Taylor Rogers (6-4, 4.31 ERA) will start on Friday against Kent State. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
GARY, Ind. -- Gary Henderson is sure his team has what it takes to lose its first game of the NCAA Tournament and still advance. A loss in the opener would send Kentucky to the loser's side of the bracket, meaning the Wildcats would have to win four straight games to stave off elimination and advance to a Super Regional.
Henderson may believe his team can overcome such a scenario, but that doesn't mean he wants to see it happen.
"You can certainly do it, and we've got enough pitching to come through the loser's bracket and we're absolutely not hoping to do that and prove me right," Henderson said. "You're going to do everything you can to win the first game and that's all I can tell you."
Henderson much prefers the easier route of starting with a win and rolling through the regional, but standing in UK's way is the nation's hottest team. Third-seeded Kent State (41-17) has won an NCAA-best 17 consecutive games.
Moreover, the matchup represents a marked step down in familiarity for the Wildcats. As Southeastern Conference play wore on, surprises became more and more infrequent. For example, over a one-week span starting with the final series of the regular season, UK faced Mississippi State five times. By comparison, Kentucky and Kent State have played just five times in the history of the two programs.
"Personally, I know they're in Ohio and that's about it," said Taylor Rogers, who will start on the mound for UK on Friday at 4 p.m. ET at the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind.
Rogers' quote came on Monday immediately after the Cats had learned their opening opponent, so he likely much more aware of his opponent by now.
"There's not much (game tape) out there, but we do have some," Henderson said. "We're watching that. We've got the starting pitcher on video."
Perusing Kent State's season statistics, it's Friday's starting pitcher who jumps off the page. Senior David Starn (10-3, 1.77 ERA) is the winningest pitcher in school history and has 112 strikeouts in 101.2 innings. Starn boasts a diverse repertoire of a fastball that reaches the mid-80s, a breaking ball and a changeup.
"Anytime you've got an older kid that's got three pitches, it's going to be competitive," Henderson said. "That's about all you need to know. It's left-handed, it's off-speed, will not overpower you. It'll be competitive."
Henderson and the Cats will have scouted Starn and the offense that will back him up as much as possible, but the bottom line is that there will be handful of unknowns when the game gets going. Ultimately, no matter who much mystery there is on either side, the game will come down to which team adjusts and most effectively puts a plan into action.
"It'll come down to execution," Henderson said. "By the time you go the second time around (the batting order), there's not going to be very many secrets."
For that reason, the Cats are keeping their focus, for the most part, directed inward.
"We're going to worry about Taylor Rogers getting his body together and throwing low strikes on both sides of the plate and having a secondary pitch," Henderson said. "We're going to work real hard on having as tough of at-bats as we can have and swinging at strikes and then obviously playing catch on defense."
Part of Henderson's job as a coach this week has been guarding the emotional response of not hosting a regional this week. There isn't much of a difference between a healthy sense of motivation in the face of the snub and an overpowering rage toward the world at large.
"It's a fine line," Henderson said. "I don't want them angry. I don't want them out of control. I want them poised. I want them confident."
After three solid days of practice this week, any such concerns on the part of Henderson have been allayed.
"We'll be fine," Henderson said. "Our kids will show up and we'll be right where we need to be mentally."
No big changes to pitching staff, lineup coming for postseason
For the first time this season, Rogers came of the bullpen at the SEC Tournament. He succeeded wildly in the role, but now that UK is back to a format much more similar to regular season play, he'll return to his role as a starter on Friday. Following him will be Jerad Grundy on Saturday and Corey Littrell on Sunday, assuming the Cats stay on a normal schedule.
"I didn't see any reason to switch it," Henderson said. "I didn't see any reason to over-coach it. We have three left-handed pitchers. It's gone well for us that way and hopefully it will again this weekend."
With a rested, deep and often dominant bullpen, the temptation to rely more heavily on relievers would seem to be there, but Henderson doesn't see any reason to fix something that's not broken.
"Everybody understands where you are in the course of the season, but we play every game to win whether it's March or April or May, you're playing an SEC opponent or you're playing the postseason, we're playing to win and I don't think that I'll do anything different," Henderson said.
The same goes for the lineup. Luke Maile and Michael Williams will once again switch between first base and catcher, with the only likely differences in personnel coming in the outfield. When UK faced a lefthander in Luis Pollorena last Saturday against Mississippi State, Lucas Witt started in left field, Zac Zellers in right and Cameron Flynn came off the bench.
"The only real decision you got to make is left and right in the outfield there," Henderson said. "I think other than that it'll be the same kids."
Eric Quigley finishes his Kentucky career as the winningest player in program history. (Bill Kallenberg, UK Athletics)
There are realistic goals that are reached through effort. Then there are dreams that are only attainable by motivated, tirelessly working people who never stop trying to make those dreams a reality.
A young man out of Pewee Valley, Ky., realized one of his dreams this week.
Senior Eric Quigley became just the third University of Kentucky men's tennis player to compete in the NCAA Singles Championship Final on Monday. He fell to Southern California's Steve Johnson, the nation's No. 1 player, in the title match, 6-4, 6-4.
Upon returning to the Bluegrass, Quigley set off for home to rest and reflect on his tournament run, his career and everything along the path over his time at UK. And though he lost his final match, he's still proud of what he was able to accomplish over the last few weeks.
"Obviously I wanted to win that last match," said Quigley, "but looking back at it all, it was awesome making it that far. I think I did a good job of taking it one match at a time. I think that really helped."
In the past, that was a problem for Quigley. With his eyes set on larger goals in the distance, he would trip up on the smaller steps along the way. The "one match at a time" mantra that has been ingrained in each and every UK tennis player is something that head coach Dennis Emery has been preaching all season long to his team.
Quigley obviously got the message. And he's quick to attribute his success to a man that he calls the best in the business.
"Coach Emery, I mean, enough said about him," said Quigley "He's one of the greatest coaches in all of college tennis. He's helped me so much, day in and day out, over the past four years, and they're a real big key to my success looking back. Over my four years, I've improved in every area of tennis, and it's all due to (the coaches)."
The "one match at a time" philosophy is a tried and true in the world of athletics. The teams and athletes that stick to it are usually the ones with the most success at the end of the day. And Quigley has had his share of success.
He finishes his career with an impressive 172-47 record, including a record mark of 54-8 his senior season. His 172 career victories are 27 more than the next player in school history. He became the SEC Player of the Year on his way to a perfect 11-0 record in No. 1 singles in conference play. He's a five-time All-American, including three singles and two doubles honors. Quigley is just one of two players ever to compete in two collegiate grand slam finals. And he received the ITA Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award this season, which honors sportsmanship and on-court accomplishments.
At a point, those dreams and accomplishments seemed out of the realm of possibility. Arriving at Kentucky, he was just looking for an opportunity to compete.
"Coming into school, I was just happy to play," Quigley said. "I definitely didn't have these goals in mind, and these great achievements that I set. I had no idea. But I was just hoping to improve and help the program become better. I hope that in my four years, and my team, we were able to help make this an even better program and I just hope they continue to win championships and put themselves in a position to win a national title."
But eventually, Quigley realized he had something special. And it didn't take long.
"One of the key moments for me was my sophomore year, in the fall, I beat the number one guy in the country," Quigley said. "I played a great match. And that was a big moment for me. I kind of followed it up with another great win after that, and it told me that it wasn't just a fluke."
In fact, Quigley has been anything but a fluke, as he's continued to prove the legitimacy of his talents to his opponents.
Now Quigley will look forward to beating fellow professionals on the tour circuit as he begins his career post-UK. Though he has cemented himself as the greatest tennis player ever to wear the Blue and White, the dream to play professionally was one of the reasons he chose to play at Kentucky. By playing for Emery and his staff, he knew that he would have a chance to improve his game and take it to the next level.
Training begins just three days removed from his last collegiate match for that next level. He says he'll be back on the court Thursday and by the middle of next week, he will be off for California to begin training at the USG Training Center to prepare for "Futures" and "Challengers."
In fact, before his collegiate career was even finished, he accumulated some ATP points last summer, which will help him qualify for some professional tournaments in the near future. Quigley was also named to the United States Tennis Association collegiate team, which will help him earn wild cards that will help him enter into tournaments.
But there's no timetable for Quigley. He has no set number of matches he hopes to win this summer. He mentioned that some players take longer than others to make it to where he hopes to go. All he hopes to do is to improve and polish his game that he knows is good, but far from perfect.
"I try not to set a number," said Quigley. "I just want to keep improving right now, because I think that's the biggest thing I've got to work on, my serve and just improving my game."
But as he works towards his individual professional career, Quigley is quick to point out that the thing he will miss most is the team mentality and the camaraderie he's built with his teammates along the way. And even though he will no longer be on the team, it's going to be tough to keep him away from it.
"I'm going to miss all the guys on the team, and fighting for each other, working out together, and pushing each other to get better," said Quigley. "That's one of the many things I'm going to miss from Kentucky. I'm hoping I can come back in the fall and the spring the next couple years to practice and continue to learn from Coach Kauffmann and Coach Emery."
Perhaps that affection for his teammates and coaches is why he was so disappointed by their finish this season in the NCAA Tournament.
After reaching the Elite Eight last season, Kentucky, who returned quite a bit of talent including Quigley, had its sights set on loftier goals. Emery had talked all season about the possibility of this team reaching a Final Four and potentially a national championship. He felt as if he had the most athletic team in the nation, and he probably was not far off on that assessment.
Kentucky was selected to host a regional in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and they breezed past both Radford and Indiana on their way to the Sweet 16 in Athens, Ga., with their eyes on a Final Four appearance. It was not to be, however, as No. 11 Stanford caught the No. 6 Wildcats at the right time, leaving Kentucky a round short of another Elite Eight appearance.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Quigley, who badly wanted to make a deep run in the tournament for he and his teammates.
"It was real tough," said Quigley. "Especially the year before when we had made the Elite Eight, and had a tough loss, and we thought we kind of had a chance there against USC even though they were a great team. But we really wanted to come back and improve on that good year that we had last year."
Luckily for Quigley, he had two shots at redemption for his team. He still had the singles and doubles tournament waiting in the wings. The Sweet 16 loss to Stanford was all the motivation he needed.
"I think one of the reasons I was able to do so well at individuals last week was because I had such a sour taste in my mouth after the team event," Quigley said. "I wanted to bounce back and do it for the team. I didn't want to have a disappointing end to my career, I wanted to go out on a good note, and I was definitely able to do that."
Quigley rode that wave of emotion and turned it into momentum that didn't stop until he reached his goal, his dream.
He was faced with a tough task in the Final. Defending singles champion Steve Johnson from USC was all that stood in the way of a championship run for Quigley. However, Johnson was in a midst of a 71-match winning streak, and he would not be denied a second national championship. But the loss, although disappointing, did not ruin the experience and journey to the place that he had worked so hard to reach.
"It was kind of surreal," Quigley said. "I've been thinking about that since I was in high school when I was a little kid, making it to a Finals and the NCAAs. And for it to actually happen is like a dream come true.
"You know I was definitely happy to be there. I was happy making the Finals, but I wanted to bring home the title. But (USC's) Steve Johnson's quite an accomplished player, it's definitely not a bad loss by any means. It was a great run, and looking back, it was awesome."
It was awesome, and he Quigley has been awesome for the Kentucky tennis program and for his University. And for a Kentucky kid to reach his dreams and represent the University of Kentucky in the fashion that he has over the past four years, that is as awesome as it gets.
I was contacted by Fred Glass, Indiana AD, on May 10 via telephone about the mutual interest of continuing the series, starting this fall. He mentioned the possibility of a four-year series with the first two years in Indianapolis before playing in Lexington in 2014-15 and Bloomington in 2015-16. I informed Fred that we were disappointed that our previous verbal agreement for a two-year neutral site contract was off the table, but we would consider the new proposal. I also noted there were some challenges in our current schedule that were not present prior to Indiana's announcement on May 3 that they were moving on with their schedule for 2012-13.
After May 3, we finalized a home-neutral series with Baylor for the next two seasons that included our women's teams in a doubleheader in Dallas and restarted our home-and-home series with North Carolina beginning on the road in 2013-14. Those two additions to our schedule were made prior to hearing from Indiana on May 10.
During the process, DeWayne Peevy and I conducted a conference call with Fred Glass on May 21 along with Indiana scheduling contacts Chris Reynolds and Jayd Grossman to further discuss continuing the series. We offered the possibility of playing in Indianapolis on December 15 or 22 this season and possibly playing as part of a multi-team event in Indianapolis again in December 2013 while continuing discussions about a future home-and-home series.
On May 24, DeWayne Peevy expressed to Jayd Grossman our concerns about buying out either Portland or Samford and signing a four-year agreement. Jayd responded that he would talk with Fred about our concerns and also get back to DeWayne about Indiana's availability on December 22. However, we did not receive a response until Fred Glass' letter dated May 25 arrived this afternoon.
We currently do not have any agreements with more than two years remaining and would like to maintain the current flexibility of our future scheduling. If we entered into a four-year deal with Indiana, including the last two years at campus sites, not only would that alter our flexibility but it would also mean that we would have to end our home-and-home series with Louisville in order to keep our non-conference road schedule balanced. We are not interested in doing that.
We also finalized dates with both Samford and Portland that affected Indiana's desire to play on December 5 or 8 this season. We did not feel that it was fair to Samford or Portland to pull out of a contracted game at this point in the scheduling process.
We have held the last two games on our current schedule while continuing discussions with Indiana about playing this fall. December 15 and 22 are still options for the upcoming season and Lucas Oil Stadium is available for both dates. In the best interest of our fans, I would hope we can come to a conclusion to continue this storied series this December.
University of Kentucky center fielder Austin Cousino was named Southeastern Conference baseball Freshman of the Year, and the Wildcats' Gary Henderson was honored as the league's Coach of the Year on Tuesday.
Cousino, catcher Luke Maile and pitcher Corey Littrell were named to the All-SEC second team, and first baseman A.J. Reed was selected to the All-Freshman team along with Cousino. Cousino also made the All-Defensive Team. Voting was conducted by the league's coaches.
Finished? Good. Because the only thing Kentucky can do is embarrass the NCAA committee with its performance. It is a winnable regional packed with cold-weather programs -- Purdue, Kent State and Valparaiso. The Wildcats are positioned to advance to the super regional at the University of Oregon. Go do it.
Obviously, Kentucky coach Gary Henderson and his Wildcats need to have a much better attitude about all of this than I do as they prepare to tackle a field that includes the above-mentioned Purdue (44-12), along with Kent State (41-17) and Valparaiso (35-23).
"You're disappointed in a lot of things in athletics," Henderson said this week. "I fumbled against Marshfield High School in October of '78, cost us a touchdown. I'm disappointed about that, but you move on and that's all you can do.
The NCAA released the identities of the 16 regional hosts on Sunday without UK's name on the list despite a 43-16 record and 20-13 record against Southeastern Conference opponents. On Monday, the Wildcats learned they would be the No. 2 seed in the Gary, Ind., regional and will face Kent State in the first round. Purdue is the No. 1 seed in the regional but is hosting in Gary due to ongoing renovations to their home stadium. Valparaiso is the No. 4 seed in the regional.
"I know the people that are in baseball that actually play the game are pretty dumbfounded," Maile said. "Obviously those aren't the people that make the decisions."
Quigley ended the best season in UK history at 54-8. He joined Jesse Witten (2002) and Carlos Drada (2000) as the only Cats ever to play in an NCAA singles finals. No UK player has ever won the title.
"I don't even know where to begin, it has been the best four years of my life," Quigley said upon completing his career at Kentucky. "I never dreamed of accomplishing half the things that I was able to accomplish here. I really owe a lot to (coaches) Cedric Kauffmann and Dennis Emery for all they have done for me. I don't really have words to describe the last four years. It's been a dream."
National champion Kentucky lost most of its talent from a season ago. One guy back to keep an eye on is Kyle Wiltjer. He showed glimpses during limited playing time and John Calipari will call on him to be a difference-maker in the season ahead. He can go inside or step out and shoot the jumper.
On Wednesday, a national faculty group called the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics issued a denunciation of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari for being a leading agent in the professionalizing of college athletics.
Cal's sin? Not the mass use of one-and-done players. Not his $4 million-plus salary. Not even his two vacated Final Fours.
Nope, what had a group that is comprised of faculty senate members from FBS schools agitated was Calipari's having come out in favor of playing some non-conference games at neutral sites.
To which one response seems appropriate: Oh, c'mon.
When center Nazr Mohammed played for the San Antonio Spurs in 2005-06, he came in to do extra work on off days and often found himself casually chatting with the team's director of player personnel at the time.
A 29-year-old kid named Sam Presti.
It's no coincidence both men are now with the Thunder.
And with the 11th pick in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, the Seahawks selected ...
A safety? Really? A team that already has the Pro Bowl tandem of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor - the third-year tandem of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor - selected a safety?
Well, it wasn't just any safety. It was a safety - Winston Guy from Kentucky - that the coaches feel can step in and be the third safety in the big nickel package that has served the defense and the team so well in its first two seasons under coach Pete Carroll.
A couple of great Canadian family volleyball traditions are also being continued on the team with Rebecca Pavan, sister of Sarah Pavan being chosen for the squad, and Taylor Pischke, the daughter of Garth Pischke the legendary head coach of the University of Manitoba Bisons. Taylor's brother Dane was also chosen for the men's national B team earlier this month. Thirdly, Alicia Perrin was selected, brother of men's A team squad member Gord Perrin, both of Creston, BC.
In less than 12 hours, the lottery for the 2012 NBA Draft and Anthony Davis will know where he'll be playing basketball next season, at least according to experts.
The 6-foot-10 national champion and national player of the year is the presumed No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but he's not yet taking anything for granted. He won't think he's the top pick until he hears his name called by David Stern. Davis talks about that topic, among others, in a chat with ESPN's Andy Katz. The backdrop is a familiar one in the video below:
Regardless, Wednesday night is a big one for Davis and his fellow former Wildcats, particularly Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones, who each are projected as lottery picks. Here are the complete odds for this evening's lottery, which will take place at 8 p.m. on ESPN and WatchESPN before game two of the series between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
Team - Odds of winning top pick - Odds of winning top-three pick
Looking at the teams in contention, the Big Blue Nation will be cheering for its former stars to align. The dream scenario for Kentucky fans would be Washington and Sacramento getting to the top-two picks. Can you imagine John Wall and Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist playing together?
On Tuesday, the Southeastern Conference league office announced the winners of its postseason awards. Kentucky, after a 2012 to remember, was prominently featured.
UK's Gary Henderson was named Coach of the the Year and center fielder Austin Cousino was the league's freshman of the year. He also earned spots on the All-SEC Second Team, All-Defensive Team and All-Freshman Team. Catcher Luke Maile and starting pitcher Corey Littrell were also second-team honorees, while A.J. Reed was named to the All-Freshman team as a first baseman and a designated hitter/utililty player.
Henderson talked about those awards and spent more time breaking down UK's NCAA Tournament trip to Gary, Ind., which opens on Friday at 4 p.m. against Kent State in a session with the media. Henderson also announced on Tuesday he would start his normal rotation this weekend, beginning with Taylor Rogers on Friday. Here's video.
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 posts best SEC Tournament finish in modern era
Following a historic regular season for the University of Kentucky baseball team, Gary Henderson and company came two wins short of an SEC Tournament Championship last weekend.
Kentucky posted two wins in the SEC Tournament as the No. 4 seed, defeating Ole Miss and a red-hot Mississippi State squad. They received lights-out starting pitching from A.J. Reed and Jerad Grundy as well as outstanding relief efforts from Taylor Rogers and Trevor Gott. The pitching staff allowed just two runs in the first two games.
Offensively, senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy led the way for the Cats, eventually receiving SEC All-Tournament Team honors. McCarthy batted .462 (6-for-13) for the tournament, including three doubles in Kentucky's 5-1 win over Mississippi State.
The UK tournament run came to an end Saturday at the hands of those same Mississippi State Bulldogs, coming from the loser's bracket, and falling 2-1 in the elimination game. The Wildcats will continue the postseason beginning on Friday against Kent State in the NCAA Tournament.
Player of the week: Quigley ends decorated career with runner-up finish
The best player in Kentucky men's tennis history finished his illustrious career with a runner-up finish in the NCAA Singles Tournament Monday. Eric Quigley saw his collegiate career come to an end to defending champion Steve Johnson of Southern California, 6-4, 6-4.
Quigley became just the third player in program history to compete in the Finals of the event, putting up a competitive effort over the top player in the nation. Johnson ends his career on a 72-match win streak. Quigley defeated five ranked players on his way to the Finals, his first time breaking through the round of eight in his career.
The five-time All-American will finish 27 wins ahead of the next-best mark in UK men's tennis history with career record of 172-47. His senior season is one for the record books as well with a 54-8 mark, which is a single-season record.
Photo of the week - Baseball celebrates Thursday
Photo by Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Video of the week- Highlights from Quigley's semifinal win
Alumnus of the week: Rondo's triple-double propels Celtics to Eastern Conference Finals
In an exhilarating Game 7 85-75 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, Rajon Rondo provided a legendary performance to send the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Rondo did it all Saturday posting a stat line of 18 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds on his way to his ninth career playoff triple double as his Celtics defeated Jodie Meeks' 76ers. The point guard was coming off of a rough Game 6 performance in which he scored just nine points and handed out only six assists, a playoff low.
Rondo and Boston now face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, already facing an 0-1 deficit to the defending Eastern Conference Champions.
Baseball - The Kentucky baseball team has been selected for its seventh all-time NCAA Tournament, traveling to the Gary, Ind., regional as the No. 2 seed, hosted by No. 1 seed Purdue. UK will face off with No. 3 seed and 25th-ranked Kent State in the opener on Friday, with No. 4 seeded Valparaiso taking on Purdue. - The Wildcats have had the best season in the history of the program, winning the second-most games in school annals and finishing third overall in the Southeastern Conference. UK led the SEC in eight of 10 weeks and was just one win shy of winning the second league regular season title in UK history. UK is just one win shy of equaling the school record for wins, owning a 13-9 record against top-25 teams, a 10-5 mark against top-10 foes and setting a school record by winning seven of its 10 SEC weekends. Last week, UK advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament, the highest UK finish in the modern-era history of the league tournament (1998-present). - UK owns a 5-0 all-time record against Kent State, a 5-1 all-time mark against Purdue and have never played Valpo in school history. Overall against the field, UK owns a 14-13 mark against teams in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. UK ended the year with a No. 14 RPI. - Kentucky will be making its seventh all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, owning a 10-12 overall record. UK's last appearance in the NCAA Tournament came in 2008, when the Wildcats tied the best finish in school history with a regional runner-up finish. Men's tennis - Eric Quigley's historic four-year career as a member of the University of Kentucky men's tennis team came to an end Monday in the NCAA Singles Final as he fell in a tight battle to No. 1 Steve Johnson of Southern California at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens, Ga. Johnson, who won the NCAA Singles title last season as well, earned late breaks in both the first and second sets to defeat the UK star 6-4, 6-4. - The impressive tournament run by Quigley put him in exclusive company, becoming only the third player in school history to play in the NCAA Singles Final. The UK star joins fellow All-Americans Jesse Witten and Carlos Drada as the only players to advance to the finals of the singles event. - Quigley had to defeat some of the best players in the nation to advance to the singles final, taking down five ranked players, including four that are ranked in the top 20 in the nation. The run to the finals began with a 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 41 Andre Dome of Cal Poly in the first round before Quigley defeated No. 18 Andreas Mies of Auburn 7-6 (4), 6-3 to advance to the round of 16. Quigley's Sweet 16 win came in thrilling action, taking down No. 13 Artem Ilyushin of Mississippi State 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) before he earned a 6-4, 6-3 win over Henrique Cunha of Duke in the quarterfinals. Quigley faced No. 9 Blaz Rola of Ohio State in the semifinal Sunday, using a come-from-behind effort to grab the win 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1). - The native of Pewee Valley, Ky., ends his senior season with a 54-8 record, which is the most wins in a single season in school history. The impressive mark this year took Quigley's career total to 172-47, which is the most wins in school history by a large amount, shattering the previous record by 27 wins.
