess would have had to do something pretty special to top her teammate.
"Special" doesn't even describe what Cumbess did on Saturday.
Facing off against a Lady Bulldog offense that was averaging 5.5 runs per game, the sophomore delivered her first career no-hitter in pitching the Wildcats to a series-clinching 4-0 victory. Cumbess allowed just five hitters to reach base - three on walks, one on a hit-by-pitch and one on an error - and struck out seven en route to her third win of the season.
"She did a great job with all of her pitches, but more importantly she had unbelievable command," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "She knew where she wanted to put the ball and she was able to do that. She really just thought the game through and was in control on the mound. Anytime you see an athlete in that kind of a zone, it's special."
Coaches live for days like the one Lawson had today. They work tirelessly to put their players in position to succeed and hope to be rewarded. Cumbess did that and more against Georgia.
"Lauren was amazing," Lawson said. "It was really her day today. We've certainly had no-hitters before and it's always special when you do that, but to do that against a team as incredible as Georgia really says how good Cumbess is and how much she's grown."
Though no Lady Bulldogs managed a base hit, Cumbess' afternoon was far from uneventful, as she stranded runners in four of the final five innings.
The most serious threat came in the fourth inning, when Kristyn Sandberg led off by breaking up what was then a perfect game with a walk. Cumbess would retire the next two batters, but not before Sandberg advanced to second on a passed ball. She would then move to third base when Brittney Hubbard reached on an error by Bell at first base. With runners on first and third, Cumbess buckled down and struck out Gracie Goulder.
"When situations like that come up, I just try to stay focused on the pitch at hand and the batter at hand, because I can't really change if I walk somebody or hit somebody," Cumbess said. "I try to focus on what I'm doing at the moment and I trusted myself and my defense behind me no matter what."
To Lawson, the fourth inning was just the best example of the approach that carried Cumbess through.
"She went batter by batter," Lawson said. "If there was a walk or something, she didn't let it accumulate. She was able to set aside any sort of distraction by the people on base and just really put the ball where she wanted to and attack that next hitter."
With all the deserved praise coming her way, Cumbess was quick to deflect credit to anyone but herself. First, she looked to Lawson, who Cumbess said called a beautiful game from the dugout.
"She mixed in all my pitches really well and we kept the batters off balance," Cumbess said. "We mixed in pretty much everything today."
Then, Cumbess looked to her teammates.
"It's a lot easier as a pitching staff to go out there with confidence knowing your team has your back whether they're going to make a great play on the field or they're going to come in and get a hit for you,"
Coming into the season, Cumbess was supposed to be a key cog in a pitching staff that would rank among the SEC's best. The pitchers have been good - UK has a team ERA of 2.94 - but not spectacular as many expected them to be. However, much of that had to do with a defense that was error-prone early and an offense that struggled to score runs. Knowing they had to carry the load, the pitchers found themselves putting an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves. With the offense and defense now rounding into form, the staff is living up to its billing, evidenced by Bell's and Cumbess' gems.
"The pitchers are more comfortable on the mound because they're more relaxed and throwing their pitch as opposed to before," Lawson said. "If they made one mistake on the mound, they felt like the game was going to be over. That's a tough position for a pitcher to be in. Now that the entire team is really zoning in and playing better, it's allowed the pitching staff to focus on what they should be focusing on, which is just executing the pitch."
The result is that Kentucky is playing its best softball of the season. The Wildcats have won five of six games to move to 21-22 on the season and 8-8 in conference play in the follow-up to their record-setting 2011 season. Though UK still has work to do to ensure a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament berth, this bunch has done something none of its predecessors have done since 2000: win a series against Georgia.
"The series win means a lot, because to beat Georgia, a team that really handled us pretty easily the year before, it's something new for us (during Lawson's tenure)," Lawson said. "We've beaten Georgia, but we've never won a series, so it just shows the program's continuing to get better."
Sweeping the series with a win in Sunday's 1 p.m. finale would be nice, but not nearly as nice as reaching the .500 mark when it looked early in the season like UK never would. The Wildcats still have their goals of winning the SEC Tournament and advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament in front of them, and they owe to their unwillingness to quit on each other.
"Even when things weren't going well, they continued to work hard, they continued to be a team," Lawson said. "Everybody took it as their responsibility to do their thing better. They've been working hard over the past month and it says a lot about their resiliency. When most people would have thrown in the towel, they continued to work on their individual game and try to play hard for each other."
Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 6-1 on Saturday to clinch the SEC regular season championship outright. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
It's appropriate Eric Quigley's regular season career should end this way.
UK's all-time singles win leader, Quigley is the most decorated player in the history of the Kentucky men's tennis program. He's played No. 1singles for most of his career, winning matches against some of the nation's best players in conference play, the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
He has logged too many accomplishments to list, but after Saturday's regular season finale, a new one shoots to the top of the list. With a 6-1 win over Vanderbilt, the Wildcats clinched an outright SEC championship, completing a spotless 11-0 run through what most agree to be the nation's best conference. Not only that, he did it all playing alongside fellow senior Alex Musialek, the classmate he has come to call a close friend.
"How many people get to say their Senior Day is a chance to clinch the SEC outright?" Quigley said. "I'm right next to one of my best friends and we're both in the stadium and we're both seniors and we both win. All the good things that have happened these last four years, it all came down to today and it was awesome."
Quigley has been the anchor of the Cats' success all season, and it was no different against the Commodores. Teaming with Panav Jha, he helped lead UK to a doubles victory as the Cats moved to 17-0 on the season when winning the crucial doubles point. In singles, Quigley defeated No. 34 Charlie Jones in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3 and finishes SEC singles play unbeaten, just like his team.
Having fought through the rigors of SEC for four years now, Quigley has a full appreciation for just how significant it is to go unbeaten in the regular season. Reflecting on his freshman season, when the Cats lost five conference matches and fell in the NCAA Tournament's second round, the Pewee Valley, Ky., native finds the enormity of the accomplishment hard to fathom.
"When I came in, I would have never dreamed we would run the table in the SEC as a team. I was just lucky to have a chance to play as a freshman I thought," Quigley said. "For all these good things that have happened to me at Kentucky, I can only thank (associate head coach) Cedric (Kauffmann) and (head coach) Dennis (Emery) that have helped me get to this place, because I certainly wouldn't have done it alone or without those great coaches."
Emery has even more experience in this league than Quigley having coached at UK for three decades now. He began the season optimistic this Kentucky team could be among the best he's seen, but he could not have imagined this.
"Eight of the top 21 teams in the country are in the SEC, so to win it and to run the table and go 11-0, is just quite an accomplishment," Emery said. "I really didn't think at the beginning of the year that our team would do this. I feel like they've just really come together. Overachieve is maybe not the right word, but achieve to their maximum potential and it's very difficult to do."
In assigning the credit for the title - and there's plenty to go around - Emery looks first to the two seniors who have helped reestablish his program among the nation's elite.
"It's a really special time for us with Eric and Alex," Emery said. "They're both so committed to the program. They're both so committed to winning. When they came here, we were coming off probably the only bad year we've had in 20 years or something, so when they came here, we weren't where we're at right now. The reason we are there is because of Eric and Alex both."
For all his individual brilliance, Quigley has always been about the team, and his approach was rewarded last season with a trip to the Elite Eight. But never before has he been surrounded by such a balanced, talented group. Really, it feels to Quigley like his entire college career has been building to this senior sendoff.
"It's awesome, and it takes a lot of pressure off everyone's shoulders on the team knowing, 'Oh, if I don't win, we can win on all the other five courts or doubles,' " Quigley said. "It's really good knowing everyone's got a great chance out there. It makes it a lot more special knowing everyone's contributing all the time."
Sunday's SEC-clinching win and the ensuing celebration may have felt like a conclusion - especially when Quigley was on the receiving end of much of the Gatorade shower intended for Emery - but the Wildcats' primary goals remain in front of them. In his post-match address to the team, Emery delivered this message.
"That we need to keep going," Emery said. "That it's great to celebrate and it's fantastic what we've done and that we're very proud, but our goal was to win the conference and to go the Final Four. It wasn't just to win the conference, so we've got a lot in front of us."
Knowing the focus and work ethic that Quigley has helped instill in this team, that's not going to be an issue. It also doesn't hurt that the Cats believe they are playing their best tennis of the year heading into next weekend's SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament to follow.
"If there's a good time to play your best tennis, it's for sure right now and I think everybody can keep it going," Quigley said. "We got a lot more. (We have to) turn around and get ready starting Monday for the SEC Tournament, which starts later this week. We're going to celebrate for a little bit, but we got to get back to work soon."
On Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. against Vanderbilt, the Kentucky men's tennis team looks to complete a perfect regular season in conference play and clinch sole possession of the SEC title. Join Evan Crane and Guy Ramsey for a live blog from the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex:
Doron Lamb scored 22 points in the national championship against Kansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Doron Lamb, the leading scorer in this year's national championship game, was probably the least talked and written about of the six players on the Kentucky team that brought home the school's eighth title. While his teammates grabbed the headlines, Lamb quietly went about his business as one of the nation's most efficient perimeter players.
In fact, Doron Lamb nearly took a run at becoming the next Michael Phelps at the insistence of his mother, Brigitte Grant.
"My mom had me swimming and I used to be a great swimmer," Lamb said during the Cats' postseason run. "When I was little my mom told me she watched a movie on Lifetime and some kid couldn't swim, drowned and died, so she always said when she had a son he would learn to swim.
"I liked doing the backstroke. I was fast. I might be a swimmer."
The idea of a future NBA player - Lamb is expected to announce his intention to enter the 2012 NBA Draft in the coming weeks - taking the plunge into the pool seems far-fetched but Lamb wasn't your ordinary kid growing up in Queens. Sure, basketball was is passion but he never played the game exclusively. He was heavily involved in just about anything his mother could get him signed up for during his childhood. Swimming was the earliest activity.
"We would take him to the (YMCA) on 92nd from the time he was 21 months old until he was 10 or 11, every Sunday," Grant said. "I would hold him in the water. They really wanted him to keep swimming but it was five days a week and took 45 minutes by bus (to get there).
"Then he started with baseball because there weren't any basketball
teams for 5-year-olds. He played with 15-year-olds. I wish I had videos
of it but I just have photos. It was so funny because he thought he was
equal to the 15-year-olds. He had played one game in the park. (The
coaches) told him to go to third base and he had to count the bases to
know which one it was. The second year he was a pitcher. If he had kept
with baseball he would have been really good."
UK is in its fourth week of spring football practice. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
We've had plenty of football-related content for spring practice in the form of features and video over the past month, but deep runs in the NCAA Tournament by both the men's and women's basketball teams kept us from really blowing out the coverage.
At the beginning of spring practice, my intent was to put together a list of storylines to keep an eye on over Kentucky's 15 sessions in March and April. There are only two scrimmages and two practices left before the end of spring football, so instead of a preview, this is a sort of progress report based on what we have heard about the happenings at the Nutter Training Facility.
1. Identifying playmakers - This is first on the list for a reason. It's impossible to pin the end of UK's bowl streak a season ago on a single factor, but it's hard to argue any facet had more to do with it than the Wildcats' inability to make game-breaking plays on the offensive side of the football. UK managed just 4.8 yards per pass and 3.5 yards per rush in 2011 with the departure of stars like Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Chris Matthews.
In the backfield, Raymond Sanders came in as the Cats' top option, but he was slowed all season by a knee injury. Josh Clemons stepped up in his place, looking the part of a dynamic running back, but his freshman season was cut short by a knee injury. Finally, CoShik Williams became the workhorse UK needed toward the end of the season. At wide receiver, La'Rod King was UK's best option, reeling in 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he and his fellow pass-catchers were plagued by drops from start to finish.
This spring, Williams has only strengthened his grip on the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Joker Phillips has called him one of the toughest players on the team, and the senior, a former walk-on, has looked the part, fighting through injuries. Sanders and Clemons, for their part, have worked to round into form, and there figure to be ample opportunities for them to make plays. If last year proved anything, it's that you need multiple backs to get the job done in the rugged SEC. A steady Williams backed up by home run threats in Sanders and Clemons could make for some significant improvement.
King, also now a senior, has been asked to step up as a leader among the wide outs in his final season. Seniors E.J. Fields and Gene McCaskill provide experience, but a youngster has caught some eyes in the passing game this spring. Sophomore Demarco Robinson made a 60-yard and a 30-yard catch in the last scrimmage out of the slot receiver position and could strike fear into the hearts of opponents with his speed and quickness as he develops his strength. Redshirt freshman Daryl Collins is still working back from reconstructive knee surgery and has also impressed.