Track and field - Raymond Dykstra, Andrew Evans and Luis Orta will represent Kentucky track and field this year at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, from June 6-9. The trio each earned qualified marks/times at the NCAA East Preliminary Round last weekend. - Dykstra, a freshman, earned a spot in the NCAA Outdoor National Championships with an eighth-place finish in the men's javelin, throwing 222-09/67.91m at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday. - Evans qualified for the national championships with a mark of 182-07-55.67m in the discus. Like Dykstra, Evans also finished eighth at the east prelims on Thursday. - On Friday, Orta became the third Wildcat to qualify for the national championships, running a career-best time of 8:44.25 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Orta's time was the second-fastest 3,000m steeplechase in Kentucky history.
Friday, June 1 Baseball vs. Kent State - 4:00 p.m. (Gary, Ind.) Saturday, June 2 Baseball vs. Purdue/Valparaiso (Gary, Ind.)
Sunday, June 3 Baseball vs. TBA (Gary, Ind.) Wednesday, June 6 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
Thursday, June 7 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
Friday, June 8 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
Saturday, June 9 Track and field at NCAA Championships (Des Moines, Iowa)
Each offseason, John Calipari writes a letter to each one of his players for the upcoming season. It outlines his priorities for the year and helps his newcomers and returners focus during the summer months.
On Tuesday, Coach Cal posted the letter he sent to the players on his website. He sent the same version to each player and Kyle Wiltjer's name was included as an example. Here's an excerpt:
When last season ended, we were at the White House and I made this statement, "I may never coach a team like this again. They shared and sacrificed for each other like no other team I've coached or seen." Notice, I talked nothing about talent, only about team!
Kyle, that is our challenge this season. Can we become the best team in the country? Will we share? Last year seven players averaged 25 points in high school, but no one averaged more than 11 shots and all seven lead us in scoring at least once! Will we share? "It's amazing what gets done when no one cares who gets the credit."
Will we be our brother's keeper? Will you play more for your brother than yourself? The game becomes easy when you think less of you and more about helping a teammate. If we all do that, you will always be on the court with four people playing for you. The game becomes easier and more fun to play and watch!
UK will face Kent State on Friday to open play in the Gary Regional. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For a moment there, the Kentucky Wildcats thought they were done proving themselves.
The team went from projected also-ran to early-season surprise to Southeastern Conference contender in 2012, shooting up the polls in the process. There were defeats and even a couple losing streaks in the process, but the Cats were unanimously acknowledged as being among the nation's elite.
Well, almost unanimously.
Coming as a surprise to many experts, UK was assigned as a host in the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship. Instead, Kentucky was sent to the Gary, Ind., Regional as a No. 2 seed.
"Apparently we have a lot to prove right now, but we were going to try to win a regional championship anyway so it doesn't change anything," junior catcher/first baseman Luke Maile said. "We just have to play it at a different location."
A day after losing to eventual champion Mississippi State on Saturday in an SEC Tournament semifinal, the Wildcats learned they were not among the 16 regional hosts. On Monday, the team met at Cliff Hagan Stadium - the venue the Cats assumed they would playing in this weekend - to watch the selection show on ESPNU and find out a destination for the first weekend of a hopefully long NCAA run. Getting together as team helped overcome some of the sting of Sunday's news.
"It was a little disappointment last night, but I think it's better today," pitcher Taylor Rogers said. "Everybody kind of gets to see each other and we get to change the mood a little bit."
Spurred by a 15-minute meeting led by head coach Gary Henderson, the Wildcats shifted their collective emotions from directionless frustration to purposeful motivation.
"I think we kind of play with a chip on our shoulders a little bit and now that this happened with us, we might play with a couple chips on our shoulder," Rogers said.
The message delivered by Henderson was tailored to help put the situation in perspective. The bottom line is that the Wildcats get to continue playing baseball. Not having the opportunity to stay at home and play to open the postseason for the first time since 2006 is less than ideal, but it's a whole lot better than staying at home for the postseason and watching on television.
"You're disappointed in a lot of things in athletics," Henderson said "I fumbled against Marshfield High School in October of '78, cost us a touchdown. I'm disappointed about that, but you move on and that's all you can do."
Over the four days leading up to UK's NCAA opener on Friday, the Cats (43-16) will undertake the task of striking a balance between using a perceived slight to pump themselves up and preparing for No. 3 Kent State (41-17) team that has more wins than all but 12 teams in the bracket. The MAC champion Golden Flashes are batting .309 as a team and have outscored their opponents 398-249 on the season.
"You can't hold onto that stuff very long," Henderson said. "You got get going and you got to look forward. We got Kent State Friday night and that's what you got to focus on."
No one on the Kentucky team, Henderson included, is particularly familiar with Kent State, No. 1 Purdue (44-12) or No. 4 Valparaiso (35-23), though that will change in the coming days as statistics, game tape and scouting reports are reviewed. What won't change is an awareness that the Cats are going to be facing quality teams. The four squads that will play in Gary combine for the second-best record out of the 16 regional sites.
"We'll face real people," Henderson said. "That's who plays in these weekends. You face real people, talented clubs that have had a lot of success. It'll be game on Friday night."
With the Boilermakers, Golden Flashes and Crusaders in front of them, the best way for the Cats to show they deserved a better NCAA fate is to advance to a super regional or even the College World Series. However, the first order of business is this weekend.
"You can't get too far down the road," Henderson said. "We're playing a team on Friday night that's won (41 games). We better handle that."
On Monday, Eric Quigley went toe-to-toe with the nation's top-ranked player before falling 6-4, 6-4 to Steve Johnson of Southern Cal. Quigley ends his career as the most decorated player in school history, with his runner-up finish in the NCAA Singles Championship serving as a final addition to his long list of accomplishments.
In the video below, you can view highlights of the match and listen as Quigley talks about the match and his Kentucky career. Congratulations and thanks go to Eric for a memorable four years:
We're ticking down to the end of the 2011-12 UK Athletics season, but that's not stopping Memorial Day from being a busy one for the Big Blue Nation. Here are a few notes to help you keep up:
Eric Quigley wanted to help carry men's tennis to a team national championship, but the Wildcats fell in the Sweet 16. Instead, he's going for the next best thing. At noon on Monday, UK's all-time winningest player will take on top-ranked Steve Johnson of Southern Cal with the singles national championship on the line. Quigley has done just about everything a college tennis player can in his four years at Kentucky, but his resume lacks a national title. NCAA.com will be live streaming Quigley's final collegiate match here.
Speaking of Quigley, Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal on his bid to become UK's first men's tennis national champion. Check it out.
The baseball team received the disappointing - and surprising - news on Sunday that Cliff Hagan Stadium would not be playing host to an NCAA regional. Nonetheless, the Wildcats will have a chance to prove themselves in the NCAA Tournament and they will learn where they'll path will start and what it will look like in the Selection Show at noon on ESPNU.
He will face off against top-ranked Steven Johnson of Southern Cal in the finals and will look to end Johnson's 71-match winning streak. Stay tuned for coverage tomorrow, but in the mean time, here are video highlights of Quigley's semfinal win.
With No. 11 Kentucky a night away from finding its destination in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, check out this great highlight package of all the best home runs and defensive web gems from the regular season. The package is from a segment on the season-finale episode of the Gary Henderson Show, hosted by Brian Milam.
Corey Littrell allowed just two runs over six innings in UK's 2-1 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. - Gary Henderson stepped the podium following Kentucky's 2-1 loss to Mississippi State overcome with emotion. The Wildcats had seen their run in the SEC Tournament end in the semifinals, but it wasn't the loss itself that was affecting Henderson.
Of course there was disappointment that his team wouldn't be able to improve even further on the best conference tournament finish of the modern era, but Henderson thinking about the fact that he won't be coaching his team on Sunday more than anything. It was really pride in the group of players he has gotten to coach every day that had him struggling to find his words.
"Extremely disappointed that we're not playing tomorrow," Henderson said. "I'm really proud of our guys. They were tough. They showed up. Clearly it was a rough day for us offensively, but it was just that type of game."
UK had stormed to within a victory of the finals on the strength of great pitching, solid defense and timely hitting, but on Saturday, the Cats were missing the final variable in that equation. Kentucky actually outhit Mississippi State 9-8 on the afternoon and had at least one man reach base in all nine innings, but left nine runners on, including six in scoring position. UK's only tally came on a solo home run by J.T. Riddle, one of his three hits on the game.
Even with all those struggles to cash in opportunities, Henderson couldn't fault his team's approach against a Bulldog staff that has dazzled all season.
"I didn't think we threw away a lot of at-bats...I thought our concentration was outstanding," Henderson said. "We clearly hit some balls that were capable and hard enough to fall in. We hit a lot of balls early on and in the middle of the game that were not hard enough to fall in. It's just the way it goes."
"We tried our best, but we couldn't get that one to fall for us," said third baseman Thomas McCarthy, who had two hits in four at-bats. "There was great pitching on both ends. Our pitchers kept us in the whole game. Unfortunately we couldn't scratch one across."
The victim of a lack of run support, starter Corey Littrell (8-2) lost for the second Saturday in a row at the hands of the Bulldogs. This time though, Littrell couldn't have done much more than he did. He allowed a run in the second and third innings, but no more over six innings of yet another quality start. He allowed six hits and struck out six batters.
"It certainly wasn't his cleanest, most efficient outing, but you look at, it's again one of the better teams in the country," Henderson said. "He goes six, he gives up two earned and they square up about two balls. It's hard for me to really fault him."
After Littrell's exit, Taylor Rogers and Trevor Gott combined to throw three shutout inning to continue a string of incredible pitching efforts during the SEC Tournament. Over 27 innings, UK pitchers combined for a 1.00 ERA, allowing just 17 hits, all of which were singles.
Behind those pitchers, UK capitalized on the SEC Tournament's new format to earn a pair of off days before Saturday, but the new format also ended up spelling an end to the Cats' chances. In spite of the loss being their first of the week, the Wildcats were eliminated due to the new single-elimination semifinal. Even so, Henderson had no bones to pick.
"I'm fine with the format," Henderson said. "It's not going to be perfect. You bring 10 teams, it's not going to be perfect. I've got no complaints...We loved it. We'd love to come back and we're going to do everything we can to get back here."
His thoughts would perhaps be different if the Cats weren't a lock to be selected for next week's NCAA Tournament. In fact, the two wins in Hoover, Ala., likely makes UK's case for the right to host a regional too strong to be denied.
"I would certainly think that the four seed in the SEC that's won 43 games, 20 of them against SEC competition, deserves a spot," Henderson said. "I'm not in the lobbying business, but it would seem to me that that would be a fair assumption."
As it turns out, Henderson will get to coach his team for at least two more games this season, and the Wildcats will be playing with some momentum on their side.
"We had a four-game losing streak coming into (the SEC Tournament) and we played really well over the course of this," Henderson said. "We were pretty good defensively. We pitched well."
After an off day on Friday, UK will face LSU or Mississippi State in an SEC Tournament semifinal on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. -- The new format of the Southeastern Conference Tournament has gotten plenty of attention this week. Many have praised the new 10-team bracket for rewarding regular-season success while others have complained of headaches from attempting to decipher it.
All the Kentucky Wildcats know is they like the way it has worked out for them.
"It looks like we drew it up," UK head coach Gary Henderson said.
Coming into tournament play as the four seed, UK has won games over Ole Miss and Mississippi State to advance to the single-elimination semifinals. The Cats have had off days following each of their victories, during which Henderson has used just four pitchers to win two games and set up a matchup with either LSU or Mississippi State on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.
"We're in a great spot," said Corey Littrell, who will start on the mound on Saturday. "We're in the best spot in the conference I think. We've only used four pitchers and then we still have the whole bullpen and then we got (Taylor Rogers). I think we're in a good situation right now."
Both of UK's potential opponents will come into Saturday's game considerably less rested. LSU will have played three games in three days, while MSU has played every day since the first day of the tournament on Friday. Pitching options for the Bulldogs and Tigers are quickly becoming exhausted, while the Wildcats are going through their normal practices on off days, then returning to their hotel to spend time with teammates and family.
"I told my dad yesterday because I was over at their hotel, 'It feels like we're playing travel ball again like when we were little, hanging out at the hotel, eating and stuff and then playing a game and then resting again,' " Littrell said. "It's fun for us. It's like we're kids again."
Kentucky is unquestionably in an advantageous position, but it has not come as some fortuitous accident. A historic regular season plus great pitching timely hitting in Hoover, Ala., have put UK in this spot.
"You still have to win," Henderson said. "You got to take advantage of what's presented to you. It's no different than our pitching staff being fresh for (Saturday). You still have to go out and produce. You still have to go out and do a good job."
Henderson will be calling on Littrell (8-1, 2.64 ERA) to keep things rolling along. Statistically speaking, the sophomore lefthander has been UK's best and most consistent starter, so Henderson won't be asking him to reinvent himself for the first postseason start of his collegiate career.
"There won't be a lot new," Henderson said. "We'll have a pretty good idea of who we're playing at that point and what they do. That part will be relatively easy. The going out and doing it part is the challenge."
Littrell has specialized most of the season in executing the game plan set forth by Henderson, but his starts against his two potential opponents for Saturday were his worst in 10 SEC efforts this season. He allowed 12 combined runs in those two games and just 10 total in his other eight SEC starts.
"I sort of have a little unfinished business with both of them," Littrell said. "LSU, I gave up five runs. It wasn't one of my best starts and then Mississippi State gave me my first loss so, it doesn't matter who, but I want one of those two."
There are a couple factors on Littrell's side no matter which rematch ends up coming to pass. First, the defense that will play behind him looks much closer to the sound unit of early in the season than the porous group that committed three costly errors in his last start in Starkville, Miss. In two games in Hoover, the Cats have been consistently impressive in the field, committing just on error on a wild pickoff throw by pitcher A.J. Reed.
Perhaps even more importantly, Littrell will be throwing in the ballpark that has seemingly supplanted the double play as the UK pitching staff's best friend. The Cats boast a sparkling ERA of 0.50 over two games in spacious Regions Park, allowing just 11 hits - all singles - in the process.
"This is a pitchers' park," Littrell said. "It's fun seeing balls that they hit hard not go anywhere, it's a good feeling for me. Plus, it's not even that the park's big, the air's thick too so the ball's not traveling as well. It's going to be even though you still got to make good pitches. If they put a good swing on it, it has a chance to leave, but you get a little bit of relief."
Even if Littrell does make the occasional mistake, he also figures to be much more comfortable in his offense's ability to pick him up with the recent reemergence of Thomas McCarthy and A.J. Reed. The senior and freshman that occupy the two- and four-hole, respectively, in the UK lineup have combined for 10 of UK's 19 hits in the SEC Tournament.
"I think what it does is it really helps us as a group relax," Henderson said. "It creates more opportunities. It removes a little bit of stress and tension at times in the dugout. The more guys you have hitting, the better it is for everybody involved."
With four different teams adding to Kentucky's tally, UK Athletics is fast closing in on Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart's benchmark of 15 conference or national championships by the year 2015.
With the work of all UK's varsity teams, the Wildcats are also on the cusp of Barnhart's goals in the classroom.
For the second consecutive semester, UK student-athletes narrowly fell short of the 3.0 department-wide grade point average set forth by Barnhart. All UK student-athletes combined for 2.97 GPA and the GPA for scholarship athletes was a slightly higher 2.98 GPA. The average team GPA for the spring semester was 3.07.
"I am very proud of the effort our student-athletes logged in the classroom this semester," Barnhart said. "We fell just shy of our GPA goal and will work tirelessly to reach it, but I am happy with the academic culture we have fostered at UK. I appreciate everything our student-athletes, coaches and support staff have done to make that happen."
Among all teams, women's tennis had the highest GPA at 3.55, while men's cross country had the highest GPA among men's teams at 3.29. Of UK's 20 Division I teams, 12 had a GPA of over 3.0, including the championship-winning men's basketball, rifle and men's tennis teams. ***See below for complete grade information for each sport***
The work of the men's basketball team was particularly impressive. The Wildcats brought home the program's eighth national championship, spending essentially the entire month of March away from campus for tournament play, yet still excelling academically.
Five players off this year's championship team opted to turn professional early - all projected first-round picks and three in the lottery - but also demonstrated their commitment to both UK and eventually graduating by finishing the semester strong as full-time students. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague - three so-called "one and dones" - combined for a spring GPA well above 3.0. Additionally, the lone seniors on the team, Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas, each received their diplomas at May commencement.
"All these kids are good kids," John Calipari said. "We had a (3.12) GPA as a team for this term with five players who are leaving early, so all this stuff bitter old men say that they don't go to class, it's not true."
The men's basketball team is just the most high-profile example in a department full of student-athletes committed to excelling both on and off the field. With spring sports yet to be recognized, 90 Wildcats have already been named to the Southeastern Conference Fall and Winter Honor Rolls. UK student-athletes have also volunteered over 4,000 total hours to various charitable causes.
"I am excited about all the great things our student-athletes are doing," Barnhart said. "They do so much to enrich our athletic department, our University and the Lexington community. We are blessed to be a part of their development and take that responsibility seriously."
WKYT aired a one-hour special featuring an in-depth interview with John Calipari. Coach Cal and Sam Dick talked about a range of topics, from the platform Calipari has at Kentucky to how much he was able to enjoy winning his first national championship.
For those who missed the original airing, here are all six parts of the interview:
Alex Phillips picked up the save in UK's 5-1 win over Mississippi State on Thursday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. -- From the beginning of the 2012 season, the Kentucky Wildcats took on the attitude that they were going to go out and conquer. Whether it was respectability, a national ranking or simply a single win, the Cats were defined by their aggressiveness.
That's what made this past weekend's trip to Mississippi State so troubling. Yes, the Wildcats' chances at a regular season Southeastern Conference title were undone in the Starkville, Miss., sweep, but it was the way they sat back and waited, the way they were on the defensive that was so worrisome for a team with lofty postseason hopes.
UK wouldn't have to wait long for another chance at the team against which they had played so out of character.
"What I was concerned about early on was going out and playing like our hair's on fire and like we're going to take something, not hoping it's given to us," head coach Gary Henderson said. "That's what I was really hoping that we could get accomplished."
After a 5-1 defeat of the Bulldogs, it was sophomore second baseman J.T. Riddle that summed things up best.
"The (C)ats are back baby!" Riddle tweeted.
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen couldn't but take notice as well.
"I think they were on a little bit of mission today," Cohen said. "Obviously we had some pretty hotly contested games last weekend in Starkville and they desperately wanted to win this baseball game."
Gone was the passive team that played as if its fate was dependent solely upon outside forces. In its place was a squad that flew around the base paths, sprinted around the field and capitalized on mistakes at the plate. It was a familiar sight for anyone who watched this team sprint out to a 22-0 start, but that doesn't make it any less welcome.
"It feels great," said catcher Michael Williams, who had three hits and an RBI in the win. "Going into the game, our team was focused and we were well prepared. It's always good to get that game out of the way and beat John Cohen. It's kind of funny, he recruited me so it's always fun. I'm happy for our guys and it's a real confidence boost."
Whether it was partially inspired by the team or coach across the dugout is up for debate, but the consequence of the Cats' reemergence is not. With the win, UK advances to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament against either LSU or Mississippi State at 1 p.m. Saturday. With the win, Kentucky officially clinches its best conference tournament finish in the modern era and unofficially clinches the right to host a regional in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
However, it wasn't immediately clear that was what would happen. UK starter Jerad Grundy, as he has made a custom of doing this season, struggled in the first inning. Contrary to the attacking mentality that UK executed most of the game, he fell behind 2-0 against four of the batters he faced in the frame and allowed a single to Trey Porter which put his team in an early 1-0 hole. Grundy, though, wouldn't allow the situation to snowball.
"He just hasn't done that," Henderson said. "That's the kind of person he is and that's one of the reasons he's been so successful and gotten better throughout the course of the year. He's not unlike me. He's pretty steady, he's not too emotional, he's not too up, he's not too down. He's very accountable and very responsible. When it doesn't go well, he's not pointing the finger."
After the opening inning, he looked like a different pitcher. Locating his off-speed pitches with exceptional precision, Grundy struck out the side in the second, the first of five consecutive scoreless innings. Tying his career high with nine strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball, he handcuffed a Bulldog offense that had touched him up for four runs less than a week ago.
"The first inning, I was really struggling to find my fastball but the second inning on, I had really good command of my secondary stuff, my slider and my changeup, and I kept it down for the most part," Grundy said. "That's why I was able to have so many strikeouts."
After Grundy's dazzling second inning, during which he touched 94 miles per hour on the Regions Park radar gun with his fastball, his offense did something that has come all-too-infrequently of late: post a crooked number.
Thomas McCarthy led off with a single, one of his four hits on the afternoon, and he assertively took third base on a Luke Maile single to follow, allowing Maile to move into scoring position as well on the throw. After a lineout by A.J. Reed, Williams tied the game with a single before Riddle gave UK a 2-1 lead with a sacrifice fly. It was just the second time in nine days that UK had scored more than a single run in an inning.
Bolstered by a top half of the lineup that did the lion's share of the hitting, UK's offense pounded out 12 hits, adding a run in the fifth and two more in the ninth to make for a much more comfortable final few outs.
"Thomas McCarthy in the two hole was huge for us today," Henderson said. "Luke and A.J. and Michael, the top half of our lineup there with 11 of our 12 hits was huge."
The insurance was nice, but with the way Grundy and later Alex Phillips were pitching, Kentucky may not have needed it. Phillips came on to pitch the final three innings in relief, picking up his seventh save of the season. The two lefthanders combined to allow just four hits and a single run while striking out 11 Bulldog batters.
"To be able to go to a senior in Alex Phillips and not lose anything in terms of momentum or feel of confidence was huge," Henderson said. "He came in, and I thought the matchup with the changeup worked and that's why I went with him instead of (closer) Trevor (Gott)."
Because of Grundy and Phillips, Henderson was able to keep the majority of his bullpen on the shelf for the second time in as many games. UK has used just four pitchers to pitch 18 innings of its two SEC Tournament wins, sandwiched between which was a day off on Wednesday. The Cats will get yet another off day on Friday before a single-elimination semifinal game on Saturday.
Whether it's the Tigers or Bulldogs that end up facing Kentucky, they figure to have a fight on their hands in the rejuvenated Wildcats.
UK defeated Ole Miss 2-0 to set up a matchup Thursday with Mississippi State. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. -- The Kentucky baseball team did itself a huge favor with a 2-0 win over Ole Miss to open the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The victory means the Wildcats are off on Wednesday before they retake the field on Thursday against No. 7 seed Mississippi State, which defeated No. 1 seed LSU, 3-2.
UK was swept by the Bulldogs just last weekend.
Saturday starter Jerad Grundy (4-3, 4.15 ERA) will get the call at approximately 1:30 p.m. ET. In preparation for UK's next SEC Tournament game, here are a few notes on the team: Ole Miss win helping to alleviate pressure
By this point in the season, pressure is inevitable. Add in a four-game like the one UK was in the midst of and things are ratcheted up another notch.
"Anytime you're in competitive athletics and you got some sort of a (slump) late in the season, there's going to be some stress and internal pressure and all those things," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "I think that's normal and you just try to do the best you can to manage it and minimize it."
Had the Cats lost again to open play in the SEC Tournament, the pressure could have gotten out of hand. Fortunately, the Wildcats put their struggles behind them with a 2-0 victory against Ole Miss on Tuesday.