2. Emergence of the defensive line - With inexperience at so many positions, the defensive line is being called upon to be the strength of the defensive unit in Rick Minter's second season. SEC teams year in and year out have relied on the big guys up front to set the tone, and UK has a chance to do that with a pair of junior defensive tackles in Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph.
Both had long journeys to get on the field as Wildcats and had work to do in terms of conditioning, but they showed they are capable of wrecking havoc in opposing backfields in 2011. This spring, they have been asked to evolve into cornerstones of the defense. Phillips said both were in the best shape they had ever been in coming into the spring, which bodes well. Just as importantly, Cobble and Rumph have stayed healthy thus far.
UK also boasts a great deal of experience at defensive end with seniors Taylor Wyndham and Collins Ukwu at the top of the depth chart. Ukwu is UK's best returning pass rusher at the end spot, but has battled injury during the spring. Nonetheless, he has asserted himself in the leadership department. 3. Quarterback question still unanswered - With Morgan Newton recovering from shoulder surgery, sophomore Maxwell Smith has been UK's primary option under center. Smith, after a rough start, threw for 228 yards and a touchdown in the Cats' first major scrimmage with Jacob Russell serving as his backup. Smith would seem to be getting a head start on the quarterback battle that will begin in earnest in August, but it's hard to know the situation until Newton (and incoming freshman Patrick Towles) can compete.
4. Replacing Trevathan and Guy - One of the top stories of 2011 was replacing stars on the offense. In 2012, it's going to be doing the same on defense. Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy were the leading tacklers for not only UK, but the entire SEC, so filling the void left by them will be crucial. Malcolm McDuffen and Miles Simpson are expected to play the positions vacated by Trevathan and Guy and look the part, but replacing their production will be a team effort. Alvin Dupree and Avery Williamson impressed in reserve roles last season, and have not only made plays this spring, but also stepped up as leaders. Dupree, in particular, has looked good and Phillips has predicted he'll be a "big-time backer."
5. Locking down the corner spot - One of the biggest question marks coming into the spring was who would become UK's starting cornerbacks. Cartier Rice was listed as one top corner, as he is the only Wildcats with game experience at the position. The other listed starter was Marcus Caffey, who played running back during his freshman season.
Whether Rice, Eric Dixon or someone else gets the nod at the other spot is yet to be determined, but you can pretty much rest assured Caffey will start UK's opener vs. Louisville. Phillips has raved about how much of a natural Caffey is for the position and he loves the size he brings.
"We got a 205-pound, 6-foot-1 long-armed corner that everybody's playing with in this league," Phillips said. "We think he'll be a big-time player around here."
During Friday's scrimmage, Caffey made play on interception and return for touchdown that Phillips called "one of the biggest plays I've seen made here on defense."
6. Integrating a pair of new coaches - Even though new assistant coaches Mike Cassity and Pat Washington had ample ties to the UK staff coming in, getting adjusted to a new school and a new team would be an adjustment. So far, the pair seem to be doing just fine.
"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."
Each has one of the most important jobs on the team, with Cassity coaching the secondary and Washington serving as the wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.
7. Finding hidden yards on special teams - UK spent all of 2011 looking for a boost in the return game. Several different Wildcats tried their hands on kicks, while Randall Burden handled most punts. The team was generally good at taking care of the football, but UK didn't have a punt return longer than 11 yards or a kick return longer than 36 yards. During spring, Demarco Robinson has shown himself capable of being the go-to guy for both. He had two returns a year ago, but had trouble securing the football. This year, he's improved and appears poised to be the dangerous return man UK lacked a season ago.
Outside of Trevathan and Guy, punter Ryan Tydlacka may have been the most consistent performer on last year's team. He's gone now though, which means junior Joe Mansour and freshman Jay Wilmott are left to battle it out. Both have been solid in scrimmages, but it's too early to tell who has the edge in this battle. At kicker, UK will once again turn to the solid Craig McIntosh.
Spring football has flown by and Kentucky has just four dates left, including one more scrimmage and next week's spring game. Friday's practice was opened to approximately 50 high school coaches, and the result was a very productive day.
"When guys see people around, for some reason it becomes upbeat, they concentrate a little bit more," head coach Joker Phillips said. "That's probably one of the better practices we've had this spring and I think a lot of it had to do with having people here."
Phillips, in his comments to reporters after practice, went on to say his team has grown significantly from the first spring session, but that there is a lot of work ahead. Saturday's closed scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium will be the first step in that process.
"I want to have the most competitive scrimmage we've had since we've been here tomorrow," Phillips said. "That's what we told the guys. It's a big day tomorrow. It's really our last day we'll be able to get live work."
Here's video of Phillips' complete comments. Stay tuned until the end, as he has some glowing things to say about cornerback Marcus Caffey, who is currently transitioning from running back to the defensive secondary.
The final stop of day one of the Men's Basketball National Championship Trophy Tour presented by Verizon Wireless was in Hazard, Ky. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com is riding the bus with John Calipari and the Kentucky coaching staff as they crisscross the Bluegrass for the Men's Basketball National Championship Trophy Tour presented by Verizon Wireless. On Thursday, the trophy made stops in Ashland, Ky., Pikeville, Ky., and Hazard, Ky., on the Eastern Kentucky portion of the tour.
After a long day, Eric put together a great diary of the 10 and a half hours they spent on the road complete with videos, photos and written descriptions of the voyage that saw thousands of fans turn out to cheer, pose with the trophy, and simply say, 'Thank you.' Here's an excerpt to give you an idea of what the piece is like:
Thursday 1:15 p.m. ET (Ashland) - We just finished up our first stop in Ashland, Ky. Hard to describe how crazy the scene was at the local Kroger.
There were at least a thousand people there, if not more. The staff distributed 1,000 championship posters and those were all gone in minutes.
Coach Cal, as he will at every stop, walked along the line of fans with the national championship trophy and posed with as many fans as he could. Meanwhile, the assistant coaches and the rest of the staff walked through the crowd and signed T-shirts, posters, basketballs, etc.
Before that, Calipari spoke to the crowd and talked about what made this year's team so special while thanking the fans for their support. He also read an excerpt from a fan's comment on the website that was from Ashland. We'll have videos and pictures of all that in a little bit. On the way to Pikeville, Ky.
Senior defensive end Collins Ukwu is being called on to play a key role in Rick Minter's defense in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When one side of the football loses the majority of its starters from the previous season, the immediate impulse is to worry how to go about filling those spots. All too often, the guys that have been there, the veterans, are forgotten. But those veterans will be more important in the grand scheme of things in filling the voids left behind.
While it's fair to wonder who will become the next Danny Trevathan or Winston Guy, the key playmakers from last year's Kentucky defense, it's the responsibility of players like Collins Ukwu and Martavius Neloms, both seniors, to help the next wave of defenders settle in.
Heading into the 2012 season, Ukwu has been a mainstay in the Kentucky defense his first three years. He has started 24 of the 35 games he has played in his career at defensive end, and in limited time last season due to injury, had 28 tackles including 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
The defense will be leaning heavily on Ukwu to pick up the slack as he looks to have his best season of his career. But this spring, he has sat out contact drills with another injury. That doesn't keep him from helping his teammates get up to speed in a relatively new defensive scheme.
Ukwu is part of a relatively veteran-laden defensive line; a group that he says has to set the tempo for the rest of the defense this spring.
"That's the main key. That's the most important thing," said Ukwu. "If we're not going, the whole defense is down, and the level of play is down. So we set the tempo at the beginning of practice to the end of practice, so we're the main focus of it."
While Ukwu is holding down the fort in the front lines, Neloms is anchoring the secondary heading into his second season at safety. Neloms was third on the team in tackles last season with 71, his first at a new position after transitioning from cornerback his first two seasons. Third on the team in tackles is pretty impressive considering departed stars Trevathan and Guy were the only two players who had more last season for Kentucky.
Martavius Neloms (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Neloms continues to absorb as much information as he can about the defense in order to become a better leader for a defense that lost so much in the offseason. The more he knows about the defense, the better he can help the others know where they need to be as he looks to take on a leadership role.
"I feel like I have to be more vocal out there," said Neloms. "I need to take on the learning curve, because I feel like once I know exactly what to do, I can tell other guys what to do. I want to be the all-around leader on the field and off the field."
And that is exactly what a young defense needs.
The Wildcats held their first scrimmage over the weekend. The defense seemed to make the most impact.
"The thing I saw on the defensive side is how fast they started," said head coach Joker Phillips Wednesday. "They stopped the number one offense, three straight series. That means our defense was playing well."
Defensive line coach David Turner agreed, but reiterated that has group still has a long way to go to get to where it needs to be. The effort is there, but the determination and focus to be great is what Turner is primarily concerned about. But he's been pleased with the way that Ukwu has pushed and helped his teammates even if he's unable to participate.
"Collins Ukwu is a young man not going through spring practice. I told him to coach up those guys," said Turner. "Collins has played a lot of football here, been successful, and played in this league, and knows what the guys are going to see. And he's kind of taken some of those young guys and coached them up, which is good."
But Ukwu knows that there is still a lot of work left to do this spring and heading into the season. That's why he feels the responsibility to try to bring the other guys up to that level.
"It's pretty good knowing that you got guys that have talent that are backing you up," said Ukwu. "And what I'm doing now is making sure these guys are on the same level, so I try to coach them up as much as I can, because I want the guy who backs me up to be just as good as me."
Kentucky feels like its depth will allow them to fill some of those spots. In fact, despite the youth and inexperience, these players think they can be as good, if not better than last season. The key will be getting more familiar with the defensive playbook.
"I think we can be as good, if not better," said Neloms. "Because everybody's taking responsibility learning the playbook. The guys are coming in studying extra hard, and the coaches are demanding the most out of us every day. So either you know it, or you don't. If you don't know it, you're not going to play."
While the players, both veterans and inexperienced underclassmen, are plugging away during the offseason, Turner would still like to see the effort and focus increased. He knows it won't be easy, but in order for these guys to be as good as they want them to be, they need to appreciate the work that goes in to being great, to be like the players who played before them.
"Once again, it goes back to being consistent, showing up every day," said Turner. "That's what we've got to do. The big thing talking to the guys, it's not going to be easy, you can't expect it to be easy. You've got to come out here and grind and work. And that's the attitude I'm starting to see some of the guys adapt to."
Coach Cal will take UK's national title trophy on a tour across Kentucky beginning on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Number eight might be coming to a town near you.
John Calipari announced on Tuesday night that he and his staff will be taking Kentucky's 2012 national championship trophy on an nine-stop tour across the Commonwealth. The Men's Basketball National Championship Trophy Tour presented by Verizon Wireless will begin on Thursday, April 12 and conclude on Saturday, April 14.
Fans will have the opportunity to pose for pictures with the trophy at each stop, first in Eastern Kentucky. The trophy will be on display in Ashland, Pikeville and Hazard for an hour each on Thursday afternoon. The tour will then resume on Friday as the staff boards a train at 10:30 a.m. in Lexington at Buchanan St. off W. Main St. near Rupp Arena. The train will depart for Frankfort, the first of four Friday destinations, followed by Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Paducah.
At each stop on Thursday and Friday, Coach Cal will address the fans in attendance and take questions from the crowd.
The tour will conclude with stops on Saturday in Lexington and Louisville, but only the trophy will make those trips.
Here is complete information about each of the destinations on the tour, including times and locations:
Thursday, April 12th Ashland, Ky.: Kroger (12:00-1:00 pm ET) 711 Martin Luther King Blvd. Ashland, KY 41101 606.325.8231
Thursday, April 12th Pikeville, Ky.: Expo Center Main Street Plaza (2:30-3:30 pm ET) Billy Johnson Stage 126 Main Street Pikeville, KY 41501-1144 606.444.5500
Thursday, April 12th Hazard, Ky.: Perry County Park (5:00-6:00 pm ET) 354 Perry Park Road Hazard, KY 41701-9522 888.857.5263
On Friday, the staff will board a train in Nicholasville, Ky. that will take them through Midway, Ky. at 11:05 a.m. and arrive in Frankfort, Ky. at 11:45 a.m. Friday, April 13th Frankfort, Ky.: Old Capitol Annex (11:45 am-12:45 pm ET) 300 West Broadway Frankfort, KY 40601
Friday, April 13th Elizabethtown, Ky.: Kroger (2:30-3:30 pm ET) 111 Towne Drive Elizabethtown, KY 42701 270.737.1710 Friday, April 13th Owensboro, Ky.: Kroger (4:00-5:00 pm CT) 2630 Frederica Street Owensboro, KY 42301 270.684.9411
Friday, April 13th Paducah, Ky.: Kroger (7:30-8:30 pm CT) 3141 Park Avenue Paducah, KY 42001 270.444.0596 (TROPHY ONLY) Saturday, April 14th at Verizon Wireless Lexington: Hamburg (10:00 am - 2:00 pm ET) 1895 Vendor Way Lexington, KY 40509 859.264.9582
(TROPHY ONLY) Saturday, April 14th at Verizon Wireless Louisville: Old Brownsboro Crossing (4:00 pm - 7:00 pm ET) 4830 Norton Healthcare Blvd. Louisville, KY 40222 502.339.4949
Kentucky will look to rebound from a loss against Louisville in a three-game series at Arkansas, which begins on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It had to happen sooner or later.
A white-hot start to 2012 may have briefly convinced fans otherwise, but baseball is just too fickle of a game for any team to make it through an entire season without having a night where everything simply went wrong.
Of course, Kentucky likely would have preferred it didn't happen against archrival Louisville in front of the season's largest crowd, but the 12-0 blowout the Wildcats suffered is just a single loss, and a non-conference one at that.
"It was just kind of one of those games where things went their way and they didn't really go ours," A.J. Reed said. "But it's a learning experience really. We haven't had a game like this this year so we got to learn from this."
No UK player better exemplified the Murphy's Law nature of the Cats' first loss outside of Southeastern Conference play in 22 tries than Reed. The big southpaw started the game on the mound in his UK-U of L initiation and he came out firing strikes. He reached two-strike counts on six of the eight batters he faced in the first inning, but the Cardinals fought off tough pitches, punished him for mistakes and benefited from a few seeing-eye singles to grab a 3-0 lead.
He quickly had a chance to rebound in the bottom of the inning as he was batting third in the lineup, and it appeared he might get his team back on track. He stroked a Jared Ruxer pitch deep into center field, but Adam Engel made a leaping catch at the wall to rob him of extra bases and maybe even a home run.
"That first inning, they got a couple hits through the infield and it was just a couple hits off the end of the bat or jam shots and I go out there and hit that," Reed said. "I don't know if it's going to go or not, but it kind of sets how the game's going to be."
While the play may have set the tone for the game, Reed knows the end result had more to do with the way he and his team played than anything else.
"That's not what made or (broke) the game," Reed said. "We lost 12-0 and you're not going to win if you don't score. Offense was struggling a little bit, but that's alright. You're going to have those games every once in a while."
With the loss in proper perspective, UK goes about the business of finding a balance between learning from the defeat and moving past it.
"You forget about it but you don't forget about it because you want to know how it felt to do this and you want to know what it was like during the game," Reed said. "At the same time, you just want to get past it. You don't want to think about it anymore."
The Cats can't afford to allow any ill effects to spill over into their next outing, because the challenge that awaits them is among the toughest they've faced all season. Kentucky travels to Fayetteville, Ark., for three games against No. 11 Arkansas (24-8, 7-5 SEC). The Razorbacks boast a 20-2 home record on the season and a fearsome weekend rotation. Ryan Stanek and D.J. Baxendale have a combined record of 12-1 and were recently joined in the rotation by Barrett Astin, who has allowed just three earned runs in 32 innings, most of which have come out of the bullpen.
A tough opponent plus the midweek struggles against Louisville will inevitably lead to some concern over whether doubt will seep into the mind of a young team, but the Wildcats remain self-assured.
"We're going to be fine," Reed said. "Our offense will show up this weekend, our pitching will show up this weekend and our defense will show up this weekend. We're not really worried about it, we just had a bad game."
"We'll have a couple good practices and we'll show up in Fayetteville," head coach Gary Henderson said. "Don't worry about that."
John Calipari is asking for fans' help in determining what made this year's Kentucky team so special. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Since his arrival just over three years ago, John Calipari has sought to involve the Big Blue Nation in the program it loves so much. Now, he's for perhaps more direct help than ever before.
Calipari is trying to figure what it is that allowed the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats to cut down the nets in New Orleans and bring home UK's eighth national championship. He wants to know from the fans what they noticed about this year's Cats that made them special. What separated UK from Coach Cal's past teams and the hundreds of others that fell short of a title this season.
I need you to put together what you think made this team different from the other teams I've coached or other teams around the country that you watched. When you watched us play, what were the things that made you say, "Wow!"
The four best answers - chosen by myself and my staff - will win a framed picture of the championship game. I've got four of them framed and waiting for you in my office. You can write your answers in the comments section below. No answer is too long or too short.
But I need your help because we're still trying to learn about this team, and I want to see if any of you have analyzed this team and picked out some things that we haven't seen. We as a staff are trying to figure out why we were this good and why were we able to take a bunch of freshmen and sophomores and win a national championship.
Calipari and his staff will be selecting the best four answers and the lucky winners will win a framed picture from the national championship game. To submit a response, leave a comment on Coach Cal's website post.
Hailed as perhaps the best recruiter of the modern era, Calipari's greatest challenge during his first national championship season was how to get some of the most talented players he has ever coach, almost all underclassmen, to sacrifice individual scoring totals for team accomplishment.
All season, Calipari challenged players by asking, "How do you help us when you are not scoring?" And in the most significant game of Calipari's career, no one better illustrated his point than Davis, who dominated the national title game in every way except scoring.
A brief survey of some former UK players and coaches produced a variety of opinions.
Former coach Joe B. Hall, who won the 1978 championship, puts this team way up the charts.
"They pass the ball like the Rupp's Runts, they run the break like the Fabulous Five, they shoot it maybe like my '78 team and they're talented and can play any style like Rick's (Pitino) '96 team," Hall said. "They're extremely talented, and they're so much a team. It's been fun to watch them put this together."
Hereafter, a player who declares for this year's NBA Draft forfeits any remaining college eligibility. So if Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and/or Marquis Teague enter the draft later this month, there's no playing again for Kentucky even if one or all should change his mind and exit the draft.
Of course, any or all can return and play for UK next season provided they don't enter this year's NBA Draft.
As is the nature of an intrasquad game, every positive comes with a catch. Coach Joker Phillips said the defense did a good job pressuring the quarterbacks, but that means the Wildcats' retooled offensive line needs work.
The first-team defense recorded six sacks against the first-team offense. UK is replacing three starting linemen, including both tackles, and Phillips singled out the baby-faced left side of the line as an area most in need of improvement. True sophomore tackle Darrian Miller and redshirt freshman guard Zach West are the new starters on that side. Phillips said those two are "having a huge learning curve in understanding the speed at which the game is played."
When University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari said it, the hyperbole made sense. "We're everybody's Super Bowl" became one of his most familiar refrains as the Wildcats, ranked No. 1 most of the season, marched toward a national championship this season.
UK baseball coach Gary Henderson hardly started out this season with the same rallying cry. In his first three seasons in charge, the Cats went 84-81 overall, just 33-57 in Southeastern Conference play. They missed the NCAA Tournament all three years and, understandably, began this year unranked.
Fresh off a conference series win over South Carolina that was full offensive firepower, UK (21-18, 5-7 SEC) led by the senior bat of Brittany Cervantes will return to the field midweek in a double-header against Arkansas (19-18. 3-14 SEC) Wednesday.
The Razorbacks, much like UK recently, have used the long ball to find success on the diamond.
"Arkansas is a good team, they do a nice job of swinging the bats and they've played an awesome schedule," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said.
Rajon Rondo posted double-digit assists for the 18th straight game, extending the NBA's longest such streak in 20 years with an 18-point, 15-assist effort. Brandon Bass added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Avery Bradley scored 11 for the Celtics, who shot a season-high 61 percent and survived two possessions where Miami could have tied the score in the final quarter.
Here is today's minor-league report. The biggest news is the strong 2012 debut of heralded lefty James Paxton, who picked up the victory with 5 2/3 scoreless innings for the Double-A Jackson Generals. Paxton struck out 10, gave up just two hits and didn't walk any in Jackson's 2-1 win over Birmingham.
In much happier news for the Nationals, Alex Meyer, the 23rd pick of last year's draft, made an excellent professional debut with Class A Hagerstown. Meyer a 6-foot-9 flamethrower, allowed two hits and no walks in five shutout innings while striking out four.
Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips met with the media on Wednesday after a cool and blustery spring practice session, and his mind was on the Wildcats' first full scrimmage of the spring, which took place this past Saturday.
Initially, Phillips and his staff were critical of the team's performance in multiple facets of the game, but a look back at the scrimmage on tape revealed they were a little too harsh. There effort was there from both the offense and defense, which is something that can't be taken for granted.
"I was a little concerned about both sides of the ball, but when you look at it, especially from a head coach's standpoint when you've got a chance to see it on film, it was really competitive," Phillips said. "Both sides can't win."
In the session at Commonwealth Stadium, UK's defense got the job done initially.
"The thing I saw on the defensive side is how fast they started," Phillips said. "They stopped the number one offense three straight series. That means our defense is playing well."
The offense, though, stepped up.
"On the other side, our offense wasn't playing well, but I was also pleased with how they responded in the second half of the scrimmage and made some plays, had some explosion plays, we put together a drive off the 10-yard line," Phillips said.
On the offensive side, sophomore Demarco Robinson, who has worked primarily as UK's slot receiver, looked to have the ability to be the playmaker the offense needs. He caught a 30-yard square-in pass and then a screen pass from Jacob Russell that he turned into a 60-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye.
"He's starting to get confidence and we're starting to have confidence in him that he knows what to do," Phillips said.
Phillips is also hoping Robinson can assume full-time kick and punt return duties and provide some much-needed game-breaking ability on special teams. Like the rest of the team, it's a work in progress.
"Are we where we need to be?" Phillips said. "Not even close, but there are some positive things for us to build on."
If you haven't been exposed to the hilarity that is the Matthew Mitchell Show, you're missing out big time. The coach's weekly show airs only during the season, so you'll have to wait for seven months or so before it starts again. In the meantime, this blooper reel from the 2011-12 season will have to tide you over.
Sports Video produced a video featuring Kentucky's run through the NCAA Tournament for the men's basketball page on UK Interactive. We were able to get our hands on it so you could relive the national championship one more time. Enjoy.
The Southeastern Conference (SEC) today announced the winners of its first ever Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Awards. The awards honor professors from SEC universities with outstanding records in teaching and scholarship who serve as role models for other faculty and students. The University of Kentucky recognized professor is Steven W. Yates, professor of Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy in the UK College of Arts and Sciences.
In presenting the awards, the SEC becomes the only Division I conference within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) currently recognizing university faculty for their achievements, unrelated to athletics or student-athletes.
To be eligible for the SEC Faculty Achievement Award, a professor must be a teacher or scholar at an SEC university; have achieved the rank of full professor at an SEC university; have a record of extraordinary teaching; and have a record of scholarship that is recognized nationally and/or internationally.
"This diverse group of men and women share a passionate dedication not just for teaching, but for empowering their students with the knowledge and wisdom to make a difference in our world," said Dr. Bernie Machen, President of the University of Florida and President of the Southeastern Conference. "Some of the finest minds have studied on our campuses, and we have the SEC university professors to thank for helping to position them for success."
SEC Faculty Achievement Award winners, one from each university, will receive a $5,000 honorarium and become his or her university's nominee for the SEC Professor of the Year Award. The SEC Professor of the Year receives an additional $15,000 honorarium and will be recognized during the annual SEC Spring Banquet in May.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said, "These winners are exceptional and have inspired their students and colleagues through a deep commitment to teaching and research in their chosen fields. The SEC is privileged to honor the men and women who motivate and encourage our students to be the best they can be."
Chosen by a selection committee of SEC Provosts, the SEC Faculty Achievement Awards and the SEC Professor of the Year Award are part of a set of non-athletically related academic initiatives the Southeastern Conference has undertaken through its SEC Academic Consortium to encourage academic leadership and collaboration within the SEC membership.
The 2012 SEC Faculty Achievement Award Winners are:
University of Alabama, Dr. David A. Dixon, Robert Ramsay Chair of the Department of Chemistry
University of Arkansas, Dr. Elliott West, Alumni Distinguished Professor of History
Auburn University, Dr. Christopher Roberts, Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the George E. and Dorothy Stafford Uthlaut Professor of Chemical Engineering
University of Florida, Dr. Kenneth D. Wald, Distinguished Professor of Political Science
University of Georgia, Dr. Loch Kingsford Johnson, Regents Professor of Public and International Affairs and Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor
University of Kentucky, Dr. Steven W. Yates, Professor of Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy
Louisiana State University, Dr. J. Gerald Kennedy, Boyd Professor of English and former chair of the English Department
University of Mississippi, Dr. John O'Haver, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Associate Dean of Engineering
Mississippi State University, Dr. Keith H. Coble, Giles Distinguished Professor, Agricultural Economics Department
University of South Carolina, Dr. Scott Price, Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy, Head of the Piano Area, and Coordinator of Piano Pedagogy
University of Tennessee, Dr. Carol Tenopir, Chancellor's Professor at the School of Information Sciences and the Director of the Center for Information and Communication Studies and Director of Research, College of Communication and Information
Vanderbilt University, Dr. Cecelia Tichi, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Apr. 8:
Softball: Brittany Cervantes
Senior Brittany Cervantes exploded offensively for the Wildcats during a critical SEC series this weekend. Cervantes batted .500 against South Carolina while blasting three home runs, scoring five times and driving in four runs in helping UK keep pace in the hunt for the SEC Tournament. Cervantes, UK's career home run leader, had struggled early this season with finding her offensive rhythm and had hit just two home runs in her first 36 games this season. She then became the first UK player this season to hit home runs in three consecutive games - also a career-best for UK's all-time power leader. Cervantes batted in the leadoff spot this weekend and in the rubber game with the Gamecocks on Sunday, she watched the visitor's plate two runs in the top half of the first and answered with her second leadoff homer of the series to jump-start UK's offensive effort en route to plating 10 scores for the first time this season against league competition.