"It's certainly a big win, no question, you can't minimize it," Henderson said. "If we don't win that, then you're talking about a longer losing streak and all that and the things that come with not winning."
Even so, UK's streak-busting win is not without precedent. Before a 2-1 win to salvage the finale of a series against Florida, Kentucky had lost four in a row and five of six.
"The win against the Gators was huge," Henderson said. "If you don't win that, you've extended that losing streak and who knows when you bust out of it and all the rest."
Another prolonged losing streak will mean the end to an unforgettable 2012 season, but performances like the one against the Rebels could make this year even more special.
"It was a big win and there were other big wins and hopefully we got a few more coming," Henderson said.
Cats looking to capitalize on pitching options
When Henderson sent A.J. Reed to the mound on Tuesday, he thought he would be getting four solid innings. Instead, Reed lasted 5.2 innings, combining with normal Friday starter Taylor Rogers for a shutout of Ole Miss. The benefits of their efforts could extend well beyond the victory itself.
"It's a good thing that we were able to have A.J. throw five and two-thirds," Henderson said. "Not only did it give the starters that extra day and keep us out of playing (Wednesday), but it gave (relievers) Trevor (Gott) and Tim (Peterson) and Sam (Mahar) and Alex (Phillips) a day, actually two, where they didn't have to throw. It's a big lift for us."
What exactly that lift will mean is up to the Cats.
"I know for sure is it gave us a little bit of rest and hopefully that's a really good thing for us as we move forward," Henderson said. "Even though we got the rest, we still got to go out there and perform well."
UK's off day to feature plenty of baseball
Kentucky isn't playing a game on Wednesday, but the Wildcats aren't staying away from the diamond. During the morning, the Wildcats boarded their team bus for Birmingham-Southern University for practice.
"Great day, our guys practiced well," Henderson said. "Good concentration, good energy. We've practiced well here for three days."
Afterward, the Cats headed to the ballpark to watch a game between their two potential opponents for Thursday, LSU and Mississippi State.
Reed (5-2) had only three hits in his previous 22 at-bats going into the game, but he gave himself the only run he needed when he launched a drive over the right-field fence for a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. It was his fourth home run.
"I have been struggling a little bit the past couple of weeks," he said. "Going out there and having some success on the mound built my confidence. It also showed me that my team still trusts me, and Coach (Gary Henderson) gave me a second chance to come out and perform well."
"I thought it would be a gamble to go the other way," Henderson said. "... I wasn't confident that Rogers would be strong enough on a short rest to give us six (innings), and I was very confident that he would give us three or four. And if he was going to give us three or four, I wanted them in the middle so it didn't feel like we were taking a starter out before we had five. Sometimes that's a little bit of a letdown for your club.
The Dublin, Ohio native ranks second in the SEC in runs scored (56), doubles (19) and at-bats (227) this season. He also ranks third in total bases (123) and plate appearances (264) seventh in hits (75), eighth in home runs (9) and ninth in slugging (.542).
"I had a good fall with the team and with the players around us and previous SEC players, I knew we would be able to compete and I hoped that I could play with some of the best players in the country," Cousino added. "That is what I set my expectations for and I wanted to come out here and prove myself.
University of Kentucky two-sport athlete Brian Adams has decided to give up his final two seasons of football and focus on his baseball career.
Adams played in 11 football games as a sophomore last season and caught five passes for 46 yards. He was listed as the No. 2 outside receiver on the UK depth chart entering spring practice but decided to stay with the baseball team this spring as it made a run at a Southeastern Conference title.
As for UK, if the SEC is eventually going to add two more teams, it should pass on Virginia Tech and Maryland (though both would be solid additions) and go for North Carolina and Duke.
Neither would enhance SEC football, but SEC football needs no enhancement. Add Carolina and Duke to the SEC, and the best football league would also become clearly the best men's basketball league. Bringing on Duke and UNC would also add the Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham TV markets to the SEC footprint and give the league a boost in academic cachet (which it needs).
Adding North Carolina and Duke to the SEC would also happen to be good for Kentucky. It would at long last bring into the league some basketball competitors who can look UK dead in the eye in terms of hoops tradition and emphasis. It would also add two football programs the Cats can 1.) beat regularly (Duke); 2.) compete with evenly (Carolina).
USA Basketball's Olympic preparations will be peppered with plenty of University of Kentucky flavor this summer. On Monday former Wildcats John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were officially added to the 13-man USA Men's Select Team that will train against the USA National Team from July 6-12 in Las Vegas.
"Brandon is an extremely smart kid - and not just 4.0 academic smart," Joe Dumars told me after that game. "He picks up common sense things really well. There is nothing that can take the place of being out there and having to figure it out on the fly in an NBA game, NBA speed, when the lights are on. That's when you learn and grow. That's what he's talking about. You have to be out there, you have to be in a position to make those split-second decisions and that only comes with experience on the court."
Knight becomes the first Piston named to the All-Rookie first team since Grant Hill 17 years ago, a fitting parallel in temperament and character. Frank talked as the season wound down about his experience with young players growing as leaders in Summer League, where Knight will undoubtedly be the point guard and run the show for a Pistons entry that will include their 2012 lottery pick, two second-rounders and, quite likely, 2011 second-rounder Kyle Singler.
But in these NBA playoffs, it's Bledsoe showing star qualities. He scored more points than Blake Griffin, Chris Paul or any of the Clippers' starters in their 108-92 loss at San Antonio in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals.
The 23 points tied Bledsoe's career high. Credit him also with five rebounds, four assists and three steals in his third consecutive solid game. He totaled 22 points in the final two games of the first-round upset of Memphis.
Trevathan made a ton of tackles at Kentucky, but his size could keep him from filling a similar role in Denver. He's just 6'0″ and 237 pounds, a bit small for an every down role although his motor and competitiveness will mean that he puts up a good fight for one. Special teams figures to be his ticket to the final roster and his ticket to getting a shot at anything more than that as his career unfolds.
Trevathan gives the Broncos four draft picks under contract. There are three draftees still unsigned as the team continues their Organized Team Activities.
Credit a four-run fourth inning rally for changing the vibe Sunday, and in particular, Collin Cowgill's hard collision into Tim Lincecum when Cowgill scored from second on a wild pitch. Cowgill said he wasn't trying to hit Lincecum, and I believe him. But that play signified a shift in mentality during the series. The A's became the aggressors and started taking it to the Giants, and they finally came out on top.
Baseball - After falling just a win shy of claiming the second Southeastern Conference Championship in program history on the final day of the regular season, Kentucky will kick off postseason play by opening the SEC Tournament on Tuesday as the fourth seed against the ninth-seeded Ole Miss Rebels, with first pitch set for 10:30 a.m. ET at Regions Park. - UK will be making its 14th all-time appearance in the SEC Tournament, owning a 16-28 overall record, with its fifth-place finish in 2000 and 2008 marking a program best. - UK completed its regular season with the most wins in a regular season in the history of the program, equaling the 41 from the school-record 44-win season in 2008. UK also tied the school record set in 2006 by winning seven of its 10 SEC series matchups in 2012. The Wildcats led the SEC in eight of 10 weeks and boasted home series wins over No. 2 South Carolina, No. 10 Ole Miss and No. 1 LSU, and road series wins at Tennessee, No. 18 Georgia and No. 9 Arkansas.
Men's tennis - The sixth-ranked University of Kentucky men's tennis team won the doubles point, but could not continue its momentum in singles action, dropping a 4-1 decision to No. 11 Stanford in the NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament Round of 16. - The loss concludes Kentucky's season with an overall record of 28-6, the second-most wins in the history of the program. Last year's team set the school record for wins in a year with a 29-9 mark. UK ends the season with a .778 winning percentage, which is the third highest in the history of the program behind the 1988 and 1992 teams. - Kentucky ends the season with a 23-6 record against currently ranked teams. More specifically, UK was 11-6 against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including three wins over teams in the top 10. Since the start of the 2009 season, Kentucky has won an impressive total of 31 matches against top-25 foes.
Softball - The Wildcats made their fourth-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Louisville, and dropped a heart-wrenching 3-2 walk-off loss to No. 22 Michigan in the opening round. UK then defeated Valpo in an elimination game by a 5-4 margin before falling to the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals 3-2 in the Saturday elimination game. - UK ends its season at 30-30, marking the fourth-straight season the Wildcats have posted a .500 or better record. It is the best run in school history. Sophomore Ginny Carroll led the offense with a .444 average in the tournament, which included a double and pair of runs scored. Freshman Griffin Joiner connected for a two-run homer in the Louisville contest for UK's lone long ball. - The 2012 senior class comprised of Macy Allen, Chanda Bell, Brittany Cervantes, Ashleigh Gustafson, Rachel Riley and Erika Silence are credited with changing the culture of UK softball forever. The six-member class is the lone group of letter-winners to appear in postseason action in each season of its careers. They own the school-record for most wins in a career (136). Bell and Riley rank among the top-five in every pitching category in school history. Cervantes steps away as one of UK's most prolific offensive performers owning school records for homers and RBI. Track and field - Four Wildcats were named to the Track & Field All-SEC teams. Andrew Evans was a first-team selection in the discus, Raymond Dykstra and Luis Orta were second-team selections in the javelin and 3,000m steeplechase, respectively, and Keilah Tyson was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in the 100m and 200m. Dykstra was also named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in the javelin. - Thirteen Kentucky student-athletes have qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary, which takes place from May 24-26 in Jacksonville, Fla. Representing Kentucky will be Terence Boyd (long jump, triple jump), Raymond Dykstra (javelin), Andrew Evans (discus), Terri-Ann Grant (high jump), Isiah Kent (discus), Josh Nadzam (1,500m), Luis Orta (3,000m steeplechase), Kayla Parker (100m hurdles), Allison Peare (800m), Jennifer Svoboda (shot put), Keilah Tyson (100m, 200m), and the 4x100m relay team, which will consist of Tamyah Pipkin, Tyson, Julie Nunn and Parker.
Tuesday, May 22 Baseball vs. Ole Miss - 9:30 a.m. (Hoover, Ala.) Wednesday, May 23 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Baseball vs. LSU/Arkansas/Mississippi State (Hoover, Ala.)
Thursday, May 24 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at NCAA East Preliminary Round (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Friday, May 25 Baseball vs. TBA (Hoover, Ala.) Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at NCAA East Preliminary Round (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Saturday, May 26 Baseball vs. TBA (Hoover, Ala.) Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.) Track and field at NCAA East Preliminary Round (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Sunday, May 27 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.)
Monday, May, 28 Men's tennis in singles and doubles draw (Athens, Ga.)
A.J. Reed pitched 5.2 shutout innings and had four hits, including a home run, in UK's 2-0 win over Ole Miss. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
HOOVER, Ala. - Relying on freshmen in postseason play - unless your name is John Calipari - is a precarious position for any head coach. It's impossible to predict how they will react to the magnitude of the moment, no matter how well they played during the regular season.
As Kentucky began its run in the Southeastern Conference Tournament though, Gary Henderson found himself writing in a first-year player as both his starting pitcher and clean-up hitter. And it just so happens that A.J. Reed would occupy both roles.
Reed, who came into an SEC Tournament opener against Ole Miss with just three hits in his last 22 at-bats, would be asked to play crucial roles both ways. Henderson was confident his young lefthander would turn in a solid, if short, outing on the mound. That belief was accompanied with an awareness that Reed would need to regain his offensive form of February and March if the Wildcats were to make a run in May and June.
"I think I would have signed a contract for four innings, four zeroes," Henderson said. "I would have signed that and I'm looking at another two, three at-bats if he's not in the lineup. I really felt like it was time to get him back. His batting practice was tremendous."
There's no way Henderson could have predicted the way Reed would deliver both with his arm and his bat. Isolate Reed's performance at the plate or on the mound on Tuesday morning, and he still would have been the player of the game in a 2-0 Kentucky (42-15) victory over Ole Miss (34-23).
Reed (5-2, 2.32 ERA) did Henderson's "four innings, four zeroes" contract six outs better, tossing 5.2 scoreless innings in not only his first career postseason start, but also his first start against a conference opponent. Reed allowed five hits, striking out three while issuing just one walk in the first inning. Playing in spacious Regions Park, Reed attacked the strike zone against the Rebels and utilized a solid defense behind him, one that didn't commit an error save for a wild Reed throw on a pickoff attempt.
"I think I started the first five innings with the first pitch of the inning they swung at," Reed said. "Coming out on the first pitch of the game, they're swinging, so I know I'm going to pound the zone and let them swing at it and let my defense work."
His pitching effort, based on recent outings, shouldn't come as much of a surprise - over his last four appearances, which span 10.1 innings, he has allowed just a single earned run - but the fact that he accounted for four of UK's seven hits should. It had been exactly a month since his last extra base hit and his struggles kept him out of lineup for all three games last week at Mississippi State.
"He hadn't hit a lot here in the last 10 to 15 days...The only reason for that is he's just a freshman and he was tired and the game was beating him for a little bit and that's just part of our game," Henderson said. "It happens to guys at every level of baseball."
Reed was the only one doing the beating on Tuesday, and the primary victim was the Rebel pitching staff. He had hits in all four of his at-bats, including a fourth-inning solo home run that proved to be the only offense Kentucky would need. Reed was also in the middle the sixth-inning rally that scored the second of UK's runs, singling to move Luke Maile to third base before Cameron Flynn knocked him in.
The struggles that preceded Reed's big day were certainly frustrating for a player unaccustomed to failure. What helped pull him out of the slump was the fact that he was still able to contribute.
"I was struggling for a little bit the last couple weeks, not seeing the ball very well and going out there and having some good performances on the mound kind of gave me some confidence that my team still trusts me and everything," Reed said.
Reed wasn't the only Wildcat to get a shot of confidence either. The Cats were coming off a four-loss week that spoiled their chances at an SEC title and cost them a bye in the conference tournament. Concerns over the mental state of the team were well-founded coming into Tuesday, but they were answered succinctly.
"You come into this thing with a disappointing weekend in Starkville and they could have gone a couple of different ways, but they showed up," Henderson said. "We had two days of practice that were as good as we've had all year."
Henderson, in addition to running practices, spent plenty of time strategizing during those days off. He ultimately settled on Reed as his starter with a plan of bringing in normal Friday night starter Taylor Rogers in relief.
"I looked at it for a couple of days solid in terms of what would be the best thing for us to give us the best chance to win," Henderson said. "I really wanted (Rogers) on the mound if we had a lead in terms of I thought the ballpark and the opposition matched up well for him and I wanted a statement to our guys that we were going to run our Friday-night guy out there to win."
After the way Rogers threw in relief of Reed, it would be hard to poke holes in his logic. In just his second appearance out of the bullpen in 43 career games, Rogers allowed just two singles in 3.1 scoreless innings to pick up his first save.
"It was definitely different," Rogers said. "I had to constantly tell myself to slow down and slow my heart rate down and everything. It's a little bit more of a shot of adrenalin coming out of the bullpen."
Behind Rogers and Reed, UK secured an off day on Wednesday before a Thursday matchup with either LSU, Mississippi State or Arkansas. More than that, they helped preserve a healthy and rested pitching staff that should afford Henderson any number of choices for the remainder of the week.
"We just pitched nine innings with two guys and we got a day off...We're in pretty good shape that way," Henderson said. "That doesn't guarantee you anything, other than options, but we still got out three guys down there. We still got Tim (Peterson), Trevor (Gott) and Alex (Phillips). We'll very likely run Jerad (Grundy) out on Thursday and we'll have a fresh bullpen."
Gary Henderson and his Wildcats will open the SEC Tournament against Ole Miss on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If there has been one adjective that has been tossed around more than any other to describe Gary Henderson's Kentucky baseball team this year, that word would be "resilient." Facing its second four-game losing streak of the season and coming off a tough series sweep at the hands of Mississippi State, the club known for its ability to bounce back after tough losses will need its best recovery yet.
The road to recovery starts Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET against No. 9 seed Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament. For a team that has lost four games in a row, it is important to just get back to playing ball.
"Obviously we've lost four in a row, so we're excited to get back on the field again and hopefully get rid of that streak," said Henderson on Monday's SEC Baseball Tournament teleconference.
Kentucky sprinted out of the gate this season, winning its first 22 games of the season and 24 of its first 25. The Wildcats finished the regular season with an 18-12 record in the SEC, their best since 2006.
But after a promising start to the conference schedule with a sweep over now No. 2 South Carolina, a series win over then No. 1 and now No. 2 Louisiana State, the Cats have fallen off their path, which once had them destined for an SEC regular season championship.
Still, Kentucky went into last Saturday's series finale against Mississippi State needing just one win to become SEC co-champions and grab the No.1 seed in this week's SEC Tournament. It was not meant to be, however, as MSU finished off the sweep and Kentucky's seed in the SEC Tournament fell from first to fourth.
But it was not for a lack of confidence. Or enthusiasm. Or an inability to cope with pressure. Sometimes the other team is just better on that particular day, or weekend in this instance.
"They're a really confident team," said Mississippi State head coach John Cohen. "I saw a team with a swagger. I saw a team, I thought their preparation was right on the money."
Cohen, the former head coach at the University of Kentucky, took Kentucky to its last SEC championship back in 2006. But he is well aware of his fortune to be able to sweep a team like the Wildcats.
"I think we're very, very fortunate, and any time you sweep somebody, you have to have some luck," said Cohen. "We had some good things happen for us. They hit some balls really hard that we caught in the deepest part of the ballpark. Their shortstop played phenomenal defense. I think they got a couple of bad hops here and there. And that was your ballgame."
When you play baseball in the SEC, any team in the league can beat you at any time. Kentucky found that out this weekend. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way, and when the teams in the conference are as strong, talented and competitive as they are in this league, just a few bounces one way or the other can cost you a run, a game, a series or even a conference title.
Without question, though, this team will bounce back.
These Wildcats have done it all season. They have won close games while stemming the tide from comebacks of the opposition. They have battled back from large deficits only to post wins in those same contests. And after losing the first game of four different SEC series this season, they found ways to still take games two and three to come away with the weekend victory.
Tuesday morning, Kentucky will look to left-handed freshman pitcher A.J. Reed (4-2, 3.00 ERA) to trigger that spark it's been missing against the Rebels, opting to leave the weekend starters for potentially bigger games later in the tournament.
When the Wildcats were playing some of their best baseball and off to a torrid start, they took their series against their first-round opponent Ole Miss. Now UK looks to refocus its attention on the Rebels, looking back on that series to try and repeat that success.
"They've always got above average pitching, and they did again when we played them," said Henderson. "They were tight games. We could have won all three if we didn't check swing. And they could have won all three if the calls at the plate went a little bit different. It was that tight of a series. (Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco)'s got a good club, good speed, power that we have to respect, and quality arms."
If the last two days of practice are any indication, his team is refocused and refreshed. After all, there is still much to play for. The Wildcats have a chance to host an NCAA Regional, they can improve upon their seeding in the NCAA Tournament and they still have a chance to win an SEC Tournament title.
Henderson is not short on confidence in his players. He's talked about how much he likes this team and he seemed sincerely disappointed for his players that they, as a team, could not finish the job in Starkville, Miss. But Henderson also knows there is much more baseball to be played; they must move on to that next game.
And Monday, once again, he referred to his team with that familiar word: resilient.
"We've practiced the last two days and we've been very good," said Henderson. "Honest question and a good question, because you are certainly concerned with (a hangover), but I haven't seen those effects. I think we probably won't know until we start playing. But we've got a resilient group. Certainly a disappointing weekend in Starkville, but in our league you just don't have the time to cry about those weekends. You've got to get on to those next ones, and that's what we've got to do."
The season may not have ended the way Gary Henderson and his team wanted it to, but the good news for the Kentucky baseball team is that there are still games to be played.
UK (41-15, 18-12 Southeastern Conference) will play as the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament beginning on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET in Hoover, Ala. The Wildcats will take on No. 9 Ole Miss (34-22, 14-16 SEC), a team the Cats defeated twice in a three-game series from April 6-8. Freshman A.J. Reed (4-2, 3.00 ERA) has been announced as the starter for UK's opener, which will be televised on SportsSouth.
The tournament is double-elimination, so UK will have another game to play this week regardless of the outcome against Ole Miss. If the Cats win, they will get a day off Wednesday before playing at a time to be determined against No. 1 LSU, No. 6 Arkansas or No. 7 Mississippi State on Thursday. Should they lose, UK will face the loser of Arkansas and Mississippi State at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
Cat Scratches will have complete coverage of UK's run in the SEC Tournament, beginning with a story from Ryan Suckow later this afternoon after SEC Coach of the Year Gary Henderson speaks on the SEC Coaches' Teleconference today. Following that, we will have live blogs of each of UK's games, as well as columns afterwards.
Beyond Ryan's piece today, content will be a little bare on the blog as I travel down to Alabama, so bear with us.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If you had asked any of the Kentucky Wildcats a month ago whether they would take a berth in the NCAA Tournament, they would have jumped at the chance. Sitting at 23-36, the Cats looked like relative long shots to even reach softball's biggest stage.
After a furious rally to close the regular season, UK made it to the postseason after all, but the end of their run left them wanting more.
On Saturday, the Cats won an elimination game against Valparaiso, 5-4, to force another one against archrival Louisville. The Cardinals charged ahead with three runs in the first inning, but behind the steady hand of senior Rachel Riley and a fifth-inning home run by Griffin Joiner, the Wildcats close to within 3-2.
Ginny Carroll, who has been UK's hottest hitter in the NCAA Tournament, came to the plate with a runner on and two out in the final frame. She lifted a high fly ball deep to left field, but U of L's Jennifer Esteban retreated to make the catch and put an end to a season that likely won't be duplicated anytime soon.
"Our record is 30-30, and that's probably perfect for this team," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. "It's not the record you want, but about two months ago, I didn't even think we'd be sitting here right now. I think what this team has done over the last month, I've never seen a team do that before."
UK, along with the three other teams in the Louisville Regional, has helped provide a national television audience on ESPN and ESPN2 with late-inning drama over the last two days. Moreover, the Cats helped attract the largest crowd in the history of U of L's home field.
Saying goodbye to a six-member senior class of Riley (who pitched 10.2 innings and got a win over two games Saturday), Chanda Bell (who got her fourth save against Valparaiso), Brittany Cervantes (who scored two runs over the two games), Macy Allen, Ashleigh Gustafson and Erika Silence who were largely responsibility for UK's recent ascendance is tough, but the legacy of the class is beyond question.
"I feel good about our team," Lawson said. "You never want it to end, but I feel good that we had the fight in us, that we had the character to pull ourselves of the bottom and be able to play in this kind of stage is pretty cool."
In the video below, Lawson talks about the day and the end of the 2012 season:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - For right or wrong, the word "heartbreaking" is often used to describe defeats. There's no question whether the term was appropriate after Kentucky's 3-2 loss to Michigan on Friday.
In the Wildcats' first game of the NCAA Tournament, they scored two runs in the top of the seventh to take a 2-1 lead over the Wolverines. With senior ace Chanda Bell in the circle, Michigan got a two-out, two-run double from freshman Sara Driesenga on a two-strike count to walk off with the win.
"I think we gave ESPN what they wanted," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said of the late-inning drama.
Ginny Carroll had three hits, including one in the seventh-inning rally, while Bell tossed six innings of one-run ball before allowing two runs in the final frame. In the video below, Carroll, Bell and Lawson talked about the defeat and previewed what's next.
What's next is a matchup at 5 p.m. on Saturday against the loser of Louisville and Valparaiso. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Now playing in the losers' bracket, the Cats will have to win four in a row to make their second appearance in a row in the Super Regionals. Fortunately, rebounding from adversity is something UK is used to doing.
"That's who we are, so I'm not really worried about that," Lawson said. "I think the cool thing about team is we're very analytical about what happens and so I think we'll go back, we'll process what happened and make some adjustments and hopefully we'll come back better (Saturday). This team has got a lot of character. They know how to bounce back."
Lawson has not yet announced who will pitch for UK. Regardless, we will have complete coverage here on Cat Scratches and UKathletics.com, with another live blog beginning a few minutes before first pitch.
Kyle Wiltjer, the lone returning contributor from Kentucky's national championship team, is taking advantage of a small window without classes or basketball commitments to head home to Oregon. A local television station did a story with him about his first year in college and you can watch it above.
Joker Phillips was one of seven people on a UK-sponsored trip to Ethiopia last summer. (photo courtesy of Jason Schlafer, UK Athletics)
Last summer, when they took a service trip to Ethiopia with head coach Joker Phillips, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and others, Danny Trevathan and Stuart Hines weren't entirely sure what was in store for them. The experience ended up being a life-changing one, with the two rising seniors witnessing a culture and a lifestyle unimaginably far removed from their own.
On Friday, a new group of rising seniors will follow in the footsteps of Hines and Trevathan and make the same trip with Phillips at their side. For a year now, Mikie Benton, Matt Smith and Larry Warford have listened to stories and seen photographs from the weeklong trip and, even though the trio has an idea what lies ahead, that doesn't mean they expect it to have any less of an impact on them.
"I am just going to try to get a new perspective on how I see the world," Warford said. "Mr. Barnhart, who's been there a couple times, he said it's an eye-opening experience. He said it just changes your perspective on life completely. You'll never look at things the same way when you come back to the States."
For Warford, there was a fleeting moment of hesitation when he was first approached about doing it, but based on the way his former counterpart at offensive guard talked about the trip, he couldn't pass up the chance.
"I had never been out of the country and they were talking about going to Africa," Warford said. "I was just like, 'Uh, I'm not sure if I want to do that.' But then I talked to 'Stu,' who went last year and he said it was a great experience. After I found out who else was going, I said, 'I think I'll go on this one.' "
Smith, on the other hand, has been thinking about the possibility since last summer when he first mentioned his interest in taking part in the next trip to Phillips upon hearing his teammates talk about it.
"I guess he remembered that because he asked me and there was no hesitation at all," Smith said. "I jumped at the chance to do that because that only comes around once in a lifetime."
What most struck Smith about the stories of those who went last year was the happiness of the children they worked with in the face of dire surroundings. Particularly with the career path he expects to pursue, working with those kids is something he looks forward to.
"Teaching's something I kind of want to do after football is over with so I think it will be really interesting for me just to see how the kids are in different cultures," Smith said. "I know we're going to be a doing a sports clinic with fifth graders at one of the schools over there so I'm just really excited about that and working with those kids."
Benton, Smith and Warford all recognize that being selected to participate in the trip is both an honor and a responsibility. Like Hines and Trevathan before them, they were tabbed because they are expected to lead next year's football team and get the most out of this unique experience.
"I know that the coaches are expecting a lot out of myself and Larry and Mikie this year with all of us being seniors," Smith said. "It's definitely an experience that I'll remember and I'm glad that the coaches trust in me enough to take me on a trip like this and that they're really looking for me to be a leader on the team. I'm excited to embrace that opportunity."
Benton, having started his career as a walk-on, is the unlikeliest of the three to be selected. But with the way he emerged first as a reliable contributor at safety and now as a leader, he is a deserving choice.
"If somebody would have told me my redshirt year that I'd be taking a trip to Africa through football, I probably would have thought they were crazy," Benton said. "It's a blessing and I'm extremely grateful for it."
Smith expects what he sees over the next seven days to give him a newfound appreciation for his life at home, but a conversation he had with his parents upon finding out he had been selected has already sent him down that path.
"My dad said, 'It's such an opportunity,' and it reminded me that not everybody gets the chance to go on trips like this and do all the things that we get to do as student-athletes," Smith said. "It's something I'll look back on and cherish."
UK will face Michigan at 4:30 p.m. on Friday to open NCAA Tournament play. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Three weeks ago, even Rachel Lawson wondered if her Kentucky softball team could even reach this point.
The NCAA Tournament-bound Wildcats had just been swept on the road by Mississippi State to drop their record on the season to 23-26, three games below the .500 mark they knew they would have to reach to be eligible for the postseason. With just seven regular-season games and the Southeastern Conference Tournament left on the schedule, things were a little desperate.
"There was a point in the middle of the season where I was like, 'I cannot believe we're at this point.' I was a little nervous," Lawson said. "I was thinking, 'We're going to have to run through the SEC and win the SEC Tournament to make postseason.' "
Star hitter Brittany Cervantes couldn't help but feel the same way, but she wouldn't dare let anybody know about it.
"I wasn't going to say anything to anyone, but in the back of my mind I was a little nervous," Cervantes said.
The last thing Cervantes and her five fellow senior class members who "pretty much turned everything around for Kentucky softball" wanted to do was end their careers falling short of the tournament. There were no "rah-rah" speeches about a late-season surge, but only because they weren't necessary.
"They knew what was going on," Lawson said. "It was one of those unspoken things. I think the cool thing is they just took it upon themselves to continue to get better and better."
Improve they did.
The Cats took care of business in a midweek game against Morehead State before trekking to Florida and taking two of three from the second-ranked Gators. UK would then register its first-ever sweep of No. 22 LSU to move two games above .500. A first-round loss to Georgia in the SEC Tournament cast some lingering doubts about its fate, but they were resolved when "Kentucky" flashed on the screen during the selection show on Sunday.
For the fourth season in a row, the Wildcats (29-28) will play in the NCAA Tournament, a run that will begin against Michigan (39-15) at 4:30 p.m. on Friday as part of the Louisville Regional. All games during the regional will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPN3. The double-elimination format will technically put UK in a "win or go home" situation for the first time this season, but in reality, it's old hat for these Cats.
"The last two weeks was absolutely tournament play," Lawson said. "When we were playing Florida, we knew that we had to take at least two. When we were playing LSU, we knew we had to sweep them. To have your back against the wall that many times in a row, that's what it feels like when you go to postseason."
Michigan and the regional's host, No. 15 Louisville (53-3), have been locks for tournament play for weeks now, which is a testament to the seasons they've had. The Wolverines and Cardinals make for arguably the NCAA's toughest regional, but they haven't dealt with the same strain as the Wildcats down the season's home stretch.
"With LSU, we felt some of that pressure and the way we reacted, that sort of feeling's going to come when we go to regionals and have these tight games," Cervantes said. "I think our team is finally comfortable with that pressure."
UK got another lesson in coping with that pressure during a run to the Super Regionals a season ago, one that ironically began in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Cats defeated the Wolverines twice. Chanda Bell and Rachel Riley, seniors who pitched every inning of the NCAA Tournament last season, give the team a dimension many others lack with their experience and differing styles.
"When teams have seen one pitcher, we can bring in another or if they're practicing to hit the rise ball, we have Rachel who can come in and throw the drop ball," Bell said.
That doesn't mean the task will be easy.
"They're a juggernaut and they're one of the best teams in the nation," Lawson said. "They always are. They have young pitching this year, but they're very good.
"They have a lot of speed. The top of their order's very good, but they can come with a couple really big hitters in the middle of the lineup. They can do a lot of different things."
Michigan's two primary pitchers, Haylie Wagner and Sara Driesenga, are both freshmen, but the Wolverines boast a 1.90 ERA as a team to go with an offense that has belted 46 home runs this season while batting .288. If UK intends to repeat its Super Regional trip of last season, the Cats also figure to have to get past Louisville, which owns the nation's best record.
The Wildcats have the appropriate respect for two of the nation's top teams, but also confidence that if they play their game, they are capable of doing more than competing with them.
"I think if the right team shows up, we'll come out of that regional," Cervantes said.
In spite of that self-assurance, it would be a stretch to call UK anything but an underdog this weekend, a role the Cats don't necessarily mind.
"It's a challenge that we like," Lawson said. "We love to be the underdog."
Catcher/first baseman Luke Maile leads UK with 11 home runs and 46 RBI in 2012. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
After a home sweep of Alabama this weekend, Kentucky is in control of its own quest for a conference championship. Even if he wanted to, there would be no way for Gary Henderson to shield his Wildcats from being aware of the position in which they find themselves.
"We'll address it," Henderson said. "It'll be very short, to the point. They're all smart, they all have a smart phone, they all go to the (Internet), they know the math."
Not so fast Coach Henderson, at least on one of those counts.
"I don't have a smart phone, just for the record," said junior Luke Maile, though he would later admit to owning a phone that would be categorized as "smart" in name only with how poorly it works.
All this technology talk serves only to distract from the heart of the issue, which is that UK is in a place few outside of its own clubhouse walls could have even imagined. Kentucky's primary SEC competitors South Carolina (a half-game back of first) and LSU (a full game behind UK) were expected to be in this spot, but not the Wildcats.
The 2012 season has proven to be an unforgettable journey, but its end is yet to be written and the next leg will make the "journey" metaphor quite a bit more literal. Beginning on Tuesday with a game at in-state foe Murray State, UK embarked on a road trip that will last at least nine days and as long as nearly two weeks
"It could be a long one," Henderson said. "We hope it's really long, a couple weeks long."
Henderson isn't the only one embracing the prospect of being separated from his own bed for an extended period. The road stretch has been on the Cats' minds for a while now, and with it finally here, they're happy it means as much as it does.
"We've been talking about this road trip for a long time and we were really hoping we could go into this thing with an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done here in a while or hasn't been done here at all," Maile said. "We're excited and we can't wait for it."
How long it ends up lasting hinges on how far the Cats advance in the SEC Tournament, but that's another topic for another day, as three games this weekend at Mississippi State are big enough on their own. More important than UK playing its way into a bye in the conference tournament or even winning a conference championship is jockeying for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats play well in this extended stint away from Lexington, they could be in line to be at home for a long while afterward.
"I think the bye's important and there's not a coach that wouldn't take it," Henderson said. "I think it's important. Probably more important to me is finishing out the last four regular season and then (the SEC Tournament) in Birmingham and see if we can't jump into a first eight seed. To me, that's the focal point."
A national seed like the one Henderson is talking about would earn UK the right to play both a Regional and Super Regional in the comforts of Cliff Hagan Stadium. According to the latest projections, the Wildcats are on the cusp of that, but it won't come without some substantial challenges.
Mississippi State (31-20, 13-14 SEC) has plenty to play for in its own right. The Bulldogs will be looking to bolster their already strong NCAA Tournament credentials with a series win over No. 2 UK (41-12, 18-9 SEC) beginning with Thursday's series opener at 7:30 p.m.
Only Michael Williams on UK's current roster has ever played a game in Starkville, Miss., but the Wildcats can call on the experience of taking two of three at Arkansas, a place notorious for being among the toughest to play nationally.
"To me, if you can play well in Fayetteville, you can play well on the road any place probably in the country," Henderson said. "Fayetteville's a real challenge and Arkansas (has) real arms."
Any discussion of "real arms" among SEC pitchers would be incomplete with Mississippi State's Chris Stratton (9-1, 2.22 ERA), who will start the opener against UK. Stratton didn't lose his first start of the season until this weekend against Florida and even then he allowed just two runs over seven innings. On the year, Stratton has pitched 89.1 innings with eye-popping totals of 67 hits allowed and 107 strikeouts.
"They've got a real guy on (Thursday) night, so it doesn't really matter how many people are in the stands when you got a guy throwing it 97 (miles per hour)," Maile said. "We're going to have to battle."
Adding to the intrigue is current Bulldog head coach John Cohen, who coached at Kentucky for five seasons and led the school to an SEC title in 2006. For Henderson, who served as Henderson's pitching coach for all five of those years at UK, the experience of facing off against someone he worked closely with will be a unique one.
"It's like playing anybody you've ever worked with," Henderson said. "It's definitely a little bit different. There's a certain part of you that would rather not play those people for different reasons."
It won't take long for those emotions to go flying out the window though.
"Once the game starts, it's on," Henderson said. "John's going to try and win and so are we. That part never changes. It'll be two competitive groups going at it."
Regardless of who is in the opposing dugout, where the game is played or the stakes, the focus for UK will remain the same as it has all season.
"The bottom line is we got to take it one day at a time and just keep trying to win baseball games," Maile said. "If we do that, everything's going to work out."
Henderson not concerned about health of Grundy
Jerad Grundy's start on Saturday against Alabama was cut short when he took a line drive off his left (throwing) forearm. Clearly, losing Grundy for any extended stretch would be a blow.
Henderson reported that he had not yet seen the junior lefthander on Monday, but also that he had heard no further news that would cause him to question his status for this weekend.
With Kentucky on the eve of starting the final weekend series of the 2012 season with the SEC Title on the line, check out this awesome, behind-the-scenes look at the UK baseball program. The feature was filmed by an NCAA.com crew in town the Wednesday before UK hosted No. 5 Florida.
When it comes to "best players," there has been a lot of that this year with UK men's sports. At present, Kentucky ranks second behind North Carolina in the Capital One Men's Cup standings for the best overall athletic program.
If Emery's squad could find its way into the Final Four this weekend, that may clinch the Cup title for the Cats.
"Thanks for telling me that," said Emery, smiling.
The rematch is a chance for UK to rinse their mouths of that ill-tasting loss.
"We definitely want to get some revenge," said senior Eric Quigley, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year. "They're definitely a good team but I think we can play a little better. But it's not going to be easy. Stanford's a great team, and Stanford's always good, every year."
Revenge is not the Wildcats' primary goal, just a step in the process of bringing home a national title, a feat the team has fallen short of the past three seasons.
Next up, UK will close the Southeastern Conference regular season with games Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Mississippi State.
From Starkville, the Cats will travel to Regions Park in Hoover, Ala., where the SEC Tournament will take place May 22-27. The better they do in the 10-team, double-elimination tournament, the longer their stay will be in suburban Birmingham.
UK, No. 4 in the latest Baseball America poll, will have a first-round bye at stake when it meets Mississippi State and former Wildcats Coach John Cohen.
Kentucky has the best record in the league by half a game over South Carolina (17-9), which had its series finale against Georgia canceled last weekend due to weather, and a full game over LSU (17-10). The Gamecocks and Tigers close the regular season with a series against each other.
The Cats, who lead the nation in wins and already have their second-most victories in school history, are looking for just their second SEC regular-season title. They can also clinch a bye in the SEC Tournament by finishing with the East Division's best record. Once UK leaves for Paducah today, it won't return until it has been eliminated -- or has won -- the league tournament.
This is the most exciting and up-for-grabs regional in the entire tournament. And the regional I will be covering starting Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. You have three teams in this regional that could advance in almost any regional, and they are all together. Louisville has the best record in the tournament with only three losses. However, the Cardinals have yet to be challenged with teams from the stronger conferences (Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC). This will be the biggest challenge of the year for them as they face an SEC team in Kentucky that made it all the way to super regionals last year and a former national champion in Michigan. The first matchup between Kentucky and Michigan will be the most anticipated, as these teams faced off in last year's Ann Arbor regional with Kentucky walking away with the upset.
Finding more playmakers: Coach Joker Phillips feels like he has more firepower to work with on offense again. After struggling mightily to find consistent playmakers on offense in 2011, Phillips left spring with more confidence about players he felt he could rely on going forward. The biggest standout was receiver Demarco Robinson. He became one of the most consistent players at practice and caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Also, freshman receiver Daryl Collins surprised coaches with his playmaking ability. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson also stepped up and should help take pressure off of Kentucky's running game.
Former Kentucky basketball player Joe Crawford tore a knee tendon Sunday while playing for a team in Israel. The ill-timed injury, which is expected to sideline him for four to six months, comes as interest from other teams, including some in the NBA, has grown, the player's agent said Tuesday.
"It's a setback," agent Aaron Mintz said. "But if there's anyone who has shown time and time again he'll get through this, it's Joe."
Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com's SEC Blog is running through a series of wrap-ups for each of the conference's 12 teams, and it was Kentucky's turn on Tuesday. He provides a complete profile of the team and highlights a few key storylines heading into the fall. The following three things fell under his "Spring answers" category:
1. Finding more playmakers: Coach Joker Phillips feels like he has more firepower to work with on offense again. After struggling mightily to find consistent playmakers on offense in 2011, Phillips left spring with more confidence about players he felt he could rely on going forward. The biggest standout was receiver Demarco Robinson. He became one of the most consistent players at practice and caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Also, freshman receiver Daryl Collins surprised coaches with his playmaking ability. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson also stepped up and should help take pressure off of Kentucky's running game.
2. Adjusting to Minter's defense: Strides were definitely made by Kentucky's defense in Year 1 with Rick Minter, but it looks like the defense felt even more comfortable in it this spring. While there is still work to do and bodies to replace, Minter has said he sees more aggression and attitude out of this unit. The defensive line also progressed this spring and could finally be the strength of this unit. The goal is for Kentucky's defense to be a much more physical and tougher group and both Minter and Phillips see it shifting that way.
3. Caffey's move: Kentucky entered the spring trying to replace two starters at cornerback, so the staff moved running back Marcus Caffey there. The experiment appeared to work, as Caffey was one of the more impressive looking players this spring. He caught on quickly at his new position and ended the spring as a starter. He's also a bigger body and the coaches say he's very durable. Both will come in handy against bigger receivers in this league.
After Kentucky's visit to the White House a week and a half ago, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist stayed east to begin his preparations for the NBA Draft in earnest. SI.com spent some time with the former Wildcat swingman and he is working just as hard as you would expect him to. Take a look.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, May 13:
Baseball: Corey Littrell
Corey Littrell dominated in the second game of UK's doubleheader vs. Alabama on Saturday, striking out seven over 6.2 innings and allowing just one run in the Wildcats' 8-1 win ... Littrell faced 27 batters, surrendering just six hits and striking out seven while only allowing two walks ... Littrell avoided giving up an extra base hit in his lengthy start ... Littrell is a reliable force as Kentucky's Sunday starter, boasting an 8-0 record with a 2.22 ERA, 68 strikeouts to just 20 walks, and only 20 runs allowed in 81 innings pitched from 13 starts ... In conference play, Littrell has a 6-0 record and a 2.37 ERA, with his six SEC wins leading the SEC.
Baseball: Sam Mahar
Freshman lefthander Sam Mahar made three important appearances in relief for Kentucky, including two on Saturday during the doubleheader wins over Alabama ... In three appearances, Mahar tossed four innings of shutout baseball, striking out three while allowing no walks ... Mahar earned a save in the midweek game against Indiana, coming on in the 12th inning, facing four batters and striking out two to seal the 6-5 win for the Wildcats ... After pitching 0.2 innings in the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, Mahar tallied his second save of the week, throwing 2.1 innings in relief to seal UK starter Corey Littrell's 8-1 win over Alabama ... As a midweek starter and relief pitcher, Mahar has a 3-3 record on the year, claiming a 2.75 ERA with 32 strike outs to only nine walks in 36 innings pitched.
Baseball: J.T. Riddle
Sophomore infielder J.T. Riddle led UK during a four-game week at the plate and in the glove, leading UK to a victory over Indiana and its first sweep over Alabama since 2008 ... Riddle hit .462 (8-for-18) during the week with two doubles, four RBI, 10 total bases and a .556 slugging percentage ... In the midweek win at Indiana, Riddle went 3-for-5 with one double, one RBI, a sacrifice fly and two runs scored ... Riddle batted .385 (5-for-13) during the weekend series vs. Alabama, with one double and three RBI ... Riddle went 2-for-5 in game two of the weekend series, drilling his 11th double of the season and knocking in two RBI ... In the sweep-clinching win over Alabama, Riddle went 3-for-4 to help earn the Wildcats an 8-1 win ... On the year, Riddle has hit .291 (53-for-182) with 11 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 34 RBI.
Alex Musialek and the men's tennis team advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 4-0 win over Indiana on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Dennis Emery knows these types of opportunities are rare.
It's not often that a coach has the best player in the history of his program playing the best tennis of his career in the middle of his final postseason run. It's less often still that that player is surrounded by the arguably the best assemblage of talent in school history. Having those things converge with an uncommon sense of togetherness among the team, that might happen once in a career.
Beyond this season, the future remains bright for Kentucky men's tennis, and Emery will field contenders again, just as he has throughout his tenure. But this time it feels a little different. This time Emery has no intention of letting this chance get away from his Wildcats.
"When you're here, when you're at Kentucky in the SEC, the one thing I've learned over 30 years is when you have a good team, you better win," Emery said.
For the third year in a row, UK will play in the Sweet 16. There, the No. 6 Cats (28-5) will face No. 11 Stanford (19-8) on Friday at 4 p.m. in Athens, Ga. A victory would send Kentucky to the Elite Eight for the second straight season, but UK has never advanced past the national quarterfinals. In the minds of players and coaches, this is the year to break through that glass ceiling.
"It's important when you're good to seal the deal and put the nail of the coffin and that's what we have to do this week coming up," Emery said. "We graduate our No. 1 (Quigley) and 2 (Alex Musialek) and though we feel like we're going to be good next year, this our time."
Emery has no trouble identifying what makes this team different. Assistant coaches Cedric Kauffmann and Matt Emery have made a difference in developing and mentoring players, but even more importantly, the young Wildcats they get to coach are pretty good too.
"We're just better than we have been in terms of our talent. We have the ability to make mistakes and outrun them, out-jump them, out-serve them sort of," Emery said. "Our talent level is significantly better this year. We're more athletic. I've been around long enough, I had forgotten how important it was to have the best players."
Mix in the fire inside of every member of this team and you have something special.
"We've got a lot of character," Emery said. "These guys really want to win. It's the most competitive team I have ever been around and it's hard to describe. They're very, very competitive, both individually and as a team. They take a lot of pride in what they're doing."
In case advancing in the NCAA Tournament wasn't enough motivation, the Cats will have the extra edge of a rematch with the Cardinal, one of just four teams to defeat them all season. Back in February, UK was just a day removed from its first defeat of the season, a heartbreaking 4-3 decision at the hands of Ohio State, when then-No. 9 Stanford came calling. In a rare occurrence, it was the Cats' depth at the bottom half of the singles lineup that felled them.
"It was a match I felt like we definitely should have won the first time around," Emery said of the 4-1 loss. "I felt like I necessarily didn't do a very good job preparing our team. We played great at one, two and three. We played probably our worst match of the year at four, five, six and in the doubles."
Though it has been nearly three months, the loss is fresh in the Wildcats' minds, a stinging reminder an eight-day stretch that saw them drop three straight matches, or 60 percent of their total on the season.
"You definitely want to get some revenge," Quigley said. "They're definitely a good team, but I think we can play a little better."
The rematch as well the rest of the NCAA Tournament will be played on Georgia's home courts at the Dan McGill Tennis Complex, a venue that calls to mind much more pleasant memories than UK's first opponent there. On March 30, the Wildcats beat the Bulldogs 4-3 in a match that ended up being the difference in UK's first SEC championship in two decades.
"It's a great place to play," Emery said. "It's a venue that our players love to play in. If you could have seen us play Georgia earlier this year, they were just thriving on that situation."
Two seasons ago, the Cats' Sweet 16 run ended in Georgia, a run they built on last year in advancing to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats want to take another step forward into the Final Four, but make no mistake about it, it's not their ultimate goal.
"We just don't want to improve on the previous year, we really want to go all the way," Quigley said.