Gymnastics: Caitlyn Ciokajlo
Had a strong showing for Kentucky on uneven bars, posting a career-high tying 9.875 on the event at the NCAA Regional. The high mark placed the junior in fifth place overall at the event.
Baseball: Austin Cousino
Centerfielder Austin Cousino continued to pace the top offensive unit in college baseball atop the batting order, leading UK to a series win over No. 10 Ole Miss and a midweek win over Dayton during a four-game week ... Cousino hit .412 (7-for-17) with four runs, three doubles and three RBI, adding two walks and stealing a base ... In the series opener vs. Dayton, Cousino went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs, a double, a walk and an RBI ... In the series opener vs. Ole Miss, Cousino added a double and a walk , also collecting a hit in the second game of the set ... In the series-clinching win on Sunday, Cousino went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI, including a rally-sparking leadoff single in the late innings ... On the year, Cousino leads UK in nearly every category, including average (.365), runs (35), hits (50), doubles (13) and steals (seven), adding one triple, five homers and 27 RBI ... The 2011 Baseball America first-team high school All-America selection has reached base safely in 31 of his 32 career games and is currently riding a five-game hitting streak, reaching base safely in nine straight.
Softball: Griffin Joiner
Freshman Griffin Joiner led the Wildcat attack at the plate in a crucial series victory over South Carolina. Joiner led the team with a .444 average on the week, score three times, walked four times, drove in three runs and doubled twice while stealing her second base of the season. Joiner's three-RBI day against the Gamecocks in the series-tying win marks a new career-high as well as the three walks she drew in the game. Joiner's development at the plate has been a key for the Blue and White as she was one of just two players to tally a hit against No. 12 Louisville in a midweek contest. Behind the plate as UK's catcher she caught two of the three base stealers in their attempts against the Gamecocks, adding to her repertoire.
Baseball: Luke Maile
Junior Luke Maile continued to pace the NCAA's leading offense during a four-game week, leading Kentucky its fourth consecutive series win to open conference play, with a series victory over No. 10 Ole Miss ... Maile collected a staggering 20 total bases in four games, launching three homers and three doubles with six RBI, batting .471 (8-for-17) ... The catcher extended his seven-game hitting streak during the week, starting with a two-homer game in UK's midweek win over Dayton, including a double and four RBI ... In the series-opener vs. Ole Miss, Maile collected a pair of run-sparking doubles in a 3-2 win, scoring both runs, including the go-ahead tally in the late innings ... In the series clincher, Maile put UK on the board with a solo homer to even the game, going 2-for-4 with two runs ... In the second game vs. Ole Miss, Maile collected a single ... On the year, Maile has hit .341 (42-for-123) with nine doubles, nine homers and 26 RBI, stealing seven bases.
Baseball: Alex Phillips
Senior left-handed reliever Alex Phillips was a workhorse for the UK bullpen during a four-game week, pitching on Friday and Sunday to win and save UK's two series-clinching victories over No. 10 Ole Miss ... In the series opener, Phillips came on in relief of starter Taylor Rogers, tossing 3.1 shutout innings, striking out three to pick up the win ... On Sunday, with UK facing its third consecutive rubber match, Phillips worked three innings just two days after his first three-inning workload, allowing one run to pick up the save ... Phillips has been a major force for a stout UK bullpen on the year, appearing in 14 games with a 5-0 record and a 2.01 ERA, totaling two saves in 31.1 innings.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
Quigley was the star of the weekend for Kentucky, winning both of his singles matches to increase his impressive record to 10-0 against SEC foes. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., defeated two highly ranked foes during the week, including No. 15 Artem Ilyushin and No. 19 Nik Scholtz. Quigley's win over Scholtz was the match clincher in its win over Ole Miss.
Freshman A.J. Reed will start against Louisville on Tuesday evening. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Just 10 days after the most heated rivalry in the Bluegrass was exported to the Big Easy for the Final Four, Kentucky-Louisville will be reprised on the diamond.
The top-ranked Wildcats will play host to the No. 19 Cardinals at 6:30 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium for a game head coach Gary Henderson isn't afraid to call big. It's expected to be a clear night in Lexington, so come on out and support the team that's lost just three times in 33 tries this season.
Cat Scratches will be live at the game, so make sure you follow @UKAthleticsNews and @UKBaseball for real-time updates, and then check back postgame for more coverage.
For a little pregame reading, here are a few links to get you ready for UK-U of L:
Baseball - Kentucky completed its first series win over Ole Miss since the 2008 season, as the Wildcats won the set over a blistering-hot Ole Miss club that entered the weekend fresh off a series win over consensus No. 1 Florida. UK posted a 3-2 win in the opener, suffered a 9-3 loss in the second game, before riding a strong pitching effort from Corey Littrell to a series-clinching win on Sunday, 8-3. - UK has opened up the 2012 season with a 30-3 mark, the best start to a season in school history, leading the NCAA in wins and pacing the conference atop the standings for the second consecutive week. - UK's 9-3 start to conference play is also a program best, with UK running up a school-record 21-game home winning streak earlier in the year and a program-best 22 game winning streak to open the season, the second-longest streak in the storied history of the SEC. UK now owns a 7-2 record against teams ranked in the top 25, with UK also boasting a 9-1 record in one-run games in 2012.
Men's tennis - Behind a dominating performance in singles action that included a come-from-behind effort from senior No. 7 Eric Quigley for the decisive fourth point of the match, UK clinched a share of the SEC regular-season title with a 5-2 win over No. 14 Ole Miss on Sunday. UK began the weekend with a 6-1 win over No. 10 Mississippi State. This is the first SEC title since UK won the overall SEC Championship in 1992. - Quigley was the star of the weekend for Kentucky, winning both of his singles matches to increase his impressive record to 10-0 against SEC foes. The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., defeated two highly ranked foes during the week, including No. 15 Artem Ilyushin and No. 19 Nik Scholtz. Quigley's win over Scholtz was the match clincher vs. Ole Miss. - The two wins over the weekend takes Kentucky's record against top 25 teams this season to 9-3, while UK has earned 29 wins over top-25 teams since the start of the 2009 season. UK also continued to perform well at home, boosting its home record to 58-10 since the start of the 2009 season.
Gymnastics - UK concluded the season with a fifth-place showing at the NCAA Champaign Regional behind a team score of 194.750. - The Wildcats saved the best performance of the night for last, scoring a team score of 48.95 on uneven bars. Junior Caitlyn Ciokajlo led the way for Kentucky with a career-high tying 9.875, which ranked her fifth overall at the meet. - UK seniors Storey Morris and Whitney Rose ended their collegiate careers with strong showings at the event. Morris posted a team-best 9.825 on balance beam and a 9.8 on both vault and bars, while Rose tied a season best score on bars with a 9.775. Softball - The Kentucky softball team earned a crucial series victory over South Carolina this weekend at home to improve to 5-7 in Southeastern Conference action and remain in the hunt for a spot in the SEC Tournament. - Kentucky was led by the hot-hitting of senior Brittany Cervantes and freshman Griffin Joiner. Cervantes batted .400 for the week, including .500 against the Gamecocks. Cervantes hit homers in all three games against South Carolina, while scoring five times and driving in four runs. Joiner led the offensive unit with a .444 average for the week. She notched a pair of doubles and three runs driven in to help the Wildcat cause. - Senior Rachel Riley also boasted the Wildcat attack with a .400 average and a pair of homers. She was vital in her pitching performance as well. Riley tossed her first shutout of the season in the series-tying victory. She went the distance and struck out five in the win. Senior Chanda Bell earned the other victory in the circle for UK while striking out 10 in a complete-game series-clincher on Sunday. Women's tennis - Women's tennis grabbed its first SEC victory of the season over Mississippi State, posting a final result of 5-1. - In singles play, Jessica Stiles defeated 113th-ranked Alexandra Perper at the No. 1 singles slot, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 1-0 (10). Khristina Blajkevitch also found herself in a tight match as she defeated Olesya Tsigvintseva 2-6, 6-2, 1-0 (8). Caitlin McGraw and Stephanie Fox also grabbed singles victories for the Cats. - UK next faced No. 16 Ole Miss and fell 7-0. Freshman Edmee Morin-Kougoucheff put up a valiant effort in singles play, falling just short of Erin Stephens at the No. 3 singles slot, 6-7, 4-6.
Men's golf - Men's golf finished 13th at the Gary Koch Invitational, its final tournament of the regular season. - Junior Joseph Barr led Kentucky with a final score of 8-over-par, tying for 38th. - It was the second time this season Barr had the best or tied for the best tournament finish on the team.
Women's golf - The University of Kentucky women's golf team finished 13th at the 2012 Bryan National Collegiate. - Junior Heather Lott finished the weekend in a tie for 35th at 11-over-par 227. - Junior Betsie Johnson led Kentucky with eight birdies on the weekend.
Track and field - Competing at the Florida Relays, junior Shiara Robinson recorded the seventh-best time in the 400m hurdles in UK history with a 1:00.85. - Sophomore Julie Nunn ran the 10th fastest 400m dash in program history, clocking a 55.71. - Freshman Keilah Tyson continued her impressive rookie campaign, missing out on her UK freshman record in the 100m by just 0.01 seconds. - Junior Luis Orta finished fifth in the 5,000m with a time of 14:09.47, while sophomore Allison Peare finished fifth in the 800m. Upcoming schedule
Tuesday, April 10 Baseball hosts Louisville - 6:30 p.m.
Luke Maile is the reigning SEC Player of the Week entering a Tuesday game against Louisville. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
For an entire season, John Calipari drilled into the heads of his players, fans and the media that no game was more important than any other. Even as the Wildcats prepared for an unlikely Kentucky-Louisville Final Four showdown, Coach Cal kept beating the just another game drum amidst the inevitable hysteria of such a matchup swirling around him
With baseball set to play the first of two annual installments of that same in-state rival - with the stakes admittedly not quite so high - head coach Gary Henderson is taking a different tack.
"It's on and it'll be a big game," Henderson said. "It's important to us, it's important to them. You can't shy away from it. It's not a weekend game, that's the reality of it. It's not an SEC game, but it's important. We want to win and we don't pretend like we don't or it's not important, because it is important."
No, it's not make or break for the No. 1 Wildcats (30-3, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) and won't have any bearing on their quest for an SEC title, but Tuesday's 6:30 p.m. tilt with No. 19 Louisville (23-9, 7-2 Big East) is unmistakably significant. Catcher/first baseman Luke Maile grew up in Crestview Hills, Ky., and knows what this rivalry is all about.
"It's big in a lot of regards," Maile said. "There's a lot of Cards fans out there in this state too. Sometimes we lose sight of that being in Lexington and going to class here at Kentucky."
UK gets home-field advantage for the first game, which will be televised live on the UK IMG Sports Network. Since the Cats and Cards only get two shots at each other - unless, of course a basketball-like postseason rematch comes to pass - Kentucky knows it needs to hold serve.
"You got to take the one at home," Maile said. "You got to take that first one from them."
U of L will have the added motivation of taking on a UK team that boasts the NCAA's best record and a top ranking according to Collegiate Baseball. Calling back once again to a popular Calipari-ism, Maile, for one, hopes the Cardinals and future opponents approach games against the Cats as Super Bowls.
"I can't speak for them, but I hope they are," Maile said. "That's when baseball's a lot of fun. That's what college baseball is all about is playing big games. It's a different beast than summer ball or professional baseball in that every game means a whole lot. You only get 56 of them so hopefully it is a Super Bowl.
"I know every game that we walk into is a Super Bowl for us and it has been this year. I don't think you'd want to look at it any other way as a competitor out there."