Baseball - After completing a sweep of Alabama to remain in a tie for first atop the SEC standings, Kentucky concludes the regular-season with a four-game road trip during the week, visiting Murray State on Tuesday in a midweek matchup, before heading to Starkville, Miss., for its final SEC series of the year against Mississippi State. UK owns a one-game lead over Western Division leader LSU (17-10) and a half-game lead over South Carolina (17-9). LSU ends the season at South Carolina, starting Thursday at Carolina Stadium. - With the sweep and the 4-0 week, UK extended its winning streak to five games, becoming the first team in the nation to ascend to 40 wins and regained the NCAA lead in wins. The Wildcats have the second-most wins in program history and its 18 SEC wins ranks second-best in UK annals, behind only the 44-win seasons in 2006 and 2008 and the 20-win SEC Championship season in 2006. - UK owns a 16-4 record in one-run games and a 12-8 record in games against top-25 teams. The Wildcats have the ability to win the conference for the second time in program history entering the final weekend, which would also secure a bye for the SEC Tournament. - With the sweep, UK set a new wins record for Cliff Hagan Stadium, finishing 29-5 at home. UK also set a new school record for team saves (18). Men's tennis - Dominated both its first and second round matches in the NCAA Tournament against Radford and Indiana, taking down both opponents by the score of 4-0 to advance to its third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. This is only the second time in school history that UK has advanced to three consecutive Sweet 16s after head coach Dennis Emery led UK to the event from 1987-89. - UK's win over Indiana is its 13th victory in its last 14 matches, and the eighth consecutive win at home. All told, Kentucky ends the season with an impressive 16-1 record at home and a 62-10 posting at Boone since the start of the 2009 season. The victory moves Kentucky's record to 23-5 this season against ranked foes, while UK's 28 wins in 2012 is one off its school record 29 wins set a season ago. - Eric Quigley was impressive in singles and doubles action over the weekend, winning both his doubles matches with Panav Jha and both of his singles matches in straight sets. Junior Anthony Rossi went 1-0 on the week in singles along with sophomores Tom Jomby, Alejandro Gomez and Grant Roberts. Rossi's win against Radford was the match clincher, while Roberts' win against IU was the clinching point. - Kentucky won the doubles point in both matches, moving to 21-0 this season when it wins the doubles point.
Softball - Kentucky earned a bid into the NCAA Tournament for a school-record fourth consecutive year. UK is one of just 27 teams in the country, including seven in the SEC, to achieve the feat. - UK's senior class is the only class in program history to advance to postseason play in each of its four seasons of action. The class has also compiled a school-record 135-94 overall record. - Kentucky dropped its quarterfinal game with No. 11 Georgia in the SEC Tournament on Thursday. Brittany Cervantes homered for the 11th time in UK's last 21 outings to lead the offense as UK rallied from a six-run deficit, but the rally fell short at 6-4. Cervantes along with junior Alice O'Brien both registered a pair of hits. Track and field - Andrew Evans threw a mark of 181-09/55.40m in the men's discus finals at the SEC Championships and took home the men's discus title. It is the fifth-straight men's discus title for Kentucky at the SEC Championships. - Evans led seven different Wildcat men to earn points at the conference meet, with a trio of women scoring points for UK. - Luis Orta charted 12 points combined with a second-place finish in the steeplechase and a fifth-place finish in the 5,000-meter run. - Raymond Dykstra (2nd - Javelin); Walter Luttrell (4th - 10,000-meter run); Matt Hillenbrand (5th - 1,500-meter run) and Jennifer Svoboda (5th - Shot put) rounded out the top-five finishes for the Wildcats, as the men finished in eighth overall and the women in 12th.
Women's golf - The University of Kentucky women's golf team wrapped up its season following a 17th place finish at the Central Regional in Columbus, Ohio, shooting a 75-over-par 939. - Senior Ashlee Rose concluded her career as a Wildcat with a season-best, even-par 72 in the final round on Saturday, finishing in a tie for 50th at 18-over-par 234. In her career, Rose competed in 106 rounds, seventh most in school history. - Kentucky's 304.73 season scoring average breaks a school record previously held by the 2008-09 team that earned a 305.23 scoring average. Upcoming schedule
Tuesday, May 15 Baseball at Murray State - 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, May 17 Baseball at Mississippi State - 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 18 Softball vs. Michigan - 4:30 p.m. (Louisville, Ky.) Baseball at Mississippi State - 8:00 p.m. Men's tennis vs. Stanford - Round of 16 (Athens, Ga.)
Saturday, May 19 Baseball at Mississippi State - 3:00 p.m. Softball at NCAA Regionals (Louisville, Ky.)
Sunday, May 20 Softball at NCAA Regionals (Louisville, Ky.) Men's tennis NCAA Quarterfinals (Athens, Ga.)
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:
Co-Teams of the Week: Men's tennis advances to third straight Sweet 16, Baseball regains SEC lead
This past weekend, two Kentucky teams put themselves in advantageous positions for their postseason hopes.
The men's tennis team entered the weekend as the No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, hosting a Regional on their home turf. The talented group of Wildcats used its home court advantage to blow past both Radford and Indiana in the first and second round, respectively, with 4-0 victories.
While the tennis team was taking care of business across the street at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Center, the baseball team was working on a sweep over Alabama at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Kentucky junior southpaw Taylor Rogers went seven innings of two-run baseball in game one as the Wildcats pulled out 4-2. Sunday's weather forecast forced the hand of each team, eventually causing them to play two on Saturday.
With UK sitting behind both South Carolina and LSU heading into the weekend, Kentucky's sweep of the doubleheader Saturday gave them the slightest lead in the conference heading into next weekend. The Wildcats came back from a 5-1 deficit with a five-run seventh inning in game one on senior day, eventually taking the game 7-6. They then slugged their way to a 7-1 win in the rain that clinched a series sweep over the Crimson Tide.
The sweep over the weekend gives UK the overall lead in the conference and an opportunity to control its own destiny as far as the conference championship and the top seed in the SEC Tournament heading into Starkville, Miss. to face Mississippi State this weekend.
Player of the Week: Quigley sharp in start to NCAA Tournament run
Kentucky men's tennis player Eric Quigley is the third-ranked player in the nation. He showed why this weekend in help leading his team to wins over Radford and Indiana this weekend.
In the first round, Quigley and doubles partner Panav Jha helped earn the all-important doubles point with an 8-5 win. Then Quigley took to singles and, despite some rust from a lengthy layoff, handled an overmatched opponent in Radford's Nick Sayer. It was far from Quigley's best performance, but the 6-2, 6-1 score would suggest he was still rather successful.
In round two, it was more of the same for Quigley and the Wildcats. Quigley and Jha helped grab the doubles point to start the match, 8-3. Then, the third-best player in the country loosened up and dismissed Indiana's top singles player Isade Juneau, 6-1, 6-0. It was a short and sweet victory, and with his teammates taking care of business on surrounding courts, the all-time winningest player in Kentucky tennis history advanced to the Sweet 16.
Game of the Week: Baseball rallies for first of two twinbill wins
The skies were cloudy and Kentucky's chances in game one of Saturday's doubleheader looked grim after falling behind to Alabama 5-1. The big hit eluded Kentucky's bats and UK struggled in the field while Alabama mounted its lead. It was far from the game the Kentucky seniors had hoped for on their Senior Day, at least up until the seventh inning.
Then things got interesting.
The Cats loaded the bags in the bottom of the seventh, trailing 5-1. Cameron Flynn started the chipping away of the Alabama lead with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2. Senior Michael Williams came through with a big single that plated a run. J.T. Riddle laced a two-out, two-RBI double to tie things up at 5. And UK finally regained the lead after Brian Adams grounded to second base, but the second baseman booted it allowing the go-ahead run to score.
After Alabama tied it in the eighth, Williams came through once more with patience rather than his normal aggression, and worked a bases-loaded walk which accounted for the winning run. Trevor Gott, who put out the fire in the eighth inning, worked a scoreless ninth and picked up his third win of the season to help UK take the series win.
Video of the Week - Senior Day highlight package
Picture of the Week - Henderson encourages crowd during Senior Day festivities
Gary Henderson asks the crowd to stand and applaud a senior student manager. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Alumnus of the Week: Sean Woods named head coach at Morehead State
A member of the Unforgettables is getting a chance to create another unforgettable experience for himself. Former Kentucky basketball player Sean Woods is set to become Morehead State's 13th head coach in program history with a press conference set to introduce him on Monday at 2 p.m.
Woods is fifth on the all-time Kentucky career assist list with 482 and perhaps had his biggest game in a Wildcat uniform against Duke in 1992, scoring 21 points in the Regional Final.
Woods comes to Morehead State after four years as head coach at Mississippi Valley State University.
Overall Record: 41-11, 18-9 SEC Record Last Week: 4-0, 3-0 SEC Streak: Won five Recent Results Wednesday, May 9 - won at Indiana - 6-5 (12 innings) Friday, May 11 - won vs. Alabama - 4-2 Saturday, May 12 - won vs. Alabama - 7-6 Saturday, May 12 - won vs. Alabama - 8-1
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Tuesday, May 15 - at Murray State - 7:00 p.m. Thursday, May 17 - at Mississippi State - 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 18 - at Mississippi State - 8:00 p.m. (Fox Sports South) Saturday, May 19 - at Mississippi State - 3:00 p.m. PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE J.T. Riddle 6-3 - So. - 2B - Frankfort, Ky. Week Stats: .444 (8-for-18), 2 2B, 4 RBI, 3 R, 10 total bases, .556 SLG%, SF, 12 PO, 8 A
Notes: Sophomore infielder J.T. Riddle led UK during a four-game week at the plate and in the glove, leading UK to a victory over Indiana and its first sweep over Alabama since 2008 ... Riddle hit .462 (8-for-18) during the week with two doubles, four RBI, 10 total bases and a .556 slugging percentage ... In the midweek win at Indiana, Riddle went 3-for-5 with one double, one RBI, a sacrifice fly and two runs scored ... Riddle batted .385 (5-for-13) during the weekend series vs. Alabama, with one double and three RBI ... Riddle went 2-for-5 in game two of the weekend series, drilling his 11th double of the season and knocking in two RBI ... In the sweep-clinching win over Alabama, Riddle went 3-for-4 to help earn the Wildcats an 8-1 win ... On the year, Riddle has hit .291 (53-for-182) with 11 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 34 RBI.
Notes: Corey Littrell dominated in the second game of UK's doubleheader vs. Alabama on Saturday, striking out seven over 6.2 innings and allowing just one run in the Wildcats' 8-1 win ... Littrell faced 27 batters, surrendering just six hits and striking out seven while only allowing two walks ... Littrell avoided giving up an extra base hit in his lengthy start ... Littrell is a reliable force as Kentucky's Sunday starter, boasting an 8-0 record with a 2.22 ERA, 68 strikeouts to just 20 walks, and only 20 runs allowed in 81 innings pitched from 13 starts ... In conference play, Littrell has a 6-0 record and a 2.37 ERA, with his six SEC wins leading the SEC.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Sam Mahar 6-1 - Fr. - LHP - Kenosha, Wis. Week Stats: 3 appearances, 4.0 IP, .000 ERA, 3 SO, 2 Saves
Notes: Freshman lefthander Sam Mahar made three important appearances in relief for Kentucky, including two on Saturday during the doubleheader wins over Alabama ... In three appearances, Mahar tossed four innings of shutout baseball, striking out three while allowing no walks ... Mahar earned a save in the midweek game against Indiana, coming on in the 12th inning, facing four batters and striking out two to seal the 6-5 win for the Wildcats ... After pitching 0.2 innings in the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, Mahar tallied his second save of the week, throwing 2.1 innings in relief to seal UK starter Corey Littrell's 8-1 win over Alabama ... As a midweek starter and relief pitcher, Mahar has a 3-3 record on the year, claiming a 2.75 ERA with 32 strike outs to only nine walks in 36 innings pitched.
TEAM NOTES After losing its lead in the Southeastern Conference for the first time all season in a series defeat vs. No. 5 Florida, seventh-ranked Kentucky entered the final home weekend of the year needing a series sweep over Alabama to vault back into title contention. UK completed the sweep over the Tide to take over sole possession of first place entering the final weekend.
Kentucky (41-11, 18-9 SEC) concludes the regular-season with a four-game road trip during the week, visiting in-state-opponent Murray State on Tuesday in a midweek matchup, before heading to Starkville, Miss., for its final SEC series of the year against Mississippi State, starting Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET at Dudy Noble Field. UK owns a one-game lead over Western Division leader LSU (17-10) and a half-game lead over South Carolina (17-9). LSU ends the season at South Carolina, starting Thursday at Carolina Stadium.
With the sweep and the 4-0 week, UK extended its winning streak to five games, became the first team in the nation to ascend to 40 wins and regained the NCAA lead in wins. The Wildcats have the second-most wins in program history and its 18 SEC wins ranks second-best in UK annals, behind only the 44-win seasons in 2006 and 2008 and the 20-win SEC Championship season in 2006.
UK owns a 16-4 record in one-run games and a 12-8 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, No. 1 LSU and Alabama. The Wildcats have the ability to win the conference for the second time in program history entering the final weekend, which would also secure a bye for the SEC Tournament, which UK will travel directly to in Hoover, Ala., following the series in Starkville.
With the sweep, UK set a new wins record for Cliff Hagan Stadium, finishing 29-5 at home. UK also set a new school-record for team saves (18).
The Wildcats' offense sits in the top three in the conference in nearly every category, hitting .304 as a team, with a .457 slugging and a .392 on-base percentage, knocking 504 hits, 298 RBI, 99 doubles and 50 homers in 52 games.
Freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino leads UK with a .343 batting average, 18 doubles, nine homers and 38 RBI, stealing 11 bases. Catcher Luke Maile leads the club with 46 RBI, batting .319 with 10 doubles and 11 homers. Outfielder Cameron Flynn has belted nine homers while senior Thomas McCarthy is batting .306 with 16 doubles, five home runs and 29 RBI.
With a late-season surge in Southeastern Conference play, the Kentucky softball team played itself into tournament contention. On Sunday night, the Wildcats' hard work paid off.
UK (29-28) was selected to yet another NCAA Tournament as the Cats will make the short trip down I-64 to play in the Louisville Regional. Their first game will come against Michigan (39-15), a team UK faced earlier this season in a 3-0 loss and defeated last year to advance to the Super Regionals. The other two teams in the regional are No. 15 Louisville (53-3) and Valparaiso (42-17).
Cat Scratches caught up with head coach Rachel Lawson and star senior Brittany Cervantes to talk about the tournament.
Michael Williams had three hits and three RBI during Saturday's Senior Day doubleheader. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With inclement weather in the forecast for Sunday afternoon, the powers that be decided that a doubleheader would be in order for Saturday. The decision would also mean that Kentucky's Senior Day would be pushed ahead a day.
That meant double Senior Day damage for senior catcher/first baseman Michael Williams.
Williams made the most of his opportunities, going 3-for-7 on the day with a double, home run, and three RBI. It was certainly an enjoyable, memorable day for the senior in his final regular-season appearance at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
"I had tons of fun," said Williams. "Definitely tiring, ready to go home and go to bed. But it was a great weekend for us and I'm happy."
A great weekend it was for the Wildcats, and Williams played a huge role most of Saturday's action.
Williams played small ball in Kentucky's comeback victory in game one of the twin bill. He drove in Kentucky's third run of the game while coming around to score the tying run in UK's five-run seventh inning. The burly catcher slid into home, popped up and sparked some energy with spirited a celebration. After UK relinquished the lead in the top of the eighth, Williams worked a bases loaded walk to force in the eventual game-winning RBI.
Austin Cousino, a freshman who has made noise in the SEC all year at Kentucky, added to the seventh inning rally as well. With his single in the seventh, Cousino became the Kentucky record holder for hits by a freshman with 72. While Cousino appreciates the feat, he remains focused on the team goals ahead.
"It's something to tell my kids, that's all it is," said Cousino. "It's good for media, individually it's cool, but more importantly we came out here and got a sweep."
The run support from Cousino, Williams and company helped bail out game one starter Jerad Grundy and the bullpen. Grundy was solid, giving Kentucky five strong innings of one-run baseball before being lifted in the sixth inning. Grundy was hit on his throwing hand on a comeback ground ball to the mound that resulted in a single.
The bullpen allowed Grundy's base runner to score, along with five others over two innings to put Kentucky in a deep 5-1 hole before the Cats played comeback.
After Williams regained the lead for UK in the eight, Trevor Gott made the 7-6 lead stand to record his third win of the season and seal the series victory for the Wildcats. It was a crucial win against the last-place team in the SEC and it gave them a chance to go for the sweep in the second half of the doubleheader.
While Kentucky played small ball in game one, the Wildcats broke out their hitting shoes in game two, with Williams, Cousino and Brian Adams all playing long ball.
Cousino sparked the offense, following the "We don't move" motto of the team and as he took a pitch to the foot. He would later come around to score the game's first run on a double play.
The rarely used Adams made two starts on Saturday. Adams, who plays both football and baseball at Kentucky, had trouble breaking into UK's strong offensive lineup, but he made the most of his at-bats Saturday. Adams gave Kentucky a 2-1 lead in the fourth with a two-out RBI single, the last of three consecutive two-out hits in the inning.
After Williams had tallied the first home run in the game to leadoff the sixth inning, Adams jumped on the home run train himself. In the seventh inning, Adams unloaded on a delivery from Alabama reliever Chazz Otwell and placed the ball on top of the scoreboard in deep left-centerfield to give the Cats a 7-1 lead. It was his first of the year and fourth of his career.
Adams has been a huge addition to the Kentucky clubhouse rooting on his teammates, but he was grateful for his chance to contribute on the field.
"It's been fun to watch on the bench, and I've wanted to get in there," said Adams. "But I've seen some other guys do great, and it's great to see them be successful. And it was great being in there today and have some good timing."
Kentucky starter Corey Littrell was the beneficiary of the hit parade, but as he's done all season, he was pretty strong in his own right. Littrell hurled 6.2 innings of one-run ball on his way to his eighth win of the season without dropping a decision. His eight wins are the most wins without a loss in UK history.
Cousino capped off the day with a solo blast in the eighth, his ninth on the year. He was certainly happy to see the ball leave the yard, but he was more excited to send his seniors off with two big wins.
"It's great. I'm close with Thomas (McCarthy), Alex (Phillips) and Michael (Williams). "I think it's good for them. They came out here, Michael had a home run, Thomas had some big hits, and that's just great on a day they're being recognized to come out here and play well."
Phillips struggled in his relief appearance in game one, but has been great all season for this Kentucky squad. And McCarthy did have some key hits in prolonging Kentucky's rallies in game one. He finished 4-for-9 with an RBI on the day.
Kentucky will finish off the regular season with a non-conference game with Murray State Tuesday before heading to Starkville, Miss. to face Mississippi State with an opportunity to gain ground in the SEC. With most SEC series wrapping up Sunday, Kentucky will be no worse than one game out of first place heading into next weekend. The two teams also battling for first place, South Carolina and Louisiana State, face off next weekend.
Many dominoes could fall between Saturday night and next week, but Kentucky is excited about the position they've put themselves in heading into the final weekend of SEC play.
"That's a good place to be," said Henderson referring to UK controlling its own destiny. "We're really happy to be in that position, and there will be plenty of a challenge down in Starkville. Their Friday night guy is as good as there is in the league, and that will be a good challenge for us. I'm just really happy our kids have come through to put us in a position to say that."
Eric Quigley, with wins in singles and doubles, helped lead UK to a 4-0 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With his team's NCAA Tournament life on the line against Indiana, the last place Dennis Emery wanted Eric Quigley was on the sidelines.
Or so he thought.
Kentucky's all-time wins leader spent more time as a cheerleader than on the court, posting singles and doubles victories well before any of his teammates finished their own matches. After prevailing 8-3 alongside partner Panav Jha in doubles, he breezed through a never-in-doubt singles match, 6-1, 6-0, a score that somehow didn't even do his performance justice.
Quigley wasted no time moving to support his teammates, and he was greeted by a sight he could hardly believe.
"I walked off the court and I saw Anthony Rossi on court three was like two-all, two-one and I was like, 'That can't be right,' Quigley said. "But it was."
With Quigley anchoring the lineup, the No. 6 Wildcats (27-5) dispatched the visiting Hoosiers to advance to their third Sweet 16 in a row, an achievement not lost on anyone involved.
"He played fantastic in singles and doubles and I think it's a real credit for him," Emery said. "It's a huge match for us. This is the third straight year we've gone to the Sweet 16. They understand all that that means."
With each successive match potentially being the last of Quigley's decorated career, it would be understandable if he placed an inordinate amount of pressure on himself to play well. Instead, he summarily dismissed Isade Juneau, continuing his steak of singles matches without a loss that dates to March 19.
"You have a tendency to maybe think he's going to play a little tight," Emery said. "Just the opposite. He really turned it loose. Maybe not necessarily a great matchup for him at (court) one, but he really took care of business."
Afterwards Quigley, currently ranked third nationally as a singles player, confirmed what everyone who watched him play on Saturday already knew: that he played very well, even by his lofty standards.
"I'm pretty pleased with how I played in singles and doubles today," Quigley said. "It was a quick match, but there's just some days you feel like you can't do anything wrong. I feel like today is one of those days."
In two NCAA Tournament singles matches thus far, Quigley is yet to lose a set, dropping just four games in the process. That comes in stark contrast to last year's tournament run, when UK advanced to the Elite Eight in spite of Quigley losing three times in four singles matches.
Clearly, Quigley has improved his game since then, but he credits reaching a new level of play to his teammates as much anything else. With a deeper lineup and improvement in doubles, Quigley doesn't go into his matches thinking winning or losing will come down to how he fares.
"I really had a good season and it's also really good knowing we're so deep this year one through six," Quigley said. "It really doesn't matter if I win or lose, we can get four other points for sure. I think that's taken a lot off my shoulders this year."
Between the way Quigley and the rest of the Cats are playing, their goals are certainly within reach.
"We're not done," Quigley said. "We really want to keep going and improve on what we did last year and we don't want to end anytime soon. Our goal is to win it all, so anything less, we'll kind of be a little disappointed."
Even so, there are plenty of talented teams and players that could put a premature end to Quigley's career, but the fact that UK is now in position to contend on an annual basis will remain no matter what. Quigley has had a lot to do with that.
"There's almost no way you can describe what he's done for our program. I think he took it from, you know, we had a good culture, but now we have a championship culture."
Check out the pregame highlight video put together by the UK sports video department for senior day festivities at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Saturday. The video honors seniors Thomas McCarthy, Alex Phillips and Michael Williams.
Taylor Rogers pitched a season-high seven innings en route his sixth win of the season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Trailing by a game in the standings with just two weeks left in Southeastern Conference, wins are a precious for Kentucky. Facing Alabama - a team that had won seven times in 24 conference games - for a three-game set in the comforts of Cliff Hagan Stadium, the UK had an opportunity to gain some ground.
Behind starter Taylor Rogers, the Wildcats showed no intention of letting it go by.
Rogers worked around a single lackluster inning to post his third quality start in four outings and the UK offense had its best output in SEC play in two weeks en route to a series-opening 4-2 victory over the visiting Crimson Tide. Without question, Rogers set the tone for the rest of the series, which will wrap up on Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m.
"It's something that I like to do: Come out each weekend and set the tone for us and let the other team know that's what we're here to do," Rogers said.
Since a start at Arkansas in which he made it through just four innings, Rogers has put together his best four-start stretch of his junior season. With his emergence, he has lowered his ERA from 5.07 to 4.60, looking the part of a Friday night starter.
"He did phenomenal," McCarthy said. "He's been having really good starts for us and we knew he was going to go out and do his thing. He kept throwing up zeroes and our offense felt good knowing that Taylor was going to go out and do his job."
It wasn't always smooth sailing for Rogers though. He allowed the first two batters he faced to reach in the first, before coaxing a pop up and a double play ball to escape. However, he would not make it out of the third unscathed.
After Thomas McCarthy snapped an 0-for-17 slump with a two-out, two-RBI double to give UK a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second, four of the first five Alabama batters reached to open the third before Austen Smith's sacrifice fly chased home the second run of the inning to retie the score. Rogers would strike out the next batter to end the frame, his fourth through the first three innings.
From there, Rogers didn't record a single additional punch out, but he didn't need to. After allowing six batters to reach through the first three innings, he allowed just two hits over his final four innings of work and faced the minimum three times, protecting the second two-run lead his offense gave him with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third.
"I think as it went on, the command got better. It was just more of a mindset than anything," Rogers said. "The beginning of the game, I didn't have much body control and not much of a plan. I think moving forward in the game, it got better."
"I just thought that he was confident," head coach Gary Henderson said. "Every time that he left the ball up or was soft in the release, that he made the release on the next pitch. You didn't see him lose maybe three or four in a row like you had maybe earlier in the year or earlier in his career."
Rogers would exit after seven innings having allowed two runs on seven hits and just one walk, and Alex Phillips came on in his place. He would pick up right where Rogers left off. The left-handed senior needed just 18 pitches to record the game's final six outs, the last three of which came on strikeouts. He picked up his sixth save of the season and Kentucky's 17th as a team to tie a school record set in 1993.
"(It was) kind of an outing that we've come to expect out of him," Henderson said.
Not only did Rogers and Phillips protect the lead their offense gave them, they also protected the momentum the Cats have built in since their only four-game losing streak of the season. It started last Saturday, when Corey Littrell turned in eight dazzling innings against Florida to pitch UK to a 2-1 win.
"We were scuffling a little bit at the time but it's a long season, that's part of baseball. That was a big win for us," McCarthy said of the Florida finale. "It was a statement going into these last few weekends to get that win."
Since, UK has won two more in a row to run its winning streak to three games.
Even so, the Cats don't feel their performing at full capacity. They left eight runners on base and missed out on a handful of opportunities to add to the lead. Henderson, whose Wildcats lead the SEC most offensive categories, doesn't think it will take much for his club to heat back up.
"There's still lots of season left and all it takes is one or two of those guys to get hot and next thing you know, three or four of them are and we're right back to where we want to be," Henderson said. Final two games of series to played on Saturday
Due to the threat of inclement weather on Sunday, the final two games of UK-Alabama will be played as a doubleheader on Saturday. Former UK star and current Washington Nationals farmhand Alex Meyer will throw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of Senior Day festivities, which will take place before the 2 p.m. opener. The Wildcats' approach will not change.
"It'll be just the same," Henderson said. "We've had more this year than any other year since I've been here, so we'll just go at it the same."
Senior Eric Quigley led UK to a 4-0 victory over Radford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The sixth-ranked Kentucky men's tennis opened the NCAA Tournament with an impressive 4-0 sweep over Radford Friday afternoon. But even as heavy favorites, head coach Dennis Emery felt the match left something to be desired.
"You know, I think we really have to pick it up tomorrow," said Emery, "if we're going to be the team in the postseason that we want to be. We've been the team that we wanted to be all year, but we didn't quite see that intensity today. That's a concern."
It could have been the fact that UK was the top team in the regional facing a less talented Radford team, or it could have been because Kentucky had not competed in nearly three weeks. But in order for the Wildcats to be that team they have been and get where they want to go, it's imperative that Emery's bunch tighten the screws heading into Saturday's match against Indiana.
The Hoosiers took care of the Louisville Cardinals in their first-round meeting, 4-2. They will take their chances against the host Wildcats, a familiar opponent that they faced early this season. Kentucky took the initial matchup 7-0, but in the indoor part of the complex in a match that was closer than the score indicates.
Emery said he plans to look back to their earlier meeting for scouting purposes, but that many things have changed since then.
"We played Indiana earlier. It's a completely different match," said Emery. "The thing about those early-season matchups are that you play them indoors, so you're playing on, now, different surfaces. And most of the time you have completely different matchups than in February. So, even though you win early on, there's certainly no guarantees later in the year."
Kentucky was carried by their SEC Player of the Year, Eric Quigley. Quigley and doubles teammate Panav Jha started things off with a win in doubles to help give UK the doubles point. The No. 3 player in the nation then breezed through his singles opponent Nick Sayer in straight sets (6-2, 6-1).
The Wildcats also picked up an 8-3 win from the doubles duo Tom Jomby and Alejandro Gomez. Anthony Rossi (6-2, 6-0) and Gomez (6-2, 6-1) also notched wins after Quigley completed his match to finish off the 4-0 sweep.
Despite the lack of team intensity, Quigley was proud of the way his team fought and took care of business in the first round despite a large break between matches.
"I wanted to get out to a good start knowing it's been a couple weeks since we played," said Quigley. "I thought both teams would a little rusty, not at the top of their game knowing there's been a big break. But I'm pretty pleased with the way I played, and overall I think we're pretty happy to get through and get on against Indiana."
Like Emery, Quigley also sensed a bit of a lack of team enthusiasm overall. After getting the first one under their belt, however, Quigley thinks they will get back to being that energetic bunch the Cats have been all year.
"I think we all do a good job when we're very vocal and loud and help each other out," said Quigley. "I think we could have done a better job of that today, but I think we'll do that pretty well tomorrow."
Regardless of how Kentucky played or carried themselves on the court Friday, Emery was pleased that they still managed to take care of business in a swift manner. That certainly bodes well for Kentucky, as the host team, who is forced by rule to play the second match of the day Friday. That extra rest accrued by making quick work of Radford could be the key to a victory over the Hoosiers Saturday at 2 p.m.
"It's certainly important," Emery said of putting Radford away early. "It's still kind of hot. It's not break-your-back hot or cramping hot, but it's hot. So you want to get out and get the notch under your belt and get off and get rested."
An average of 23,721 fans attended UK games in Rupp Arena this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky was the favorite for the national championship and did not disappoint, winning the school's eighth title. UK was an even heavier favorite for the national attendance crown and the Big Blue Nation did not disappoint either.
For the seventh straight season and 16th time in 17 years, UK led the nation in average home attendance, the NCAA announced on Thursday. Fans packed Rupp Arena to the tune of 23,721 per game, well over Rupp's capacity of 23,000. Kentucky was actually third in the nation in total attendance at 426,978, but played one fewer home game than first-place Syracuse and second-place Louisville.
UK also made NCAA history by breaking the all-time all-game attendance record held by Syracuse since 1989. For Kentucky's 40 home, road and neutral games, 885,953 were in attendance (22,148 per game), eclipsing the previous record 855,053 by over 30,000.
Between the championship, Anthony Davis' stellar season and fans coming out in droves to watch, it certainly was an historic year.
From UK Athletics, thank you to all the fans who came out and supported the Cats.
Cat Scratches caught up with head coach Dennis Emery and all-time singles wins leader Eric Quigley on the eve of men's tennis' run in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will play host to the Radford Highlanders at the Boone Tennis Complex on Friday at 3 p.m. as they look to begin their run toward what they hope will be the first Final Four in school history.
Emery and Quigley talked about the tournament, the weeks off preceding it, the advantage of hosting and Quigley's legacy in the two videos below. Stay tuned this weekend of coverage.
Somewhat improbably, Kentucky had gone 48 outings in 2012 without giving fans any free baseball. The Wildcats had played 18 one-run ballgames and even more back-and-forth affairs, but not once did they go to extra innings.
At least until a trip to Bloomington, Ind., to face the Hoosiers.
There, with sunset approaching in a stadium with no lights, UK came out on top in its first such game this season in a bizarre 6-5 victory that took 12 innings and balk to score the winning run.
"Anytime you go extra innings and get a win, you feel like you've done something," head coach Gary Henderson said. "To go 12 (innings) and get a win was great."
Freshman A.J. Reed has a 3.00 ERA and a 4-1 record over 36 innings. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
The Cats (38-11, 15-9 Southeastern Conference) will now go about the business of trying to convert whatever momentum they gained from the win, their second in a row since losing a season-high four straight, into crucial conference victories as the season's final stretch approaches.
The first chance they'll have to do so will come against Alabama (18-30, 7-17 SEC) as UK plays host to the Crimson Tide for a three-game set beginning on Friday at 7 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Taylor Rogers (5-3, 4,81 ERA) will get the ball coming off his best three-start stretch of the season, and will be opposed by dynamic freshman Spencer Turnbull (2-4, 4.56 ERA), who recently tossed seven no-hit innings against first-place South Carolina before having his outing cut short due to inclement weather.
The two starters will certainly make their marks on the game, but Rogers has lasted more than six innings just twice in 12 starts, Turnbull once in eight starts. The fact that the bullpens could loom large bodes well for the Cats, as UK relievers have been solid all season, and even better in the win at Indiana.
Pitching 10 innings in relief of Chandler Shepherd, six relievers combined to allow just one earned run on 12 hits. They struck out 13 Hoosiers and walked just one, and that was intentional, "which doesn't count," according to Henderson.
The only of UK's bullpen arms to toss more than 2.1 innings was freshman A.J. Reed, who turned in one of the best performances of his short career. He allowed one unearned run on four hits over 5.1 innings, striking out six. It was also his sixth consecutive appearance without a walk, a stretch than spans 13.1 innings.
"He was throwing the ball with some aggression and he was throwing it at the knees for the most part," Henderson said. "He did a great job. I think it was 40 strikes out of 54 fastballs, very good. He was ahead in the count, he was on the attack."
Though he has scuffled of late at the plate, Reed has been a key cog in the UK lineup from his first collegiate game. Getting his bat back on track would certainly be a boost, but the Wildcats have enough offensive threats to compensate if he doesn't. However, Reed's abilities as a pitcher could make him indispensable down the stretch. Outings like the one he turned in against IU are exactly what Henderson is looking for as he tries to identify how he will navigate his pitching staff through the rigors of the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
"He's got it in him, there's no question about that," Henderson said. "To be able to see that (Wednesday) was great."
As an instructor, Henderson was also elated by the timing of Reed's excellent game. On the day before the trip to Indiana, Henderson raved about how Reed had thrown "exceptionally well in the bullpen (Monday), in fact as good as he's ever thrown." Of course, he would turn around and do the same when it counted two days later, a non-coincidental occurrence Reed can be sure he'll be reminded of by his coach.
"He's probably going to hear that, there's no doubt about that, how you can back up a good practice session with a good outing, a good game," Henderson said. "He's really talented. We need to continue to have him move forward."
Before Henderson can really begin thinking about Reed's postseason prospects, the Wildcats will be looking to close out a record-setting regular season strong. Six games remain in conference play, and even though UK hit an inevitable rut in the SEC, the team remains just a game back of South Carolina and LSU in the standings. The final push begins this weekend, on Friday evening more specifically.
"I think you have to let the kids know we haven't lost the ability to accomplish any of our goals," Henderson said. "They're all there. The most important thing is getting Friday night's ballgame so you put yourself in a position to win a series."
Assistant coach Orlando Antigua has played a key role in UK reaching back-to-back Final Fours. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
We already knew John Calipari's coaching staff of John Robic, Kenny Payne and Orlando Antigua was among the nation's best, but ESPN provided a little more proof on Thursday.
ESPN's College Basketball Nation Blog is doing a series of top 10 lists on Thursday's during this offseason, and the category tackled today was top assistants in the game under the age of 40. The list, while admittedly not a definitive one, features assistants "who have put themselves in a position to earn head coaching jobs in the future."
Antigua, who just signed a new contract with UK along with the rest of Coach Cal's staff, came in at No. 1 on the list. Here's what Myron Medcalf said about the coach who just finished his third season in Lexington:
1. Orlando Antigua (Kentucky): The former Pitt standout helped John Calipari sign another top-ranked recruiting class. But he's also assisted Calipari in developing the young prodigies who have come to Lexington. After Kentucky won the national title in April, he was a candidate for multiple jobs, including Duquesne. And it's just a matter of time before he's leading his own show. He turns 40 next year.
Forty-eight current or former Kentucky student-athletes completed their University of Kentucky degrees this spring and they received their diplomas at graduation on Sunday, May 6. The graduates came from 17 different teams, with football leading the way with 11 graduates.
The men's soccer team had five members earn their degrees, while women's soccer and women's swimming and diving each had four.
Spring graduation is the latest milestone in a strong academic year for UK Athletics. Ninety Wildcats have already been named to either the Southeastern Conference Honor Roll with the list for spring sports yet to be announced. During the fall semester, UK's scholarship student-athletes had an average grade-point average of 2.979, just shy of the department-wide goal of 3.0 set by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.
See below for a complete list of the 48 graduates by sport:
Football Nik Brazley Mark Crawford Jacob Lewellen Luke McDermott Billy Joe Murphy Cartier Rice Matt Roark Jon Thomas Ryan Tydlacka Collins Ukwu Dave Ulinski
Gymnastics Jasmine Minion (completed eligibility last year) Andrea Mitchell (completed eligibility last year) Colleen Williams (completed eligibility last year)
Last August, former Kentucky golfer and current professional J.B. Holmes had to withdraw from the PGA Championship. He was tested and diagnosed with a condition called Chiari malformation (CM), or structural defects in the cerebellum.
He underwent two surgeries in a month, the first removing a part of his skull and the second addressing an allergy to an adhesive used in the first. Since then, Holmes has recovered and returned to the PGA Tour in January.
This week, he is participating in the Players' Championship and is the story of the tournament even before teeing off in a competitive round. On Wednesday, Holmes met the Wendorff family, which has three children with CM. He hosted the three boys with the condition and their parents on the final practice day to show them a good time and that living a normal life with CM is possible.
Zachary and Skyler were later diagnosed with CM. Zachary has had a surgical procedure to treat the condition. Skyler is asymptomatic.
"They're kind of looking for somebody to look up to," Dan said.
Holmes is 5-foot-11, but that's tall enough. He treated Skyler, Brayden, Zachary and Cami (the 4-year-old sister has no signs of CM) like golf royalty. They walked the fairways with Holmes and even took turns taking some practice putts.
"It was awesome," Dan said. "It was awesome. I was glad to see that they could meet with somebody, an adult that's doing well and doing what he loves -- [despite] the misfortune of having the Chiari malformation."
Holmes got something out of it, too. His smile was just as big as the kids'.
And not that he needs another lesson in perspective, but Wednesday's meeting was a nice reminder of what matters.
"At the time, you think [bogeys are] the end of the world," said Holmes, whose neck muscles are still recovering from the surgeries. "And they really don't mean anything."
Following UK Athletics, it's easy to get wrapped up in wins and losses, but every once in a while, you read something that puts sports back into perspective.
Jen Smith's story about former men's tennis player and current volunteer assistant coach Matt Emery is one of those, but it does so in a different way. Most such stories serve as a reminder of the insignificance of sports, but this one shows how powerful they can be.
Emery, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer last year, returned to his alma mater with his wife, Sara, to get treatment at the Markey Cancer Center and coach under his father, Dennis. The two Emery's have helped lead UK to an historical season while Matt has battled his disease:
One thing that helps keep Matt going, helps sustain his smile, is seeing the success that Kentucky is having in men's tennis.
Dennis, the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year, is having his best season in the 30 years he's coached at UK.
His team is No. 6 in the nation and went 11-0 for the first time in school history in SEC regular-season play.
"I'm just so happy for him," Matt said of his father. "It's really cool to see him have this success. He deserves it so much."
It hasn't been the easiest of years for Dennis or his wife, Brenda. While one son battles cancer, another son, Andrew, is overseas as a Marine (special operations) in Afghanistan. Andrew left for his second tour in January.
When asked if this season's success was somehow lessened because of the stressful things happening to those he loves most, Dennis quickly shakes his head side to side.
"It hasn't been bittersweet," Dennis said with a smile that looks a lot like his son's. "It's been really, really sweet."
Kentucky earned an at-large bid into this year's NCAA Tournament and will host the first two rounds starting Friday at the Boone Tennis Center.
Matt will be courtside with his father and assistant coach Cedric Kauffmann trying to help UK advance.
As a volunteer assistant coach, Matt has been invaluable, Dennis said.
"He's really good on the court and during the matches," Dennis said. "He's very perceptive. He played at this level. He played here in the SEC. He's young enough to understand the emotions of what's going on."
UK will open play in the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 3 p.m., but more importantly, Matt's prognosis for a full recovery is good.
Rachel Riley will play in the final SEC Tournament of her college career beginning on Thursday vs. Georgia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Three years ago, the Kentucky softball team was preparing to take on the top-ranked Florida Gators and make its very first national television appearance at the UK Softball Complex. The anticipation and excitement built as the Wildcats looked to show the world what UK softball was all about.
But they would have to wait a little bit longer.
As weather sometimes does, a rain delay pushed back the first pitch. To pass the time and maintain the excitement and momentum, the UK team took to the locker room to listen to music, sing, dance, and stay loose in any way that they could.
But not a young freshman, the starting pitcher for that night's game who had not pitched in approximately a month. In preparing for her biggest pitching appearance of her rookie campaign up until that point, Rachel Riley could be found sitting in the corner. By herself. Reading a book.
"I remember I walked out of the locker room," said Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson after she had gone to check on her team, "and (assistant) Coach (Kristine) Himes was like, 'How's she doing?' And I'm like, 'She's fine. She's reading.' And she was like what do you mean she's reading? 'She's reading Gone with the Wind, she's good.' "
And Riley has indeed been good. In fact, the two-time team captain has been the "rock" for this team as long as Lawson can remember. The highs are never too high. The lows are never too low. And she's clearly left her mark on this team while making quite an impression on her collegiate head coach.
"I would vote for Riley for President of the United States," said Lawson.
There's an obvious connection and mutual affection that Lawson and Riley share. Their history together at Kentucky goes all the way back to Riley's recruitment, before either of them even thought about being at the University of Kentucky.
Riley, a Bowling Green, Ky., native, had committed to play softball for Lawson at Western Kentucky University, right in Riley's backyard. But before Riley could suit up for the hometown Hilltoppers, Lawson was hired at the University of Kentucky.
Lawson couldn't leave her behind, and Riley certainly wanted to follow. She wanted to play for Lawson all along. It was not about to end before it even started.
"I honestly can't imagine playing for anybody else," said Riley. "She's been great. She's been great as far as working with my academics, my class schedule. She's been great with my pitching. She envelops me and I can't say enough good things about her."
Riley prefers to stay out of the headlines and the media. That's not what she's about. She's hesitant to talk about herself during interviews and does her best to remain stoic when talking about her teammates. She only concerns herself with winning and serving her team. She is quite content with her fellow seniors Brittany Cervantes and Chanda Bell getting much of the attention. But as far as Lawson is concerned, without Riley, there is no Cervantes or Bell.
"Chanda and Brittany, they're such dynamic players," said Lawson, "I think that's phenomenal that they get so much press because it's well-earned. But all three of them need each other. When Chanda's playing a tough team, she's getting all her strikeouts, well the next game we're coming with the drop-ball pitcher, which is the opposite of her."
As far as Cervantes goes, she and Riley aren't just teammates, they are roommates and best friends. During their four inseparable years together, Riley's calm and quiet confidence have surely rubbed off.
"That's kind of a combination if you know them," said Lawson, "But then once you do get to know them, they put the team first always. And I think Rachel keeps Brittany steady, which is her biggest thing. (Brittany's) such a dynamic player, and she's as hard on herself as she is on anybody. And I think Rachel, just that kind of cool, calm confidence that Rachel has rubbed off on Brittany, and Brittany has become a steady player now, as well."
When talking to Lawson, she uses that word "steady" often to describe her senior captain. It has been a less than ideal season for Riley in her senior season, but once again, she's been steady. For her career, the two-way player is 39-29 with a 2.75 ERA. This season, Riley owns an 8-7 record in the circle with a 3.25 ERA, and in the batter's box, she's batting .260 with 7 home runs and 30 RBI in the middle of the Wildcat batting order.
But "steady" isn't always good enough for Riley. And for this team, this season has been anything but. Last season, Kentucky reached all kinds of program highs, including hosting their very first Super Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Riley had better numbers, posting a 13-5 record and a 2.56 ERA as well as a .354 batting average. So the level-headed captain has certainly had her patience tested with the struggles they've endured this year.
"It was definitely more difficult," said Riley about the team's early season struggles. "I really don't like to lose, and so, having to get through this season, it was a struggle. But it's made us stronger, and we know that we have something to play for and we're trying to get into tournament and make a good run like we did last year. I think we just need to keep looking forward"
While the team looks forward to their first round game against fourth-seeded Georgia in the SEC Tournament on Thursday, it's been Kentucky's ability to focus on the present and the task at hand that puts them in the position they are in. Kentucky, regardless of the outcome of Thursday's game with Georgia, will be eligible for an NCAA Tournament bid thanks to what the Cats have accomplished over the previous two weekends.
After suffering a sweep at the hands of Mississippi State, Kentucky's hopes of making their fourth straight SEC Tournament and fourth straight NCAA Tournament were looking slim. But Kentucky went to Florida, a top-five team nationally, and promptly won two of three from the Gators. Then the Wildcats came home needing another series victory over Louisiana State to keep their hopes alive for an NCAA Tournament berth.
A night after a thrilling walk-off win over the Tigers in game one of the series, Riley took to the circle for her final appearance as a pitcher at home. As a senior leader is expected to do, she came through in a huge way, more than steady but victorious, tossing 6.1 innings of one-run ball to help capture the series. Kentucky would go on to record a series sweep, the first over LSU in program history.
Both weekends provided critical moments and victories to help improve their chances of earning a bid.
"They've been very crucial," said Riley. "To make it into the tournament we knew kind of put ourselves in a hole they we were going to have to have a good showing against Florida and LSU, which are really tough teams. It was crucial for us to get the wins we did, but we're still not guaranteed a spot, unless we win the tournament. It's really important that we continue this streak that we've got going."
So Kentucky heads to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for the SEC Tournament and a chance to improve its NCAA Tournament resume. It also gives Riley an opportunity to perform in front of her family for the first time ever at The John and Ann Rhoads Softball Stadium.
Riley's family has followed her throughout her career, both at home and on the road, but the only place that they had yet to travel to was Tuscaloosa. UK was scheduled to play there last season, but tornadoes ravaged the city and the series was cancelled, as was the trip.
The SEC Tournament also takes Riley back the place where she first made her mark as a freshman. The freshman from Bowling Green became the first Kentucky pitcher to win a game in postseason play in program history. She owns a 1-2 record in the tournament, but has posted a dominant 1.15 ERA.
In her very last go around in the event that put her forever in the UK softball record books, Riley isn't worried about this being her last time playing in the tournament. In fact, she doesn't approach these games any differently at all.
"I try not to think about that, to be honest, because I don't want any emotions to be involved," said Riley. "I try to come out the same way I do every game and do the best that I can, and hopefully that's enough to win."
Riley plays it cool when it comes to big games; in fact she often takes her game to another level. She may not always be found reading great American literature before every pressure-filled start, but she finds way to take the edge off. Somehow, when the intensity builds, Riley is not rattled when the situation indicates she should be.
"Every time she's under pressure, her game is on a new level," said Lawson. "Her drop ball drops off the table. And she just has such a focus about her. She's relentless. Things usually go the way that she wants them to because she wills them to happen.
"I think she has another gear that makes her special. It's not something you can teach. It's not something that you can coach. She's just a competitive person, and her ability to focus in on what she wants and to not let outside distractions get in the way is truly remarkable."
The Wildcats are on an incredible streak and are as hot as they've been all season. National pundits are talking about UK as a team to avoid in postseason play. Riley and her fellow seniors have an incredible opportunity to go out with a bang and make yet another run deep into the NCAA Tournament if they continue to hit on all cylinders.
But eventually the season will end. Kentucky will either not be selected for the NCAA Tournament, they will make it and be eliminated, or it will shock the world and win the College World Series. One way or another, it will come to an end, and Riley will play her last game with "Kentucky" across her chest.