Even so, all the talk of big games was accompanied by an appropriate sense of perspective. The Wildcats have bigger goals in mind than just beating their archrivals, which means the emphasis is on how they are playing than any result.
"We're not going to get caught up in the whole wins and losses thing anyway," Maile said. "We're just trying to play good baseball. That will help you beat a lot of teams over time. I think Louisville's playing well right now. They always have a good team. They always play hard. We're really excited about it."
Bullpen, defense anchoring improvement
On the heels of a disappointing 25-30 season that saw UK once again fall short of the postseason, Henderson was sure things would get better in 2012.
Staff ace Alex Meyer departed as a first-round pick, but the blend of returning and incoming talent plus a generally different feel around the clubhouse had the Cats convinced they were capable of big things.
But a 22-0 start to the season? Four series victories and a spot atop the standings to start SEC play? The highest rankings in school history?
"There's not a coach in the country or anybody in our league that is thinking they're going to be 30-3, not in our sport and not at our level," Henderson said. "So the record is a pleasant surprise, but I thought we'd be better, I knew we'd be better, but you don't know much better and I don't have a crystal ball."
The players have surprised themselves too, but not as much as you would think.
"We expected that we had the players that you need to have when you're trying to win an SEC championship," Maile said. "We knew we had all that in place, we just knew we had to do it."
Suffice to say, they've done it so far.
Maile - with a team-leading nine home runs and 36 RBI - has anchored an offensive attack that ranks among the nation's best in almost all categories, but neither he nor his coach point to the Cats' bats as the biggest reasons for their success.
With 10 arms that weren't on the roster a season ago, Henderson pinpointed his team's bullpen as what has most pleased him about UK's start. Five of Kentucky's six primary relievers have ERAs of 2.51 or better, with closer Trevor Gott leading the way with a 1.50 ERA, seven saves and 19 strikeouts in 12 innings.
"If you don't have a bullpen, you're not going to be a good club," Henderson said. "You can have some good games, you can have a good weekend, but over time you're not going to be good if you can't pitch out of the bullpen in college baseball or really at any level."
The confidence of UK's relievers is sky high, and the same can be said about the way Henderson feels about his 'pen. There's no better example of that than the way he turned to lefthander Alex Phillips to toss 6.1 total innings in UK's two wins this weekend over Ole Miss.
"When you speak to the confidence that the coach has in the players, I think a lot of times you can kind of gauge that by what he does with them and when he does it," Henderson said. "Certainly going to Phillips two days out of three and he had a nice outing on Friday and to go right back to him on Sunday and get another three innings I think speaks to what we're doing and the fact that I run him out there in the ninth."
Further buoying the club's confidence is the defense being played behind those pitchers, particularly in the outfield.
"We've had countless diving catches and multi-run-saving catches on balls in the gap this year," Maile said. "That's kind of been commonplace so far for us this year. That just speaks to our mentality out there on defense. It gives our pitchers the confidence to throw strikes."
Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino has headlined the defense, what with his propensity to make highlight reel catches and gun down unsuspecting runners on the base paths. In a win on Friday, Cousino had three outfield assists, two at home plate.
"It's really hard to put a value on it other than to say it's really important," Henderson said. "It changes games and it gives you confidence the same way a bullpen does." Reed to take the mound in first UK-U of L game
One way or another, A.J. Reed was going to make his impact felt on Tuesday evening. The freshman first baseman/left-handed pitcher won't have to wait long to do it though. Reed (4-0, 2.42 ERA) will make the third start of his collegiate career and will be opposed by another freshman with a very similar stat line in Jared Ruxer (4-0, 2.37 ERA). Reed, to ensure his availability for a weekend series at Arkansas, is expected to undertake a limited workload. Maile named SEC Player of the Week
After posting eight hits in 17 at-bats and 20 total bases in four games last week, Maile was named SEC Player of the Week. Maile also had three home runs, three doubles and six RBI in extending his hitting streak to seven games while sharing SEC honors with Taylor Dugas of Alabama.
It can be hard to keep up with everything going on in the University of Kentucky's 22 varsity sports. With that in mind, we will highlight the best from around Kentucky sports each week. We'll recognize the best performances from Wildcat teams and players, we'll show you the coolest videos and photos that you may have missed and we'll mix in some new stuff along the way. Here are your award winners for this week:
Team of the week - Men's tennis clinch share of SEC title
Dennis Emery's squad continues to roll as the sixth-ranked Kentucky men's tennis team took down No. 14 Ole Miss Sunday in Lexington. The 5-2 victory was good for at least a share of the SEC regular season title, just the second in school history.
Kentucky got huge performances in singles, including the match-clinching point from senior Eric Quigley, who moves to 10-0 against SEC opponents this season. Anthony Rossi, Tom Jomby, and Alejandro Gomez also won in straight sets after Ole Miss had taken the doubles point early in the match.
Sitting undefeated in the conference, Kentucky (22-4, 10-0) needs a win over Vanderbilt this weekend or a loss by Georgia (9-1) to win the SEC title outright.
Game of the Week - Baseball rides Sunday win to yet another series victory over Ole Miss
Staring down a rubber match after No. 1 Kentucky and No. 10 Ole Miss had split the first two games of a weekend set, the top-ranked Wildcats proved their ranking with a dominating 8-3 win over the Rebels Sunday afternoon. Kentucky got a solid pitching performance out of sophomore starter Corey Littrell, who got his fifth win of the season as the UK won their fourth consecutive SEC series to start the season.
Down a run in the sixth inning, the Wildcats (30-3, 9-3) loaded the bases with Cameron Flynn coming to the plate. Looking to do some damage, Flynn blasted a grand slam for his eighth homer of the year as the Cats plated five runs in the inning, giving UK enough cushion to finish off the Rebels.
Player of the Week - Cervantes hits three homers in softball's series win over South Carolina
As the Kentucky softball team looks to make a strong push in its conference schedule down the stretch, senior third baseman Brittany Cervantes is doing all she can to see it through.
The UK record holder for home runs in a season continues to add to her total. In a 2-1 series win over conference foe South Carolina, Cervantes launched three homers, one in each game, to help the Cats capture the weekend set against the Gamecocks. She went 4-8 (.500) with 4 RBI and 3 walks over the three games against USC.
Photo of the Week - Celebrating the title, one more time
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Video of the Week -Coach Cal puts on his dancing shoes
Head over to CoachCal.com to watch John Calipari address his team in the locker room after winning the national championship, then break out a couple dance moves much to the delight of his players.
Alumus/Alumnae of the week - Rajon Rondo in midst of 17-game double-digit assist streak
Former UK point guard Rajon Rondo is having one of his best seasons a pro. Right now, he is red hot with 17-game stretch in which he has accumulated at least 10 assists each contest. The 17-consecutive games with double-digit assist totals is good for the fourth-best in NBA history.
Rondo is averaging 12.1 points and 11.2 assists per game this year, but over the 17 games, he's averaging 13.2 assists per contest, including a couple of 17-assist performances. Three games before the streak began, Rondo reeled off a 20-assist performance that was part of a triple-double against the Knicks in which he scored 18 points and pulled down 17 rebounds.
UK's comeback victory over Ole Miss locked up a share of the regular-season SEC title. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
Even for Dennis Emery, the coach who has led Kentucky's men's tennis program to success throughout his three-decade tenure, Sunday was a special day.
For just the second time in school history (the first was in 1992), UK won a share of the Southeastern Conference title with a 5-2 win over No. 14 Ole Miss. The sixth-ranked Wildcats moved to 22-4 and a perfect 10-0 in conference play.
The victory closed out a weekend sweep of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and came in spite of losing the doubles point to the visiting Rebels. UK rallied in singles to win five of six matches, with No. 7 Eric Quigley coming back from a set down to clinch the match for the Cats against No. 19 Nik Scholtz.
Even though the Wildcats are rightfully celebrating their accomplishment, they have their eyes on bigger goals. First, UK will look to close out the regular season strong in home matches this weekend against Illinois and Vanderbilt. A victory over Vandy will seal an outright regular-season SEC title.
From there, Kentucky will move on to the postseason, first in the SEC Tournament beginning on April 19, then in the NCAA Tournament, which kicks off on May 11.
Overall Record: 30-3, 9-3 SEC Record Last Week: 3-1, 2-1 SEC
Recent Results Tuesday, April 4 - won vs. Dayton, 19-6 Friday, April 6 - won vs. No. 10 Ole Miss, 3-2 Saturday, April 7 - lost vs. No. 10 Ole Miss, 3-9 Sunday, April 8 - won vs. No. 10 Ole Miss, 8-3
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, April 10 - vs. No. 18 Louisville - 6:30 p.m. (FSS) Friday, April 13 - at No. 9 Arkansas - 7:35 p.m. Saturday, April 14 - at No. 9 Arkansas - 3:05 p.m. (CST) Sunday, April 15 - at No. 9 Arkansas - 1:05 p.m. PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Luke Maile 6-3 - Jr. - C/1B - Crestview Hills, Ky. Week Stats: .471 (8-for-17), 6 R, 3 2B, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 1.176 SLG%
Notes: Junior Luke Maile continued to pace the NCAA's leading offense during a four-game week, leading Kentucky its fourth consecutive series win to open conference play, with a series victory over No. 10 Ole Miss ... Maile collected a staggering 20 total bases in four games, launching three homers and three doubles with six RBI, batting .471 (8-for-17) ... The catcher extended his seven-game hitting streak during the week, starting with a two-homer game in UK's midweek win over Dayton, including a double and four RBI ... In the series-opener vs. Ole Miss, Maile collected a pair of run-sparking doubles in a 3-2 win, scoring both runs, including the go-ahead tally in the late innings ... In the series clincher, Maile put UK on the board with a solo homer to even the game, going 2-for-4 with two runs ... In the second game vs. Ole Miss, Maile collected a single ... On the year, Maile has hit .341 (42-for-123) with nine doubles, nine homers and 26 RBI, stealing seven bases. FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Austin Cousino 5-10 - Fr. - CF - Dublin, Ohio Week Stats: .412 (7-for-17), 4 R, 3 2B, 3 RBI, .588 SLG%, 2 BB, .474 OB%, 1-1 SB
Notes: Centerfielder Austin Cousino continued to pace the top offensive unit in college baseball atop the batting order, leading UK to a series win over No. 10 Ole Miss and a midweek win over Dayton during a four-game week ... Cousino hit .412 (7-for-17) with four runs, three doubles and three RBI, adding two walks and stealing a base ... In the series opener vs. Dayton, Cousino went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs, a double, a walk and an RBI ... In the series opener vs. Ole Miss, Cousino added a double and a walk , also collecting a hit in the second game of the set ... In the series-clinching win on Sunday, Cousino went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI, including a rally-sparking leadoff single in the late innings ... On the year, Cousino leads UK in nearly every category, including average (.365), runs (35), hits (50), doubles (13) and steals (seven), adding one triple, five homers and 27 RBI ... The 2011 Baseball America first-team high school All-America selection has reached base safely in 31 of his 32 career games and is currently riding a five-game hitting streak, reaching base safely in nine straight.
PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Alex Phillips 6-4 - Sr. - LHP - Tenino, Wash. Week Stats: 1-0, 1.42 ERA, 1 SV, 2 APP, 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 SO, .208 opp. avg.
Notes: Senior left-handed reliever Alex Phillips was a workhorse for the UK bullpen during a four-game week, pitching on Friday and Sunday to win and save UK's two series-clinching victories over No. 10 Ole Miss ... In the series opener, Phillips came on in relief of starter Taylor Rogers, tossing 3.1 shutout innings, striking out three to pick up the win ... On Sunday, with UK facing its third consecutive rubber match, Phillips worked three innings just two days after his first three-inning workload, allowing one run to pick up the save ... Phillips has been a major force for a stout UK bullpen on the year, appearing in 14 games with a 5-0 record and a 2.01 ERA, totaling two saves in 31.1 innings.
TEAM NOTES The top-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with three wins, including a series win over No. 10 Ole Miss and a midweek smashing over Dayton. UK will return to action on Tuesday, hosting No. 18 Louisville in a 6:30 p.m. ET matchup at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky (30-3, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) completed its first series win over the Rebels since the 2008 season, as the Wildcats won the set over a blistering-hot Ole Miss club that entered the weekend fresh off a series win over consensus No. 1 Florida. UK posted a 3-2 win in the opener, suffered a 9-3 loss in the second game, before riding a strong pitching effort from Corey Littrell to a series-clinching win on Sunday, 8-3.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in school annals, the Wildcats have been paced by an offensive attack that leads the nation in average, in addition to pacing the SEC in nearly every offensive category. UK has opened up the 2012 with a 30-3 mark, the best start to a season in school history, leading the NCAA in wins and pacing the conference atop the standings for the second consecutive week.
UK's 9-3 start to conference play is also a program best, with UK running up a school-record 21-game home winning streak earlier in the year and a program-best 22 game winning streak to open the season, the second-longest streak in the storied history of the SEC. UK now owns a 7-2 record against teams ranked in the top-25, with UK also boasting a 9-1 record in one-run games in 2012.
The Wildcats own a .328 average as a team with a .506 slugging mark and a .421 on-base percentage, belting 40 homers in 33 games. Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino leads the team in nearly every offensive category, batting .365 with 13 doubles, one triple, five homers and 27 RBI, stealing seven bases and recording seven outfield assists. Freshman A.J. Reed has hit .350 with three homers and 33 RBI, while catcher Luke Maile owns a .341 mark with nine homers, 36 RBI and seven steals. Cameron Flynn has added a .341 average with eight homers and 26 RBI.
UK will host No. 18 Louisville at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Tuesday, with UK looking to improve on its 21-game non-conference winning streak to open the year. The game will be televised live on the UK IMG Network, with Dick Gabriel, Ryan Lemond and MLB Gold Glove winner Doug Flynn calling the action. Fans can see the game on Fox Sports South, in addition to locally on C-WKYT. The game will also be broadcast live on the UK IMG Radio Network, available in Central Kentucky on WLAP 630-AM, in Louisville on WKJK 1080-AM and online at UKathletics.com. Louisville (23-9, 7-2 Big East) will enter the Tuesday tilt coming off a road series win at Georgetown over the weekend. The Cardinals were ranked as high as No. 18 in the polls last week, entering their three-game conference tilt at the Hoyas.
Corey Littrell won his third consecutive Sunday start against Ole Miss. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Each of the past two weekends, Kentucky baseball has turned to sophomore lefthander Corey Littrell for a series-deciding Sunday Southeastern Conference game. Each of the past two weekends, Littrell has delivered.
Pitching his way to road wins over South Carolina and Georgia, Littrell allowed just one run over 13 and 2/3 innings, striking out 10 batters in the process. With Littrell playing the role of Sunday stopper, UK ascended to first place in the nation's toughest league.
"I love Sundays," Littrell said. "Especially two on the road and then today, there's no bigger feeling for a pitcher going in than (when) you know you can help your team win the series because that's all it's about."
On Sunday against Ole Miss, Littrell found himself in a similar spot, but he found he didn't have his best stuff for this rubber match.
"It's hard for a pitcher to have their 'A' game every day," Littrell said, "but I was able to compete and throw the pitches I need to when I need to and the team played good defense and got those runs when they needed to."
In spite of allowing 12 Rebels to reach base in just six innings of work, Littrell managed to keep his team within striking distance as the struggling Wildcat offense found its feet against A.J. Hively, another pitcher who has dazzled on Sundays. He grinded out a quality start, allowing just two runs, and he had a feeling the batters would come to the rescue if he could just hang in there.
"We absolutely just destroy the baseball," Littrell said. "There's no doubt in my mind if I can keep them under three, then that's fine with me because I know our offense is going to score some runs."
He was proven right, as UK (30-3, 9-3 SEC) rallied for an 8-3 victory over visiting Ole Miss (21-10, 6-6 SEC) on the strength of five runs in a decisive sixth inning.
Littrell came out of the gate throwing strikes, but three of the first four Rebel batters reached with singles. Ole Miss cleanup hitter Matt Snyder knocked in the game's first run with the third of those hits, continuing his strong series. However, Littrell was able to limit the damage by coaxing an inning-ending double play from Will Allen.
The opening frame set the tone for Littrell's outing, as he continually worked in and out of trouble. The left-hander allowed at least one Rebel to reach base in each of his six innings innings, but always managed to wiggle his way out of a jam with a double play or a big strikeout, something he was unable to do more often than not in an inconsistent freshman season.
"I just think it's growing up," head coach Gary Henderson said. "I don't know if it's the 4,000 conversations we've had, I don't know if it's just getting older...he's just more mature. They tend to move away from frustrations as freshman and to solutions as sophomores if you've got the right kid and I think that's what he's doing."
Due to an escalating pitch count, it was clear Littrell wouldn't last deep into the game, and he saved some of his best work for his final two innings.
Lead-off man Tanner Mathis doubled with one out in the fifth inning before Littrell got a groundout from Auston Bousfield. To set up a lefty-lefty matchup with Snyder, Littrell worked around Alex Yarbrough. Snyder fell behind in the count, but battled in a nine-pitch at-bat before Littrell finished him off with a swinging strikeout, fist pumping his way to the UK dugout after navigating his way through the heart of the Rebel lineup unscathed.
The Rebels actually managed to manufacture a run in the sixth, but it came in spite of more impressive work by Littrell. Allen opened the inning with a double before Preston Overbey moved him to third base with a bunt. Littrell then got a popup from Andrew Mistone, but the UK infield was playing in, and shortstop Matt Reida couldn't reel in what proved to be a well-placed go-ahead single. Littrell, having topped 100 pitches by that point, got a pair of groundouts to end the threat.
Meanwhile, the UK offense was largely stymied by Hively. Luke Maile tied the game with his team-leading ninth home run in the bottom of the second, but it was one of just two Wildcat hits through the opening five innings.
"It sounds kind of goofy, but I was really confident after they went up 2-1 because it should have been worse," Henderson said. "Sometimes the baseball gods are looking after you - and they don't always do that, we know that - but I really felt like that was their opportunity to put some distance. When we still had the four at-bats and we were just chasing one, I felt pretty good."
Down 2-1 heading to the bottom of the sixth, the UK offense that had scored just six runs in the first 23 innings against the Rebels awoke just in time to give Littrell his fifth win of the season. With the top of the order stepping to the plate, the first four Wildcats reached base while hitting just one ball out of the infield. Catcher Luke Maile legged out a grounder to third base, plating Austin Cousino and tying the game.
Cameron Flynn, coming up with the bases still loaded, delivered the decisive blow and it most certainly left the infield. Flynn found himself in a 1-2 hole against Hively, who remained in the game, but the Morehead State transfer deposited the next pitch over the right field fence for a grand slam, the first of his UK career.
"(Assistant) Coach (Brian) Green told me before he's going to be throwing a lot of changeups and sliders so I just got a good pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it," Flynn said.
Littrell was just a little more enthusiastic in recounting his reaction to Flynn's eighth home run.
"I was kind of mad when they got that run that last inning, so I was sitting down in the dugout still a little frustrated but once he hit that, I jumped off and I've never been happier in my life," Littrell said.
From there, UK turned to the bullpen that has dominated all season. UK has benefited from a collective relief pitching effort this year, but Alex Phillips decided to do it all by himself on Sunday. Armed with a four-run lead, Phillips attacked from the second he stepped on the mound. Twenty-four of the 32 pitches he threw over his three innings were strikes, and he allowed two hits and a run in picking up his second save of the season.
"It can explode at any point in time, as any coach in America will tell you that, but I think our club's pretty confident," Henderson said. "When you got to go get nine or 12 outs and you're looking at Tim (Peterson) and Alex and we had Sam (Mahar) ready to go and obviously Trevor (Gott), when you get to that point in the game, we're pretty confident."
There isn't a single aspect of the game where the Cats aren't confident 33 games into the season. They're well aware how fast things can turn, but they're enjoying life at the top just fine for now.
"It's unbelievable," Littrell said. "I don't even know how to explain it. It's so much fun being a part of this team. I love these guys."
The Kentucky football team held its first major scrimmage of spring practice on Saturday morning. Afterwards, head coach Joker Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders talked about the session. See below for video of each:
Luke Maile doubles twice and scored a pair of runs in UK's 3-2 win over Ole Miss on Friday night. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
It was a wild one to say the least, but the Comeback Cats struck again.
Kentucky came up with an unconventional 3-2 win over Ole Miss and captured the all-important first game of the a series against Ole Miss Friday night at a packed Cliff Hagan Stadium. The Wildcats were out hit 14-7 and committed 3 errors, yet still came out on top.
While UK made a couple miscues in the field, the number was not indicative of the leather they flashed all night. The first two Ole Miss at bats ended in great defensive plays that saved runs for UK starter Taylor Rogers. Right fielder Cameron Flynn made a fantastic run-saving running catch heading toward the line, and center fielder Austin Cousino came up with big throw to home to keep the game scoreless.
"I thought our overall defensive effort was good," said head coach Gary Henderson. "And clearly our three errors weren't characteristic of us. I thought we forced the game a little bit."
It wasn't Rogers' best start of the year, but he battled and got outs when he needed them. He also had a lot of help from that Kentucky defense. Cousino, who reached base twice with a double and a walk, came away with three outfield assists, two at home plate.
Cousino was quick to credit the team and the collective effort for their ability to grab the first game of the series.
"It takes a team effort every day," said Cousino. "And I couldn't do it without the other eight guys behind me and the other 26 in the dugout. It's a whole team effort. And anyone else on our team will tell you the individual stuff is great, but I'll take this game any day. A 3-2 win over an SEC opponent on a Friday rather than a 4-5 night with a loss by one."
The Cats grabbed their first run of the game in the bottom of the second inning when Matt Reida squeaked one between the legs of the Ole Miss shortstop to give them a 1-0 lead. Ole Miss countered in the top of third when Cousino lost a ball in the sun, but still recorded a run despite Cousino getting the force out at second with a runner at first.
In the fourth, the Rebels grabbed the lead when third baseman Andrew Mistone drove in Preston Overbey with a double off of Zac Zellers' glove in left field to go up 2-1.
Kentucky thought it tied it the game in the fourth when Michael Williams flew out to the right fielder, presumably for a sacrifice fly to score Cameron Flynn from third. But it was not to be. Ole Miss appealed to third and the umpire called Flynn out for leaving before Overbey made the catch in right field.
Henderson turned to his left hander out of the bullpen in Alex Phillips after Rogers gutted out five innings of 11-hit, two-run baseball while striking out five. Phillips rewarded Henderson and Rogers with a dazzling relief performance.
Phillips did his job in mowing down Rebel batters, surrendering just 3 hits in 3.1 innings. He found success in throwing first-pitch strikes.
"That's one thing that we really emphasize here is getting ahead on the hitters," said Phillips. "Then we can go work after that. It makes all of our jobs a little bit easier."
It was Henderson's plan all along. With Phillips cruising, he knew he could ride him out until his closer Trevor Gott was needed.
Kentucky evened the tally at 2-2 when Luke Maile, as he's done all season, got things going for the Cats in sixth. After leading off with a double, he moved to third on a passed ball to putting himself in prime scoring position. In textbook fashion, Zellers drove him in with a sacrifice fly and Maile slid in under the tag.
With Phillips taking care of the Ole Miss offense, Maile became the spark plug again and jump-started the quieted UK offensive attack. The junior backstop lined a double to the left field gap with one out to put himself in scoring position, granting Flynn a chance at redemption.
Flynn, who was called out after leaving early on a tag-up attempt, delivered on cue with a single up the middle to plate Maile and give the Cats a 3-2 lead.
While Henderson was happy with Flynn's go-ahead RBI, he couldn't help but go back to the beginning of the game to one of Flynn's larger contributions.
"I was really impressed with that," said Henderson about Flynn's single up the middle. "I think as much as anything, I was really impressed with the ball he caught in the first inning. You know, that ball drops, that's two runs and you've got a whole different ball game."
But as it were, the Wildcats led 3-2 heading into the top of the ninth.
Phillips went back out for the ninth and recorded the first out, but then Henderson brought on his closer Trevor Gott to finish things off. Gott walked a batter, but recorded the final two outs for his seventh save of the year, good for the second most in a season by a Wildcat.
When the dust settled, Kentucky (29-2, 8-2) got the win and held the early, but important 1-0 series lead on Ole Miss with a chance to win the series Saturday afternoon.
"It's always important," said Henderson about winning the first game of the series. "It sets the tone for the weekend. It doesn't guarantee anything on Saturday and Sunday, but those Friday night wins are tough to get. They're important for the energy you take into Saturday, and we're really pleased to get one tonight."
Rising sophomore Alvin Dupree had 15 tackles and 2.5 sacks over the final four games of his first season as a Wildcats. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It's the nature of college athletics, but replacing high-impact players from year to year is no easy task. It's especially difficult when trying to replace from within. Defensively, that is exactly what the University of Kentucky football team is going to have to do.
They think they have the guys to do it, too.
"Well we lost all of our linebackers due to graduation and other circumstances," said Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter. "I've got four brand new guys lining up out there all across the board. The challenge of coaching is to replace those guys and put the right guy in the right place at the right time."