However, thanks to the leadership, her numerous contributions on and off the field, and the legacy left by Rachel Riley, the Kentucky softball program is set up to succeed and find themselves with great opportunities for the future. It has become a place where players want to be. And "the rock" of this team for the last four years has become a cornerstone for Kentucky softball for years to come. Even when she's gone with the wind.
"What she might not have in terms of size and speed, she makes up with in intangibles," said Lawson. "She just has tremendous heart. She's such a winner. She's just the perfect person to help build this program around."
Back in November, UK Hoops unofficially opened what would be a Southeastern Conference championship season in an exhibition win over Coker College. During the game, fans in Memorial Coliseum welcomed back a former letter winner in Jenny Pfeiffer Finora. Pfeiffer Finora (2003-04, 2006-07) was a team captain during her time as a Wildcat and ranks as the school's all-time leader in free-throw percentage and is third in 3-point field goals made.
When Coker visited, we learned a little bit about how Pfeiffer Finora is trying to build a program at the small South Carolina school. She is doing so alongside Vic Finora, her husband, whom she met while she was a player at UK and he a graduate assistant for the men's basketball team.
Coker College has written a story further exploring the work of the two UK alumni. Here's an excerpt:
The Finoras bring a unique aspect to the world of coaching. Jenny is the head coach and Vic serves as her assistant. They share this rare combination in women's basketball with only six other colleges in the country.
Jenny is originally from North Vernon, Ind., while Vic hails from St. Catherines, Ontario, just outside Niagara Falls. The two met while at the University of Kentucky, where Jenny was a four-year player and Vic a graduate assistant for the men's basketball team. They were married in 2008.
After Kentucky, the two floated across the globe to coaching stops in Alabama before spending the past year in Iceland. They each enjoyed what they were doing - Vic was coaching a men's team while Jenny was coaching and playing professionally - but a recurring theme continued to emerge wherever they went - they were apart more than together. That meant it was time to find something new.
The clock is ticking down on this year in UK Athletics.
Baseball is the only team still in regular season play, while men's tennis, softball, track and field, women's golf and men's golf are all preparing for postseason play. You can find more information on each one at the individual sport pages, but I figured I would compiled and summarize information on how to follow all of your Wildcat teams in the postseason. Men's tennis - Hosting NCAA Tournament beginning Friday
For the fourth consecutive season, UK was chosen to host first and second round matches. Kentucky, the No. 6 overall seed in the tournament, will open their NCAA run against No. 75 Radford (20-5) 3 p.m. Friday at the Boone Tennis Complex. Should the Cats win, they will advance to meet the victor between Indiana (21-8) and Louisville (18-9), a match that will be played on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Boone Tennis Complex.
Tickets are still available and you can visit Tourney Central http://www.ukathletics.com/ncaatennis/ for more information. For those unable to attend, there are plenty of ways to keep up with the action:
If UK advances past the second round, it will travel to Athens, Ga., for the Sweet 16.
Softball - Opens SEC Tournament on Thursday
With a late-season surge, UK earned the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament and the right to face fourth-seeded Georgia at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. All tournament games will be carried live on the ESPN family of networks with UK's first round game on ESPNU and ESPN3.
Just a couple weeks ago, it appeared the SEC Tournament may be UK's last chance to qualify for NCAAs, but the Wildcats are now two games over .500 and likely to reach the NCAA Tournament even with a first-round loss in the SEC. Stay tuned to the blog this evening, because we will have a feature on senior Rachel Riley to preview the tournament.
Track and field - Preparing for SEC Championships
The track and field team is already in Baton Rouge, La., where the Wildcats will participate in the SEC Outdoor Championships. The event begins on Thursday and lasts through Sunday. Metz Camfield is traveling with the team and will have updates on UKathletics.com. Also, follow @KentuckyTrack on Twitter as the Cats look to improve on an eighth-place finish at SEC Indoors.
Women's golf - NCAA bound
Last week, the women's golf team learned its NCAA Tournament path, and the Wildcats will be heading to Columbus, Ohio for the Central Regional of the NCAA Women's Golf Championship, which begins on Thursday and lasts through Saturday. The Cats will be part of a 24-team field that includes six other SEC teams as they look to finish a strong 2012 during which they've bested the school record for team scoring average by nearly two strokes.
Men's golf - Awaiting NCAA fate
The Wildcats, after a seventh-place finish in the SEC Championships, are hoping to earn their first NCAA Regional berth since 2009. If UK does hear its name called, Regionals will take place May 17-19.
Regardless of what happens in Thursday's quarterfinal against fourth-seeded Georgia, the fifth-seeded Wildcats are eligible for the NCAA tournament and will enter that event with a winning record. That's quite a feat considering that after three one-run losses in a row against Mississippi State, they went to bed on April 22 with a 23-26 record and just seven games to play, including three at Florida and three at home against LSU, teams comfortably ahead of them at that time. After a win out of conference against Morehead State, they took two of three from the Gators in Gainesville, accounting for half of Florida's home losses for the season, and then swept LSU, capped by senior Chanda Bell's no-hitter.
UK senior pitcher Chanda Bell pitched a no-hitter Sunday, helping the Cats finish off a three-game weekend sweep over the No. 22 LSU Tigers.
"Oh my goodness," Bell said when asked about her emotion following the final out, which was a strikeout to secure the no-hitter, the UK 1-0 win and the series sweep. This was Bell's fourth career no-hitter.
Santos played for Mitchell at Florida when Mitchell was an assistant with the Gators. She spent the past two seasons at Illinois State.
"Danielle is a versatile coach with many talents, but it's her high character that stands out and makes her immediately valuable to our program," Mitchell said in a news release. "Communication and strong relationships are absolutely essential in our program. Danielle is an excellent communicator and a strong builder of relationships."
As a junior at UK in 2011, Meyer, a 6-foot-9 right-hander, led the Southeastern Conference in strikeouts with 110.
Meyer is 2-3 with a 4.28 ERA for the Suns. He has 33 strikeouts and 12 walks in 271⁄3 innings. He pitched seven innings, gave up one run four hits and had six strikeouts in his most recent outing, a win against Augusta.
Former Henry Clay High School and UK outfielder Collin Cowgill was 2-5 with one home run, one RBI and two runs scored for AAA Sacramento. The performance extended Cowgill's current hitting streak to 10 games.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, May 6:
Softball: Chanda Bell
After having simply one of the best weekends of her career in leading the Wildcats to a series win at No. 2 Florida a week ago, senior Chanda Bell went and topped that performance by leading UK to a sweep of No. 22 LSU to become NCAA Tournament eligible and clinch the No. 5 seed at the SEC Tournament. The right-hander played a part in the circle in all three victories for UK. In the opening game of the series, she worked a complete-game eight-inning win, yielding four hits and striking out 10. It was the second consecutive game against a top-25 opponent she struck out 10 or more batters in the win. In the series-clincher, she was brought into the game in relief in the top of the seventh with runners on first and second and UK clinging to a one-run lead with one out. She promptly recorded outs against the only two batters she faced to earn her third save of the season and a UK-record breaking fifth of her career. She then saved her best performance for last. On Senior Day no less, Bell tossed a no-hitter to clinch a sweep of the Tigers. She worked all seven innings, striking out six and allowing just two walks. It was the fifth no-hitter of her career, but first of the season for the Indianapolis native. Following the weekend, she moves into third in UK's single-season record books for saves (3), fourth for strikeouts (194) and fifth for wins (16). With the two wins this weekend she becomes the first pitcher in program history to have 15 or more wins in all four seasons of her career. Furthermore, she became UK's first hurler to top 900 career strikeouts with 16 tossed this weekend to run her career total to 903. Finally, her ERA falls to a program-topping 2.48 for her career.
Softball: Brittany Cervantes
Senior Brittany Cervantes was a difference-maker in every at-bat in guiding UK to a sweep of LSU which marked the first-ever series win over the Tigers in program history. In Friday night's opening game with Kentucky trailing 3-0, Cervantes delivered a two-out two-run RBI double to bring UK within striking distance. In the bottom of the seventh and with two outs, Cervantes drilled a two-strike home run over the center field wall to tie the score at 3-3 and force extra innings. Kentucky would eventually win in the bottom of the eighth. In the second game of the series, she connected for her second solo home run in as many at-bats to drive in the game's first run in UK's 2-1 series-clinching win. Following the homer, she was walked twice to avoid her bat. In the final game of the series, Cervantes opened the game with a double - to mark all four hits in the series going for extra bases. For the weekend, she batted a team-high .571 and had four RBI. Three of those runs brought in came against the nation's leader in ERA in Rachele Fico who entered the game with a 0.90 ERA. With the tremendous weekend - Cervantes advanced in a number of categories in UK's record books. She now has the fourth-most single-season doubles (16) and home runs (12) and has drawn the third-most walks (32) in a season. Career-wise, she moved into second in slugging percentage (.580), third in total bases (363), fourth in doubles (42) and runs scored (146), sixth in assists (366) and seventh in career games played (228). She already owns UK career records in RBI and home runs and pushed those totals to 160 and 47, respectively.
Baseball: Corey Littrell
Corey Littrell led No. 3 Kentucky to a 2-1 win over No. 5 Florida, shutting down the high-octane Gators by taking a shutout into the ninth inning ... Littrell dominated, striking out five batters while allowing no walks against 32 batters, with the only damage allowed coming as a leadoff solo homer to start the ninth inning with UK leading 2-0 ... Littrell's eight-inning effort is a career high, improving his overall record to a team-best 7-0 ... Littrell has become a fixture on Sundays for the Wildcats, boasting a 7-0 record with a 2.30 ERA, 61 strikeouts to just 18 walks and a team-high 74.1 innings pitched.
Track & field: Keffri Neal
Ran a season-best 800m run at the Billy Hayes Invitational, finishing in 1:50.67.
Finished third in the 800m at the Billy Hayes Invitational.
It is the second-straight week that Neal has recorded a season-best time in the 800m.
Baseball: Michael Williams
Junior catcher/first basemen Michael Williams led UK at the plate during their three-games series against No. 5 Florida ... Williams hit .455 (5-for-11) during the week with one home run, two double, two RBI, 10 total bases and a .909 slugging percentage ... Williams shined in the ESNPU SEC Game of the Week, going 2-4 and drilling a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to bring the game within one run ... In Sunday's 2-1 win over Florida, Williams went two for three, knocking his second double of the weekend ... On the year, Williams has hit .285 (43-for-151) with six doubles, two home runs, 15 walks and 26 RBI.
UK ended a four-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory over Florida on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It's never any fun to go through a slump, particularly for a team that's accustomed to things going its way.
Of course there was an occasional off night, but through the first two months of the season, the Kentucky offense was hitting everything in sight en route to a 35-6 record. Since then, the Wildcats have experienced a prolonged period of failure for the first time in 2012, struggling to put up runs and losing five of seven games in the process.
A man who has coached at the college level for nearly a quarter century, Gary Henderson often talks about baseball being a game full of failure. And based on his experience, he can't help but think his team might be timing its struggle just right.
"You have those thoughts," Henderson said. "Get it out of your system and move past it, certainly. I don't think anybody's ever glad to go through a slump or a period of failure, but it's part of the game. You certainly have those thoughts. Maybe we can get it behind us and move forward and get back to where we were a month ago."
Through the season's first 41 games, the Wildcats were hitting .316 as a team while scoring 7.3 runs per game. Over their last seven, they've managed just 2.4 runs a game while batting .228 during which time UK has not scored more than five times in any outing. Before this stretch, the Wildcats hadn't gone more than two games without scoring at least six runs.
However, there was always going to be a period when UK's bats would temporarily cool and, even having lost a few games, all of the Wildcats' goals remain in front of them. From winning a Southeastern Conference title to hosting a Regional and even a Super Regional, Kentucky still remains in control of its own fate, but that's all predicated on the offense awakening.
On the plus side, the Cats were able to snap a four-game losing streak their last time out even though the offense continued its slumber. Corey Littrell pitched into the ninth inning before yielding to Trevor Gott, who closed out a 2-1 victory over Florida to become the school's single-season saves leader. The win kept Kentucky within a game of first place in conference.
"I think anytime you lose three or four in a row and you got an opportunity to win a game or you do win a game, you do relieve a little bit of pressure," Henderson said. "You don't talk about that with your kids, but certainly you lose a ballgame, that's got a chance to create a little bit of doubt that you didn't have after a win."
Littrell's outing last Saturday is far from the only strong one by UK's starters of late. The weekend trio of Taylor Rogers, Jerad Grundy and Littrell has put together a strong three weeks of starts, coinciding with the offense's worst stretch. Over nine starts, all of which have lasted into at least the sixth inning, the three have combined for a 3.40 ERA over 55 and two-thirds innings.
"I think that's as good a string of starts as we've run together here all season," Henderson said. "If you look at those last nine starts, I think they've been very good. (I'm) really happy with where they are and hopefully we can keep moving forward with those guys."
Combining efforts like those with an offense rounding back into form could make UK a scary team over the final two weeks of SEC play. Kentucky (37-11, 15-9 SEC) will face Alabama at home and No. 25 Mississippi State on the road to close out the regular season looking to close the gap on South Carolina and LSU, who are tied atop the conference standings.
A solid weekend group and bullpen will be enough to make a run at the SEC crown, but Henderson knows others will need to step up for the Wildcats to make their postseason run last longer than a couple weeks.
"The three weekend guys obviously will go, but it's not a three-game set (in the postseason)," Henderson said. "You got to get into game four and game five. In order for that to happen, somebody that doesn't start regularly on the weekend is going to have to start and pitch well."
Those other younger arms will have a chance to log some work in UK's two remaining midweek games, the first of which comes at Indiana (24-24, 11-7 Big Ten). Right-hander Chandler Shepherd (3-0, 4.17 ERA) will take the mound for the seventh start of his college career with an eye on preparing for a more significant one in late May or even early July. Fellow freshmen Sam Mahar and A.J. Reed also figure to get opportunities on Wednesday against the Hoosiers and Henderson is particularly excited to get a look at Reed on the mound, who was "outstanding" in a Monday bullpen session.
Reed also isn't the only Wildcat to bring a newfound energy to practice this week. With the spring semester coming to an end on Friday, UK can now shift its sole focus to baseball, a welcome change from a preoccupied last week.
"I thought we were pretty loose and pretty focused the last two days of practice, certainly a little more bounce in your step than you have during finals week," Henderson said. "I think that's just normal."
Baseball - The No. 3 Kentucky baseball team broke for finals and returned to action with a stiff test, hosting two-time defending Southeastern Conference Champion and College World Series participant No. 5 Florida in a three-game set. UK suffered losses in the first two games, before riding the dominating arms of Corey Littrell and Trevor Gott to a 2-1 win in the finale. - Kentucky returns to action on Wednesday, traveling to Bloomington, Ind., to face Indiana before returning home to host the final SEC series of the year at Cliff Hagan Stadium, welcoming Alabama Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET. UK will wrap up the regular season at Mississippi State the following weekend, before traveling to the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., May 22-27. - The Wildcats have amassed the fifth-most wins in program history, with their 15 SEC wins checking in third-most in program annals. UK lost its lead in the SEC for the first time in a span of eight weeks during the weekend loss to the Gators, as UK had led the conference standings for seven-consecutive weeks. UK sits a game back of the league lead, behind South Carolina (16-8) and LSU (16-8), a pair of team UK owns series wins against, with the Wildcats sweeping the Gamecocks. - UK has improved to 13-4 in one-run games, owning a 12-8 record against top-25 opponents and a 10-5 mark against top-10 foes. The Wildcats boast a 30-3 record in day games after posting the 2-1 win on Sunday vs. Florida, riding Littrell and Gott's pitching efforts. Softball - The Kentucky softball team concluded regular-season action with a sweep of No. 22 LSU this weekend to clinch the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament and become NCAA Tournament eligible. The Wildcats entered the weekend with a 4-13 record in one-run games and a 0-5 mark in league play. All three victories against the Tigers came with UK winning by just one tally. Furthermore, LSU had never lost a game in Lexington and had never dropped a series to the Wildcats in program history. - The Wildcats needed the senior trio of Chanda Bell, Brittany Cervantes and Rachel Riley to lead them to victory yet again. In the opening game of the series, Cervantes carved up the NCAA leader in ERA (0.90) in Rachele Fico for three earned runs including a two-run double and a two-out, two-strike solo homer in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings. - Bell worked the complete-game effort and struck out 10 in the win. On Saturday, Riley was the winning pitcher with Bell earning the save and Cervantes going yard in her second consecutive at-bat against the Tigers with a solo homer in the first frame. In the final game of the series, Bell notched the fifth no-hitter of her career while striking out six in the win. Cervantes was 1-for-2 with a double to mark all four of her hits in the series coming in extra-base fashion. - With the series win the Wildcats earn the fifth-seed in the tournament, marking their highest finish in the league under Rachel Lawson and the highest since winning the East in 2000. The 15-13 record in league play is the second-straight winning record against league foes and just the third in program history. Kentucky, with an RPI of 39 entering the weekend, became NCAA Tournament eligible by ensuring a regular-season record of above .500 (29-27) to mark the fourth straight season the Wildcats will cap the regular season with a winning record - a program record.
Men's tennis - The UK men's tennis team received an at-large selection into the 2012 NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament. Kentucky was selected as one of 16 host sites for the event, marking the fourth consecutive season the Wildcats will host the first and second rounds of the tournament. - UK, which is the top seed in the Lexington Regional and the sixth overall seed in the tournament, will be joined in Lexington by No. 27 Indiana (21-8), No. 37 Louisville (18-9) and No. 75 Radford (20-5). - The Wildcats are making their 23rd showing in the NCAA Tournament, including 18 of the last 19 years. This is the ninth time since 2000 that UK has hosted the first and second rounds, including four consecutive years. All of UK's NCAA appearances have come under Emery's direction.
Track and field - Seven UK student-athletes competed Friday at the Billy Hayes Invitational in Bloomington, Ind. - Freshman Keffri Neal ran a season-best 800m time of 1:50.67 to finish third overall. - Sophomore Matt Hillenbrand ran the second-best 800m by a UK runner all season, finishing fourth in the race with a time of 1:51.07. - The Billy Hayes Invitational is UK's final regular-season race of the year. The Wildcats will compete next in the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Baton Rouge, La., beginning Thursday.
Wednesday, May 9 Baseball at Indiana - 3:00 p.m.
Thursday, May 10 Softball vs. Georgia - 5:00 p.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Track and field at SEC Championships (Baton Rouge, La.) Friday, May 11 Men's tennis hosts Radford - 3:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Softball vs. Alabama/Mississippi State - 5:30 p.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Baseball hosts Alabama - 7:00 p.m. Track and field at SEC Championships (Baton Rouge, La.)
Saturday, May 12 Baseball hosts Alabama - 2:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Indiana/Louisville - 2:00 p.m. (NCAA Tournament) Softball SEC Championship - 8:00 p.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Track and field at SEC Championships (Baton Rouge, La.) Sunday, May 13 Baseball hosts Alabama - 1:00 p.m. Track and field at SEC Championships (Baton Rouge, La.)
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 - Kentucky posts crucial sweep of LSU
Going into Friday's opening game against Louisiana State University, the Kentucky softball team knew what it had to do to have the best chance of making the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have a high enough RPI to be considered, but in order to be selected, UK would have to be either at or about the .500 mark by the time SEC Tournament play was over.
With a 26-27 record going into the series, the goal was to take at least two games from LSU, but ideally sweep the Tigers so that no matter the result in the SEC Tournament, the Cats would be no worse than .500. After winning in extra innings in the opener 4-3, UK got their second win on Saturday, another one-run affair, 2-1.
Kentucky had a chance to get a sweep with the final regular season game of the year awaiting on Sunday. Sunday's game was also Senior Day, and head coach Rachel Lawson decided to bring back her ace, senior Chanda Bell, on the last day of the season. Bell delivered in the grandest way imaginable with a 1-0 no-hitter victory as Alice O'Brien delivered the game-winning hit in the sixth inning.
The win gave UK a 29-27 (15-13 SEC) record. Kentucky will head into the SEC Tournament as the fifth seed to face Georgia in Tuscaloosa, Ala. in the opening round.
Player of the Week - Corey Littrell salvages finale vs. Florida
After Kentucky had fallen to Florida in the first two games of a three-game set, head coach Gary Henderson went to his sophomore stud Correy Littrell to stop the bleeding. The Wildcats had just lost their first series of the season last weekend to Vanderbilt and were on the verge of getting swept for the first time Saturday afternoon against Florida.
Littrell served as the perfect stopper and got UK on the board in the series after throwing eight innings of one-run baseball as Kentucky got an important 2-1 win over the Gators. With the win, Littrell chalked up his seventh victory of the season and has yet to lose a game. He struck out five and did not walk a batter while not allowing a run through eight innings. The sophomore didn't allow a run through 8 innings, but gave up a leadoff homerun in the ninth before being lifted.
Game of the Week - Softball comes back, beats LSU in extras
Kentucky trailed 3-2 in the seventh and was down to its final out in the seventh when senior third baseman Brittany Cervantes stepped to the plate. With the Wildcats needing as many wins as possible heading into postseason play, Cervantes came up with one of the biggest hits of a career. Facing one of the best pitchers in the nation in LSU's Rachel Fico, Cervantes deposited a game-tying solo blast deep over the centerfield fence to send the game to extra innings.
Senior pitcher Chanda Bell posted a scoreless top of the eighth to give UK a chance to walk-off with a victory in the bottom of the frame. Fico then walked Rachel Riley and Ginny Carroll. With one out in the inning, Alice O'Brien sent a frozen-rope line drive to the left fielder. With the play right in front of her, LSU left fielder Ashley Langoni saw that pinch runner Ashleigh Gustafson had taken off for third. Langoni, with a chance to catch the line drive and turn a double play, took her eye off the ball as it glanced off her glove, and Gustafson scampered home for the game-winning run.
It was a huge win for the softball team, which set the tempo for the following games in the series. The 4-3 win was the first of three one-run wins Kentucky would hang on LSU on the weekend.
Video of the Week- Highlights from softball Senior Day
Photo of the Week- UK meets President Obama
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Alumnus of the Week - Phillies' Joe Blanton tosses complete game shutout vs. Atlanta
University of Kentucky product Joe Blanton threw what he called the best game of his career Thursday in a 4-0 complete game victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Blanton blanked the Braves allowing just three hits while striking out six to pull the Phillies (13-13) to .500 on the season. After Atlanta had roughed up Philadelphia the night before, plowing through many of the Phillies' relievers, Blanton knew he had to go deep into the game.
When asked if it was the best game of his eight-year career, Blanton replied, "I think so. Just the fact that we had a lot of guys who pitched a lot of innings last night, so I needed to go deep and I did."
In the wake of last week's news that Kentucky's series with Indiana would go on a temporary hiatus, John Calipari took to his website to explain the rationale behind the way he forms his schedule each season.
It focuses on the theme of UK being a nontraditional program with the magnitude of Kentucky basketball and the roster turnover that appears set to continue throughout Coach Cal's tenure.
Big Blue Nation, it's time we learn and come to grips with the fact that we are not a traditional program. We haven't been one for the last three years, and going forward, this will continue to be a nontraditional program.
The 25-year-old model doesn't work anymore. It is done and blown up. We are going by our own model now: the gold standard. Everyone has to accept that.
We are going through things that no other program in the history of college basketball has gone through. No other program is losing five or six players a year. We are facing issues and having to make decisions with the thought of what's next and where are we going, which includes our schedule.
When we schedule, there are three factors my staff and our administration must take into consideration: (1) preparing our players for the postseason, (2) our fans and (3) the financial component.