Linebacker Danny Trevathan, last year's leading tackler, not only on the team, but in the Southeastern Conference, is looking to realize his NFL dreams. Winston Guy, a hybrid defender, finished second in the SEC in tackles right behind Trevathan. These are two of the gaping holes that head coach Joker Phillips and Minter will be looking to fill this spring and into next season.
With Phillips and Minter looking for guys to step up, two players have stood out: sophomores Alvin Dupree and Malcolm McDuffen.
Both were limited in their action in the 2011 season, but each saw time on the field in every game last year. Dupree earned a starting spot in the final three games of the season and made 14 of his 21 tackles during his three starts, including 2.5 sacks. McDuffen was stuck behind the All-American Trevathan, but still managed 9 tackles for the season.
"McDuffen is playing really fast, especially when he knows what's going on," said Phillips. "I think he has a chance to be a big-time backer here."
Phillips showed even more excitement when asked about Dupree.
"Aw... he will be the next big time backer, no doubt about that," Phillips said emphatically. "He's physical. He's one of the stronger guys. He's one of the leaders of this football team."
Just a rising sophomore, Phillips has been pleasantly surprised with how much of a leader Dupree has become. Phillips acknowledged that Dupree even set up a tutor session for his History class and that he's really been vocal and led this spring on the football field.
"The guy's a freshman. I mean he's 18 years old," said Phillips. "He looks like he's a senior, but he's 18 years old, and he's one of the leaders of our football team. I like that. He's running around, screaming and hollering, and getting everybody pumped up. That's important that a guy who's got a chance to be a big time player is that way also."
The difficult thing for this young defense is grasping the concepts and schemes of second-year defensive coordinator Rick Minter. Minter, who has his work cut out for him in replacing six defensive starters, feels like his players are giving great effort despite their youth and that it's important to continue to plow away. He knows McDuffen and Dupree, along with the rest of the youngsters on defense, have to step up in order for this defense to compete in the SEC next season.
"Malcolm McDuffen is the heir apparent to the old guy," said Minter. "He's stepping up and doing quite well. We've got to keep developing the depth at that position."
McDuffen and Dupree feel that last season's experience and the spring season has really helped the team get a better grasp of Minter's defense.
"We all take initiative to know the defense more," said McDuffen. "Everybody, not just one person, the mic, the will, but just everybody knowing their position and what's going on at all times."
"I think we're taking it in well," said Dupree of new material being thrown at them every day. "We're coming along slowly but surely. Each day we get better. The first day, we're always kind of sluggish, but the second day of installation is better."
One of the strengths of the Kentucky football program over the last few years has been their ability to find their heir apparent and next stud linebacker. When Micah Johnson left, Trevathan filled right in at the linebacker position. Now the tradition looks to continue and Dupree and McDuffen have a grasp on what it will take to continue that legacy.
"Always go hard, never slack off," said Dupree when asked what he's learned from Guy and Trevathan. "Since I've been here, that's what I've seen, so I just try to mimic them."
Now they have to take what they've learned to from their leaders and convert that into results on the field like their predecessors did. Their coaches continue to sing the praises of the new breed on the defensive side, but ultimately the results are up to these two young men. McDuffen and Dupree know the onus is on them to help fill the voids left by last year's two biggest playmakers, but they don't just want to be like them, they want to be better.
"Oh yeah, most definitely, we're trying to come in here and take over their shine," said Dupree laughing. "We're trying to bring the defense to another level."
Before March Madness, UK Athletics was already having a 2011-12 season to remember. Volleyball advanced to the Sweet 16, women's soccer made a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, football scored a streak-busting win over Tennessee and rifle fell just short of a second national championship in a row.
Things were just getting started.
Kentucky was center stage all season in both men's and women's basketball, culminating in nine combined wins in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the men took home the big prize, while UK Hoops advanced to its second Elite Eight in three seasons.
As if the tournament runs weren't enough on their own, Kentucky is still reaping the benefits of all the March victories in the Capital One Cup standings. The national championship earned 60 points for UK in the men's standings, lifting the school all the way to second with 66 points, trailing only North Carolina. In the women's standings, UK now sits in a tie for 23rd place with Virginia, meaning Kentucky is one of eight schools in the NCAA to rank in the top 25 of both men's and women's standings.
With baseball and men's tennis ranked each ranked in the top 10, UK is poised to make a run at the top spot in the men's standings this spring. Capital One will award a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships and the Capital One Cup trophy to the winning schools at the ESPY awards in July.
The Kentucky Wildcats are still reveling in the national championship they won on Monday. (Britney McIntosh, 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.
"Don't compete with each other; complete each other."
Of all the John Calipari teaching tools we've heard throughout the season, maybe none stand out and define the 2011-12 basketball team more than that one.
On a team that could have as many as six players drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft - Coach Cal hopes six of them go in the first round - nobody took more than 369 shots, and only 67 field-goal attempts separated UK's player with the most shot attempts (Doron Lamb) and it's player with the six-most attempts (Darius Miller).
That's particularly impressive when you consider that at least 100 people in the college basketball regular season alone took 400 or more shots. Kansas' Thomas Robinson took 25 percent of Lamb's total shots for the entire season in just six NCAA Tournament games.
Coach Cal managed to take a group of 18 and 19 year olds who averaged the most shots on their AAU and high school teams and convince them to share the ball. It paid off with a championship.
"What a lesson for these young people, that if you share, you give up some of yourself for everyone around you, if you care more about your teammates than yourself, it's amazing what you can accomplish," Calipari said. "It doesn't matter your age. That's the lesson in this."
Anthony Davis, winner of all but one of the major national player of the year awards and the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, took 337 shots, fourth most on the team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, widely considered a top-three pick in the upcoming NBA Draft should he decide to turn pro early, attempted the fifth-most shots with 326 field-goal attempts.
"Everybody wants to go back, that they're all 19 and 18 years old," Calipari said. "Yeah, they are, but they're special young people who really decided that we're going to do this together."
Returning players like Lamb, Miller and Terrence Jones could have fretted they were asked to do less with more around them, but they embraced their roles this season and improved their draft stocks in the process.
"It just comes from just getting along and like each other so much, just being friends and brothers off the court just makes it easier on the court," Jones said. "We just built chemistry all over the summer that made us play real well together. We got along. No one cared who got the accolades. The main goal was getting to this point and winning."
Befitting of his selfless career, Miller finished just three points shy of averaging exactly 10.0 points per game, which would have meant six players finished in double-figure scoring for the first time in program history.
"I wanted them to feel this, to understand the rest of their life, it's about servant leadership," Calipari said. "It's about teaching all those guys how to lead. It wasn't just one guy. I wanted them all to learn how to lead."
Friends, family happy for Coach Cal
Calipari was asked over and over again in Monday's postgame news conference how great it felt to finally capture that elusive national championship and "get the monkey off his back."
Coach Cal never wavered in telling reporters that his career was not defined by one game.
"Guys, I feel the same as I did before the game," Calipari said. "I don't feel any different. I'm not going to change who I am. I'm here for these young people, and they know that."
"I don't feel any different. I'm not going to feel any different in the morning. I'm going to go to mass in the morning. I'm going to be the same guy I am. I'm telling you, it's over now. I can get about my business of coaching young people and not have the drama of all the other stuff."
The victory, however, did mean a lot to his family, friends and players who wanted so badly for him to win his first championship.
"For us as players, it means a lot just because he gives us so much credit anytime we win and he'll take all the fault if anything goes wrong," Jones said. "Just to win for him is something special."
"I'm thrilled for him," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "A couple people have said golfers' careers are defined by majors and basketball coaches are defined by national championships. ... I'm happy for Cal. He's a guy that's given a lot to a lot of people. He is a great giver and you have a lot of takers in this business. He's been a great giver in a lot of different ways. He gives to our state, he gives to our university and he gives to his players. For him to be able to enjoy being a national championship coach is really, really special."
Maybe nobody was happier for Calipari than his father, Vince Calipari, who relished in the championship with his son on the court.
"It was time," Vince Calipari said, according to the New York Daily News. "It was his time."
As father and son embraced on the court, the younger Calipari thought of his mother, who passed away a year and a half ago.
"I hugged him and said, 'I bet you Mom loves this,' " Calipari said.
In arguably the greatest 1-for-10 performance in the history of the NCAA Tournament, Davis became just the fourth freshman to win Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors.
Davis' fingerprints were all over the game. He finished with six points, 16 rebounds, five assists, six blocks and three steals. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he blocked or altered 15.7 percent of the Jayhawks' 2-point attempts in the title game.
He finished with 29 blocks in the NCAA Tournament, the second most in NCAA Tournament history, and he helped the Wildcats set a record for blocks in a national title game with 11.
Davis ended up finishing the year with 186 blocks, the top NCAA mark for a freshman.
As a team, Kentucky finished with 344 swats, 29 more than the previous NCAA record.
Calipari the best of the best
Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self, Tom Izzo - Calipari stands above them all.
Over the last five years, Calipari owns the best record in college basketball with a 173-20 mark. His 89.6 winning percentage ranks better than Self (87.2), Krzyzewski (83.5) and Williams (79.9).
He's the only coach to make the Sweet 16 the last five years and the only coach to have been to three Final Fours over the past five years.
His fourth Final Four appearance ties him with Jim Calhoun for the 12th most all time.
Coach Cal ties Coach Cal
Monday night's victory marked the 38th victory of the season, tying Memphis' NCAA single-season mark of 38 set during the 2008 season.
Who was at Memphis in 2008? None other than Coach Cal. Record it
Calipari famously threw the tape of the 2008 national title game out the window after losing to Kansas as the head coach of Memphis.
He doesn't plan on doing the same with this national championship film.
"I'll watch this tape now," Calipari said. "Anytime I'm down and disappointed, that tape's going on."
A two-hour rain delay and a pair of four-run deficits couldn't cool a sizzling Kentucky baseball team.
UK extended a school-record home winning streak to 20 games with a 19-6 win over Dayton behind six home runs, all of which game in the first five innings. Luke Maile had a pair of home runs and four RBI, while Zac Zellers had three hits in as many at-bats, including a grand slam, which plated all four of his RBI.
Left-handed Sam Mahar was solid in relief of starter Chandler Shepherd to pick up his second win behind the explosive Wildcat offense. Shepherd had the roughest start of his freshman season, allowing four runs and recording just two outs in the first inning, but Mahar handcuffed the Flyer offense in his place. Mahar allowed just one unearned run on four hits and five strikeouts in 4.1 innings.
Next up, No. 1 UK will look to take its fourth consecutive series in SEC play this weekend against Ole Miss beginning on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium, but first, here's video of head coach Gary Henderson and outfielder Austin Cousino about UK's 28th win in 30 tries. Gary Henderson
Throughout the basketball season, John Calipari cited the unselfish example of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller, the freshman and senior that played the very same position. In practice, the two were as competitive as could be, but when it came time to take the floor, they were all about the team.
Kidd-Gilchrist earned a starting spot, while Miller came off the bench in his final season. On multiple occasions, Kidd-Gilchrist offered up his starting spot, including once in the SEC Tournament. Miller responded by getting his game going and playing a crucial role in UK's NCAA Tournament run, which culminated in the program's eighth national championship.
Basketball season may now be over, but the lesson imparted by the two swingmen isn't lost on Joker Phillips as he coaches his team through spring football.
"I think that was a good teaching point for us to teach our kids to understand how unselfish you have to be in this," Phillips said. "It's a team sport. Everybody has to be on the same page, everybody has to be pulling in the same direction for the same goal and that's the reason why you win with the type of talent they have."
The instructive power of watching a team from his own school dominate for entire season with six future NBA players playing with and for each other is something Phillips hopes to capitalize on, but it's not the only boost he expects to get out of the title. After the start of another week of practice on Wednesday, Phillips said having Kentucky blue all over television and the Internet can only help.
"Our logo is out there," Phillips said. "The kids got to see our brand; I think that's important. Our baseball team's No. 1 in the country right now. Our brand is being seen all across the country right now and I think that's important.
"One thing (Athletics Director) Mitch Barnhart has done is he's brought a family atmosphere here. Everybody's rooting for everybody because we know we want our brand to be out there and I think it only helps every program in this department."
Phillips and his team celebrated the championship with the rest of the Big Blue Nation, but it's now time to get down to business. This spring period is a crucial building block for next season, and with the spring game just 17 days away, the Wildcats can't afford to be "sluggish" as they were on Wednesday.
"(We)did some good things but not enough," Phillips said. "We only get 15 opportunities. You can't miss any opportunities and I felt like, at times, we were missing an opportunity to get better."
Here is video of all of Phillips' comments following Wednesday's practice.
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats celebrated the school's eighth national championship in Rupp Arena on Tuesday. (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.
John Calipari's players-first approach has been about helping players reach their dreams. At least six of them figure to have a chance to reach their ultimate dream of playing in the NBA next season after winning a national championship for Kentucky on Monday.
Underclassmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague are all projected as potential NBA picks in the upcoming June 28 draft. Senior Darius Miller figures to have very good shot at playing in the NBA as well.
Coach Cal is going to support whatever the players ultimately decide, but he's not about to let the NCAA rush them into a decision they're going to regret one way or the other.
For the first time, the NCAA set a deadline of April 10 for players to declare their NBA intentions. The legislation, which was passed last year, was intended to help coaches find replacements for those making an early jump to the NBA. The deadline is the day before the start of the spring signing period.
Coach Cal believes the date is too early and forces a kid into making a decision without proper evaluation. Therefore, he's advising his players to take their time and abide by the NBA's early entry deadline of April 29.
"These kids have until the 29th of April to make a decision," Calipari said after the national championship game. "They're not going to make one by the (10th). They're not being pressure by me or anybody else. They will have until the 29th to make that decision on what they want to do."
But what about the NCAA deadline?
"I'm not worried about the NCAA deadline," Coach Cal said. "It means nothing to me or those players. They have until the 29th to make their decision. If anybody else wants their players to make that decision by the (10th), that's fine, but my players will not."
Davis, who is being talked about as the biggest lock at No. 1 since LeBron James, said in the aftermath of the championship that he hasn't made a decision yet.
"Coach Cal said we have until April 29 to decide," Davis said. "I'm going to wait, sit down with my coach, sit down with my family, see what the best decision is for me."
If all five underclassmen ultimately decide to join Miller and go to the NBA, Calipari said he's OK with that because they will be reaching their dreams. Two years ago, five Kentucky players were drafted in the first round, an NBA record.
"I said this a couple years ago and everybody got crazy when we had five guys drafted in the first round," Calipari said. "This is one of the biggest moments, if not the biggest, in Kentucky history. The reason was, I knew now other kids would look and say, 'You got to go there.' What I'm hoping is there's six first-rounders on this team. We were the first program to have five; let's have six."
Calipari cautioned reporters against assuming that meant he supported the one-and-done philosophy, once again pointing out that the current NBA rule is not his. The NBA requires that a person must be 19 the calendar year of the draft to be eligible.
"I hope we change it before this week's out so all these guys have to come back," Calipari said. "But it is a rule. It's not my rule. It's a rule we have to deal with."
He's just playing by the rules better than anyone else. For those who criticize him for allowing his players to turn pro early, imagine if there wasn't a one-and-done rule and the players had to come back.
"You know what, I sat up there (in the press conference) and I was ready to say, 'If this was 1985, I would have that team back,' " Calipari said. "And I would've said, 'Next year, we're trying to win them all.' But you know what? It's not 25 years ago. It's now. You have to deal with the reality of the way it is."
Calipari has issued public proposals (on this very site) to change the current system. He's met with Billy Hunter, the head of the NBA Players Association, about them.
"You've got to negotiate," Calipari said. "Billy Hunter is basically representing all college players, or at least those 30 that have that opportunity, so you've got to negotiate. You can't do what we do in the NCAA is, which is, 'You're going to do what we want and we have no one to answer to, and that's my story and I'm sticking to it, and forget you.' Not working this time.
"You've got to go to Billy Hunter and say, 'How do we get this done?' They've got to get the NBA involved and say, 'Will you be willing to do this?' Billy will go at them, 'If you want me to do this, NBA, you've got to do this.' "
If the NCAA and NBA were to put Coach Cal's proposals in effect, Calipari believes more kids would stay in school and the NBA would get a more seasoned player that is prepared for the responsibilities and pressure of being a professional.
It was about Kentucky. It was always about Kentucky, into January when the Wildcats jetted to the top of the SEC and stayed there, into February when Anthony Davis jetted to the top of the national player of the year conversation and stayed there, and into March when someone else won the SEC tournament. Any idea who won it? Nah, I bet most of you don't recall, because it wasn't news that Vanderbilt won the SEC title game. It was news that Kentucky lost it.
He was right. Kentucky is, indeed, a tremendous machine.
And Calipari knew it. He knew he had the best thoroughbreds in the barn, an amalgamation whose talent is only outdone by its unexpected unselfishness.
Yet for a week, at least publicly, the Wildcats coach has stubbornly insisted that winning a national championship would do nothing for him, that his first trophy wouldn't rubber-stamp a career 30 arduous years in the making.
Capping a season that had a feeling of inevitability, Kentucky finished with a flourish, beating Kansas 67-59 in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
OK, so maybe it was the last time we'll see many of those future millionaires in blue and white. At least they'll go out as heroes after bringing home an eighth national championship to Big Blue and giving John Calipari the one missing piece to his resume.
This, though, was his signature moment and embodied what he has been all about since his arrival in Lexington. In what will likely be his final collegiate contest, Davis was unquestionably the most dominant player on the floor for the first 20 minutes.
Without scoring a single point.
"It didn't matter to me," Kentucky's endlessly long and talented 6-foot-10 freshman said moments after winning the national title. "I told the guys, 'I'll defend and rebound. You score the points.'"
Lamb was the most offensive of any player wearing white Monday night.
He finished with 22 points, making three 3s and becoming the type of player who wins titles -- the one who is left open and seems to be the least discussed during all the pregame talk.
"You saw it,'' said Calipari Monday night. "At shootaround he was unbelievable. I told him and the team that he was going to have 25, you watch. And he went about it the right way and prepared to play great and he did.''
It was a joyous curtain call for a team led by an immensely talented group of freshmen and sophomores. The NBA likely beckons next for many of them.
Each team member was introduced to loud ovations as players and coaches took the stage in the middle of the arena. Senior Darius Miller, a basketball net draped around his neck, toted the NCAA championship trophy to a table. Coach John Calipari pumped his fist and raised his arms in triumph as he basked in the cheers.
"It is an honor to be ranked No. 1, but no one gives out regional bids for where you are ranked on April 2," UK Coach Gary Henderson said. "We are just three weekends into the toughest 10-week grind in college baseball, and our guys have really enjoyed competing. We have a lot of things to improve on and can't wait to get out to Cliff Hagan on Wednesday for a five-game homestand."
As Rod Thorn waited outside Cleveland's locker room for coach Byron Scott to finish addressing his team, the Sixers general manager had a good idea what was being said in the postgame speech: How could the Cavs let recently-benched Sixers guard Jodie Meeks get a career-high 31 points.
"I don't think anyone in the building expected Jodie to go for 31," Thorn said. "But he played great tonight, didn't he? Darned near broke the game open himself. But I tell you what. We'll take that every night the rest of the way.
"Missing a big chunk of last year makes you feel better to go out to the mound again," Blanton said after retiring the first 10 Pirates batters Monday in the Phillies' 4-3 win. "You have a different sense about yourself, a little extra pep in your step in appreciation of being healthy."
Darius Miller and the Wildcats celebrated the eighth national title in school history with fans in Rupp Arena on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Since 1998, the year Kentucky won its seventh and most recent national championship, fans have sought an eighth. With Tubby Smith winning one in his first year, fans eagerly awaited the next one, predictably in the following few years. A few years turned into 10. Then 10 eventually led to 14.
After Monday night, the fans need not wait any longer as the 2011-12 men's basketball team delivered the program's eighth national championship.
Tuesday afternoon, a celebration was held at Rupp Arena after the team returned from New Orleans. With the arena jam-packed as if it were a primetime tip-off against an archrival, the team bus pulled onto the Rupp Arena floor.
The team was announced one by one off the bus with Darius Miller the last player introduced. With the championship game net around his neck, he stepped off the bus vaulting the trophy UK had won into the air to a thunderous roar as he made his way to the stage. The coaches followed with John Calipari the last introduced to the crowd. As he stepped off the bus, he put his fists in the air in triumph, waved to the entire arena, and gave one of the most memorable fist pumps in Kentucky history to the 20,000-plus fans wearing Blue and White.
"Nuts" is one of many terms that head coach John Calipari uses frequently to describe the fans of Big Blue Nation. They were in rare form Monday, not only in the arena, but at the airport when the team landed and on the roads as the team bus was en route to celebration.
It was those fans that stood along the roads in between Blue Grass Airport and Rupp Arena who finally made the moment sink in for Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. He took the stage set upon a blue carpet on top of a barren Rupp Arena floor first to address the Wildcat faithful.
"I've been in (college athletics) 30 years," said Barnhart. "I've been here 10 years, this is why I came here."
Barnhart has tirelessly worked toward this day throughout his tenure, but it took a perfect partnership with Coach Cal to get the job done. Calipari has been the epitome of what the head coach of Kentucky basketball should be, deftly dealing with the numerous pressures associated with the job.
If there is one man perfect at the head of college basketball's "Roman Empire," Barnhart believes him to be John Calipari.
"It wasn't made for everybody," said Barnhart about the head coaching position at UK, "but it was made for him."
And with that statement, the Rupp Arena patrons rose to their feet and brought down the house with a tremendous roar in support of the 22nd head coach in school history.
Calipari went to the podium and let out a sigh of relief and addressed the fans as he has done so many times in his three years at Kentucky.
"You people never cease to amaze me," said Calipari.
The head coach then talked about why his team was able to win the championship and how each member of the team had contributed this season. He praised Darius Miller for taking a less role for the greater good of the team. He talked about the two sophomores, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, who decided to come back to make a championship run. He mentioned the toughness and selflessness of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and his "bulldog" point guard who continued to improve throughout the season. Then a "long, skinny man" - Anthony Davis - who thanked his teammates for achieving all of the personal accolades he received.
But it was an unsuspecting Miller, Kentucky's sixth starter and "glue guy," who was chosen to speak on behalf of the players after Calipari. A gracious and grinning Miller stepped to podium to address the crowd.
"Me and my teammates we just want to thank you for all the support this year," said Miller. "And I want to thank y'all for all y'all support over my four years here."
And then it was time.
Calipari went back to the podium to address the crowd one last time. He went back to the very first time he had talked to the Big Blue Nation and how he said that he wanted the Kentucky basketball program to be the "gold standard" and to raise more banners.
On Calipari's cue, a video tribute to UK's two Final Four wins played and the 2012 National Championship banner was unveiled to anxious crowd. And just like that it was over. Calipari thanked the fans and the team got back on the bus. It would likely be the last time these fans would see this team in its current form, and they sent them off in style.
So, with mission accomplished, the Kentucky fan base gained a sense of relief and accomplishment thanks to the sacrifices of one of the most talented teams in program history. After a long awaited banner celebration and the hopes of No. 8, they got what they asked for.
Now all they ask is that it doesn't take 14 years to reach number 9. In fact, the Wildcat faithful are already hoping another banner celebration next year.
Twenty-four hours ago, the Kentucky Wildcats were in final preparations for the national championship game. The time since then has been nothing short of a whirlwind.
The Cats held on for a 67-59 win over Kansas and a national championship, triggering a ceaseless celebration, most recently coming in the form of a Rupp Arena gathering the likes of which I can't imagine I'll see ever again.
Upwards of 20,000 fans packed Rupp to its gills, awaiting the team's arrival from New Orleans. The Cats were shuttled directly onto the arena floor, where they were showered with cheers, standing ovations and more cheers.
Athletics director Mitch Barnhart, head coach John Calipari and senior guard addressed the assembled fans in a memorable scene. Throughout the evening and into tomorrow, we'll have more photo, video and written coverage of the celebration, so make sure you keep checking back here.
In the meantime, here are a few notes to help you keep the celebration going:
En route to the Rupp Arena festivities, the Cats received a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama. Obama lauded the team for playing with "class and dignity," eventually talking to Anthony Davis as well. Obama also told the team he looks forward to hosting UK at the White House to say congrats in person.
The final ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll was released today and - you're not going to believe this - UK is No. 1. They received all 31 first-place votes, while Kansas, Ohio State, Louisville and Syracuse rounded out the top five.
To the victor goes the spoils. Davis won Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four, and on Tuesday it was unveiled he would grace the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. Check it out.
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 - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is standing in an elevator. He's shaking his head in disbelief. He's smiling. He's laughing.
He's soaking it all in.
It's 1:30 a.m. in New Orleans and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist appears to be headed upstairs to his room. He's just been through a gauntlet of emotions.
He's played the biggest game on his life, celebrated a national championship with his teammates, cut down the nets, hugged family and friends, talked with the press, rushed to a hotel to receive another national championship trophy, and then bussed back to the team hotel to a screaming, beaming mob of fans.
He should be exhausted. He should be ready for bed. So this writer, watching the joy on his face but confused by the thought that Kidd-Gilchrist, by being in the elevator and headed to his floor, could be going to bed soon, asks, "You're not going to bed already, are you, Michael?"