Overall Record: 37-11, 15-9 SEC Record Last Week: 1-2, 1-2 SEC
Recent Results Thursday, May 3 - lost vs. No. 5 Florida - 3-5. Friday, May 4 - lost vs. No. 5 Florida - 1-5 Saturday, May 5 - won vs. No. 5 Florida - 2-1
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern) Wednesday, May 9 - at Indiana - 3:00 p.m. Friday, May 11 - vs. Alabama - 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12 - vs. Alabama - 2:00 p.m. Sunday, May 13 - vs. Alabama - 1:00 p.m.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Michael Williams 6-2 - Sr. - C/IF - Knoxville, Tenn. Week Stats: .455 (5-for-11), 1 HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 10 total bases, .909 SLG%, S Notes: Junior catcher/first basemen Michael Williams led UK at the plate during their three-games series against No. 5 Florida ... Williams hit .455 (5-for-11) during the week with one home run, two double, two RBI, 10 total bases and a .909 slugging percentage ... Williams shined in the ESNPU SEC Game of the Week, going 2-4 and drilling a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh to bring the game within one run ... In Sunday's 2-1 win over Florida, Williams went two for three, knocking his second double of the weekend ... On the year, Williams has hit .285 (43-for-151) with six doubles, two home runs, 15 walks and 26 RBI. PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Corey Littrell 6-3 - So. - LHP - Louisville, Ky. Week Stats: 1-0, 1.12 ERA, 1 app, 8.0 IP, 9 H, R, 0 BB, 5 SO,
Notes: Corey Littrell led No. 3 Kentucky to a 2-1 win over No. 5 Florida, shutting down the high-octane Gators by taking a shutout into the ninth inning ... Littrell dominated, striking out five batters while allowing no walks against 32 batters, with the only damage allowed coming as a leadoff solo homer to start the ninth inning with UK leading 2-0 ... Littrell's eight-inning effort is a career high, improving his overall record to a team-best 7-0 ... Littrell has become a fixture on Sundays for the Wildcats, boasting a 7-0 record with a 2.30 ERA, 61 strikeouts to just 18 walks and a team-high 74.1 innings pitched.
TEAM NOTES The No. 3 Kentucky baseball team broke for finals and returned to action with a stiff test, hosting two-time defending Southeastern Conference Champion and College World Series participant No. 5 Florida in a three-game set. UK suffered losses in the first two games, before riding the dominating arms of Corey Littrell and Trevor Gott to a 2-1 win in the finale.
Kentucky (37-11, 15-9 SEC) returns to action on Wednesday, traveling to Bloomington, Ind. to face Indiana before returning home to host the final SEC series of the year at Cliff Hagan Stadium, welcoming Alabama Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET. UK will wrap up the regular season at Mississippi State the following weekend, before traveling to the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., May 22-27.
The Wildcats have amassed the fifth-most wins in program history, with their 15 SEC wins checking in third-most in program annals. UK lost its lead in the SEC for the first time in a span of eight weeks during the weekend loss to the Gators, as UK had led the conference standings for seven consecutive weeks. UK sits a game back of the league lead, behind South Carolina (16-8) and LSU (16-8), a pair of team UK owns series wins against, with the Wildcats sweeping the Gamecocks.
UK has improved to 13-4 in one-run games, owning a 12-8 record against top-25 opponents and a 10-5 mark against top-10 foes. The Wildcats boast a 30-3 record in day games after posting the 2-1 win on Sunday vs. Florida, riding Littrell and Gott's pitching efforts.
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. UK's lone series defeats have come at the hands of the defending league champions, at Vanderbilt and vs. the Gators, with UF entering the season as the consensus No. 1 team in the nation and as the first team in Baseball America history with seven preseason All-America selections.
Individually, freshman centerfielder Austin Cousino leads UK with a .345 average, a tie for the league lead with 18 doubles, eight homers and 37 RBI, stealing nine bases. Junior Luke Maile has batted .326 with 10 doubles, 11 homers and 45 RBI, while senior third baseman Thomas McCarthy has batted .309 with 15 doubles, five homers and 26 RBI. Littrell has dominated on the mound for Kentucky, posting a 7-0 record with a 2.30 ERA. Gott broke set a school record Sunday afternoon, recording his ninth save of the season.
In the final home start of her UK career, Chanda Bell hurled a no-hitter against LSU to clinch a crucial series sweep. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It would be awfully difficult to write a script more fascinating for this weekend than the way things unfolded in a three-game series with LSU in Lexington. But it would be impossible to match the ending.
Needing a series sweep over the Tigers to guarantee an above-.500 record for the regular season, senior pitcher Chanda Bell toed the rubber for her final appearance in the circle at the UK Softball Complex. Opposing one of the best pitchers in the country in LSU's Rachel Fico, Bell would not be upstaged.
Bell recorded the fifth no-hitter of her career Sunday in front of a full house to clinch the fifth overall seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament with a 1-0 victory. For Bell, she couldn't imagine a better way to cap off an emotional Senior Day.
"This was the best weekend ever," Bell said. "And I think it was better that it was Senior Weekend and we needed these wins... and it just couldn't have been any better."
Not only was the no-hitter impressive, but it was much needed when facing one of the nation's stingiest pitchers.
Kentucky had a great opportunity to get to Fico in its first at-bat. Senior third baseman Brittany Cervantes, as she has all weekend, got things going with a leadoff double to left field. Fico would then load the bases with still no outs in the inning. But as a true ace is wont to do, she battled back to get two strikeouts and a fly out to lead the runners stranded.
Though they knew they missed a great opportunity, Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said her team remained optimistic.
"We weren't deflated," said Lawson. "When you have a season full of ups and downs, you get so used to when things don't go your way, you're pretty resilient. So we're a pretty resilient group, and it was definitely not ideal to go down after having bases loaded with nobody out, but we've been in those situations so many times that it wasn't as nerve-wracking as I think it was for other people who haven't been in that situation 15 times."
And the Cats continued to battle at the plate despite the lack of success they were experiencing against Fico. They worked the LSU starter into deep counts all day long, including a 16-pitch at bat by senior Rachel Riley in the first inning.
Both pitchers were cruising after the first inning until the fifth inning. Bell allowed her first base runner of the game when she hit LSU's Allison Falcon. Immediately Tiger's head coach Beth Torina lifted Falcon for pinch runner Alex Boulet. Boulet tried to swipe second base on the very next pitch, but Griffin Joiner gunned her down to end LSU's mini-threat.
Kentucky finally began to put things together in the sixth inning when Joiner coaxed a one-out walk. Joiner advanced to second on a Ginny Carroll come-backer that served as a sacrifice bunt. Alice O'Brien strolled to the plate with an opportunity to drive in the game's first run. O'Brien made contact and placed a perfectly hit ball slowly up the middle. An aggressive call by third base coach Kristine Himes sent Joiner, who was running on the pitch, home as Falcon dove up the middle to stop the ball. Falcon's valiant effort came up short as the throw was off line as Joiner slid home safely for the go-ahead run.
O'Brien had a notion before her game-winning hit that something good was on the way.
"Griffin was going on the pitch," said Lawson. "And O'Brien in the at-bats before was like, 'I'm seeing the ball, I just got to stay behind it and I got to put it up the middle.' So, she had actually planned that two innings before her last at-bat. So for her to be able to do that is really hats off to her focus and her determination to make it happen."
The rest was up to Bell, who would only need that lone run. And did she ever deliver.
Bell recorded a perfect seventh inning, including blowing away the last batter of a game for her sixth strikeout on the day. It was a familiar, yet still incredible feeling for the senior righthander who has accomplished so much in her four season's at Kentucky.
"I thought I jinxed myself a few times because I knew I had a no-hitter going on," said Bell. "So with that in my head, I knew right away. And I knew (Ashley) Langoni was one of their best hitters, so just being able to get her out, especially on a strikeout, was just a great feeling."
Bell defied the proverbial no-hitter jinx Sunday and propelled the Wildcats to the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament. While Kentucky will head to Tuscaloosa, Ala. next week to try to improve their NCAA Tournament resume, Sunday was all about this impressive senior class. Bell and Cervantes, along with fellow seniors Rachel Riley, Erika Silence, Macy Allen and Ashleigh Gustafson were Lawson's first recruiting class at UK. There's no question that this special group of players have left their mark on a rising Kentucky softball program as the winningest class in school history.
"It's great because what people don't realize is Riley and Cervantes were my first two recruits at Kentucky," said Lawson after the game. "So even though I've been here for five years, that's pretty special. And this whole group, we've been through the whole thing for four years together. They're a special group and I can't say enough about how incredible they are as people, in the classroom, in the community, and on the ball field.
"We're going to miss them, but they've given us a lot to build on, and I'm really excited for the future they've built for us."
Corey Littrell moved to 7-0 in UK's 2-1 victory over Florida on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
All year, Gary Henderson has called on Corey Littrell in big situations. Kentucky's Sunday starter sported a perfect 7-0 record heading into this weekend and has pitched the Wildcats to series-clinching victories five times in Southeastern Conference play.
Littrell is used to pitching with the pressure on, but it was a little different this time around.
For one, he was pitching a day earlier than he's accustomed to, as the UK-Florida series began on Thursday evening to accommodate national television. More importantly, the Cats looked to Littrell to salvage a series instead of winning it. The result, though, was no different.
After his team had dropped the first two games of the Florida series, Littrell toed the rubber and got his team back on track by pitching eight innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 victory.
"Even though we lost two games, you still got to go out (Saturday) and try to get that next one because we don't want to get swept here at home."
It was crucial he did so, because UK has lost five of six games, including four straight in conference play. It was the first time all season Kentucky (37-11, 15-9 SEC) had lost back-to-back games in conference, dropping the Cats from its perch atop the SEC standings into the perilous position of having to win to keep from dropping to three games back of first place in the loss column. Kentucky also moved one game ahead of Florida (35-13, 14-10 SEC) in the standings.
"That was a big win for us, because just like Florida, we're competing for first place in the SEC," Littrell said.
Littrell (7-0, 2.19 ERA) had to navigate more than a few potholes to do it, and it seemed for a while the suddenly struggling UK offense might not be able to give him enough support. At least one Gator got a hit in each of the first seven innings he pitched, but the left-handed sophomore was able to successfully navigate trouble each time.
His toughest test came in the second inning, when Brian Johnson singled to open the frame, one of three innings he allowed the leadoff man to reach. Littrell followed with strikeouts of Daniel Pigott and Casey Turgeon, two of his five on the day, but Justin Shafer doubled to the gap in left-center field to put a pair of runners in scoring position with two outs. Littrell was able to coax a harmless grounder from Vickash Ramjit to put an end to the threat.
"If the first person gets a hit, I don't freak out like I would have last year," Littrell said. "I just know I have to make a pitch and I'll be fine."
"It says to me that Corey has grown up," Henderson said. "He's slowed the game down a little bit. He's not going to effort when there's guys on base, he's going to command, which he clearly did today. It's called maturation."
With the way UK's offense was scuffling, scoring an average of just two runs during the four-game losing streak, keeping the Gators off the board was crucial. Fortunately, Littrell was able to keep posting zeroes through five innings, when the Wildcat batters were finally able to scratch a run across against Florida's Brian Johnson.
Designated hitter Michael Williams got it started, legging out a double on a ball hit down the right-field line. After a J.T. Riddle walk and a first-pitch fly out by Brian Adams, it was up to nine-hole hitter Matt Reida, who stepped to the plate with runners on first and third, two outs. Even though he had hits in just six of his last 33 at-bats, Reida was able to lace a single to right field to score Williams and give UK its first lead since April 27 at Vanderbilt, the Cats' last win.
With the way Littrell was cruising, it didn't seem he would need any more help, but the Cats didn't take that chance. After exchanging scoreless sixth and seventh innings, UK turned to the top of the order for some insurance in the bottom of the eighth.
Austin Cousino led it off with a single and, in a bit of heads-up base running, advanced to second when centerfielder Pigott bobbled his hit. Zac Zellers moved him to third base with one out on a well-executed sacrifice bunt, and Luke Maile tallied on RBI, reaching on an error at third base to extend UK's lead to 2-0.
"It loosens your club up," Henderson said. "It creates margin of error, all of it. No matter how you look at it, it was huge. It was a big, big run, no question about it."
Before the Cats scored their second run, Henderson was all set to call on closer Trevor Gott to finish off the Gators, but the increased lead convinced him to give Littrell a chance to finish what he started and pitch a complete game. The fact that Littrell got that chance is proof of the faith his coach has in him.
"It's awesome," Littrell said. "I've never thrown that long in my life and he told me in the eighth inning, he said, 'You're going out there and Trevor will be ready.' "
It turned out to be a good thing Gott was ready. Littrell lost his shutout when Pigott belted a home run over the left field fence. The Louisville, Ky., native departed having allowed one run on nine hits with five strikeouts and no walks over eight innings and Gott replaced him looking to set a record.
The hard-throwing sophomore has been stuck on eight saves for three weeks, just one shy of becoming UK's all-time single-season leader. Allowing one hit and striking out one during a scoreless inning, Gott did just that.
"I didn't even realize I had it," Gott said. "I thought it would be more than nine but it's an honor to say I have the most saves in Kentucky baseball history."
More than any save record, Gott and the Cats are happy to be able to stop talking about their losing streak.
"Everybody else in our league has had a dry spell," Henderson said. "All other 11 teams have had one, so maybe that's our turn."
Senior Brittany Cervantes and Chanda Bell helped lead UK to a 2-1 victory over LSU on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Up until Friday, the Kentucky softball team had never even defeated Louisiana State University at the UK Softball Complex. Until Saturday, they had never taken a series from LSU. After Saturday's 2-1 victory, Kentucky has accomplished both.
And it could not have come at a better time.
Kentucky (28-27, 14-13 SEC) came into this weekend needing a series win to ensure a record of at least .500, the minimum for eligibility for the NCAA Tournament. They have now taken the first two, which will afford them the luxury of needing just one win in the SEC tournament to maintain the .500 status.
The focus coming into Saturday's match up was just that: Saturday.
"It's not a cliche, we really are a one pitch at a time mentality," said Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson. "Because I think when you get too inundated with the big picture, you just don't perform well, so we're just, believe it or not, our team's just having fun and enjoying the moment and trying to make it last as long as we can."
And they have performed well. Friday night, they faced the NCAA earned run average leader in Rachele Fico who entered the game with a 0.90 ERA. They scored four runs (three earned) and came up with a much needed 4-3 victory in eight innings behind the pitching performance of senior Chanda Bell.
Today, Lawson handed the ball to another senior in Rachel Riley. With her turn in the circle, Riley knew the importance of Saturday's game.
"I think we needed it," said Riley. "We've been working all year and we're trying to make it to postseason, so any win we can get is good."
But the significance never wavered Riley's approach. In order to be at her best, she would have to treat it just like any other outing.
"It was the same as any other day," said Riley. "I was just going to go out there and throw my game, and hopefully it would be O.K."
She was better than O.K. Riley gave up six hits and a walk, but limited the Tigers to just one run in 6.1 innings. It could have been worse, though.
Kentucky had some shaky play in the field early, but buckled down as the game progressed as the Wildcat defense turned in a few gems. Second baseman Emily Jolly started a brilliant 4-6-3 double play just pitches after getting banged up on a pick-off attempt at first base. Late in the seventh inning, Kara Dill saved a run when Simone Heyward stole third base. Griffin Joiner's throw to the base seemed doomed for left field before Dill snagged it out of the air to hold the runners.
"It was huge," said Lawson of the stellar UK defense. "Ginny Carroll came in, made a nice catch. Jolly is so tough, she came in, she had a tough play. But Kara Dill, as far as I'm concerned is our defensive MVP. She made so many great stops today. And then that stop today in the seventh inning pretty much saved the day for us."
Not only did Carroll come in and make some nice defensive plays, but it was her bat that did the most talking. Carroll started the day as the designated player but moved into the left field in the middle of the game. After preserving the 1-1 tie in the field, she instantly gave Riley a 2-1 lead with a solo home run in the fifth, the second of the day surrendered by LSU pitcher Brittany Mack.
"Mack is such an outstanding pitcher," said Lawson. "You're not able to string many hits together, so even though we didn't have a lot of hits, the ones we did have went pretty far. So, anytime you play somebody like her, that's awesome."
The first home run allowed came off the bat of Brittany Cervantes, her 12th of the year, which gave Kentucky the early 1-0 lead to leadoff the bottom of the first inning. It was the second straight at-bat that Cervantes had gone deep, going back to her game-tying home run Friday night.
Riley went back out to the circle to try and seal the deal in the top of the seventh. But she could only manage one out while allowing two runners to reach base. With Bell already loose, Lawson called on her ace for the final two outs. Bell recorded a pop out and a groundout to close the game for her third save of the year.
It was a huge performance from the two senior pitchers.
"(Riley) was incredible," said Lawson. "To be able to keep them to so few hits was tremendous. And then for Chanda to come in to shut down the top of the order the way she did was also key for us."
The 2-1 win Saturday makes for a tremendous opportunity for Kentucky. Win Sunday, and UK greatly improves their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. For that to happen, these seniors, as they've done all weekend, will have to come through at the UK Softball Complex one last time. It would be quite a way to go out.
"This is a huge weekend for us," said Lawson. "First, it's senior weekend this weekend. So anytime your seniors can perform like ours have this weekend, it's huge. But more importantly we have a good RPI. And really, for us to have a good shot at postseason we need to be above .500. So every win right now is crucial."
The Kentucky Wildcats visited the White House on Friday to celebrate their national national championship. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It was the first thing on their minds after they won the national championship.
"This team, when they won that championship on that court, they were jumping up and down, not saying , 'We did it, we won!' They were saying, 'We're going to the White House,' " John Calipari said Friday just moments after President Barack Obama congratulated his team on a national championship.
But Friday's visit to the White House was also likely the last thing the 2012 national champions will do together as a team.
"It's exciting and sad at the same time just because it is going to be one of the last things we do together," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "I'm not trying to think about that right now though. I'm trying to think about this being a great memory."
It was a memory they'll never forget.
The Kentucky Wildcats, just over a month removed from winning the program's eighth national championship, visited the White House on Friday to meet Obama and receive some executive congratulations.
Speaking with the 2011-12 national champions to his back, a packed East Room full of Wildcat fans and alumni to his front, and a national TV audience watching online and on ESPNU, Obama congratulated the Wildcats while admitting a lapse in judgment in not picking UK to win the title.
"This was the fourth year that I've filled out my bracket on ESPN," Obama said. "And what I've learned is that if I make the right picks, I look like a genius. And if things go the other way, a team like Kentucky gets to come to my house and remind me that I was wrong. It's sort of a double-edged sword."
Obama picked North Carolina to win, but ultimately, as Obama said Friday, "sometimes talent trumps experience."
"Keep in mind, this time last year, three of the Wildcats' five starters were still in high school," Obama said. "Michael Kidd-Gilchrist couldn't even vote yet."
And yet there Kidd-Gilchrist was, not even 20 feet behind Obama, smiling from ear to ear. The Cats, touring the White House for winning the national championship, soaked in every moment of an opportunity they may never get again.
"I never thought I'd have an opportunity to do something like that," senior guard Darius Miller said. "Being able to do that was a special feeling."
Miller had the honor of giving the president a jersey bearing his number. Fellow senior Eloy Vargas presented Obama a signed ball from the team by firing a chest pass at the president (it may be the first and only time someone throws something that hard at the president without getting taken down by a Secret Service member), while Anthony Davis awarded Obama with a national championship ring, the first one made.
"Everybody doesn't get a chance to come to the White House to meet the president," Davis said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially being from Chicago and him being from Chicago. It was like an added bonus."
Davis, like the rest of the players, was in awe of the history of the White House and the presence of the president. During their 30-minute tour through the bowels of the most important residence in the country, the players took pictures, asked questions and waited to meet one of their heroes.
For one day at least, they weren't the stars of the show. At least, they didn't feel like it.
"Everybody felt like he was the man and wanted pictures with him," Davis said. "It was the one time we weren't in the spotlight. It was cool for us."
As Obama gushed about the Cats' unselfishness, cohesiveness and ability to overcome inexperience, Obama singled out Davis for his talent to affect the game without scoring a point.
"They did it as a team, and nobody, I think, was better at that than Anthony Davis," Obama said.
Davis has been showered with accolades and awards, trophies and honors, but the presidential compliments were in a different league for the soon-to-be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
"It brought a smile to my face," Davis said. "Everybody was looking at me and I couldn't' stop smiling. For someone like the president of the United States to talk about you, it was great and humbling."
It also meant a little more to Davis because of their similarities. Obama's meteoric rise from a senator started in Chicago, and Davis grew eight inches in the matter of a year at a small charter school in the Windy City. Obama even joked with Davis that he had grown an inch since arriving at the White House.
When it came time to shake hands with the president, Obama brought Davis in close and gave him a hug.
"It's just something being from Chicago, you've always got to bring it in and don't do a formal handshake," Davis said. "You can tell he was from Chicago."
When the team left the White House and boarded the bus, there was almost a bittersweet feeling in the air. Kidd-Gilchrist stayed behind to get ready for the draft, Sam Malone and Brian Long remained in the Northeast to begin their summer, and the rest of the players boarded the team plane back to Lexington, several of them headed out of town for an extended time as soon as they landed.
Friday was the final day of the school year and Miller and Vargas will graduate Sunday. In all likelihood, it was the final time the entire team would be together.
"We've done so much together all year and just had so much success together," Jones said. "To end it on this note has been a great experience. Down the road it's going to be a great memory I have. Just remembering what we did the whole year and having this moment right here is going to be great to have."
As Calipari left the White House and boarded a separate plane for the Barnstable Brown Party, what had dawned on the rest of the team finally hit him: This was it. The 2011-12 national champions were headed their separate ways.
But by winning together this year, they got to celebrate together one last time, in of all places the White House.
"I'm really going to miss this team," Calipari said. "What a way to end the season."
The national champion Kentucky Wildcats were welcomed at the White House by President Barack Obama on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Days flew by during Kentucky's run to an eighth national championship, but none faster than the one the Wildcats spent traveling to Washington, D.C., for a visit to the White House with President Barack Obama.
Within a few hours, the national champions boarded a plane in Lexington, flew to the nation's capital, toured one of the world's most famous buildings and met its most powerful man. Even for a team that had experienced a whirlwind two months, this was something special.
And I was lucky enough to be along for the ride. In an effort to chronicle the unforgettable moments, Cat Scratches and CoachCal.com brings you this running diary of UK's trip to D.C. 1 p.m. - Wheels up
At noon on Friday, players gathered at the Joe Craft Center to catch a bus that would drive them to TAC Air. There, they met coaches, staff and families to form a group that totaled around 50. A chartered jet awaited them to shuttle them to Washington, and not a seat would be empty.
Even before the festivities got going, it became clear the day would be a special one. The players looked good, all dressed in suits, but more meaningfully, they were all together.
From October to the first days of April, this group of players and coaches spent countless hours in the company of one another. But since the national championship celebration, occasions have been few and far between that they have all been in the same place at the same time, and there may not have been any at all. To take it a step further, this trip may have just represented the last time they are all together.
Even though it had been a while since they'd last assembled, it didn't take long for them pick up where they left off. John Calipari made the rounds before takeoff, catching up with the players who had won him his first national title. He talked with Marquis Teague, reflecting on a big shot Teague's brother Jeff had hit in an NBA playoff game. Next, he chatted with Anthony Davis about being named a finalist for Team USA, with Coach Cal trying to put in perspective the enormity of the achievement.
Entertainingly, a flight attendant was waiting to talk to Davis since he was sitting in the emergency exit aisle. It turns out even national players of the year need to be briefed on air safety protocol.
Everyone took their seats when the fasten seat belt sign was turned on and the plane was in the air soon after. Lunch was served during the flight while a few support staffers circulated the plane to have players and coaches sign basketballs that would later be gifts for the president.
After an hour-long flight, the Cats were on the ground at Dulles Airport to change modes of transportation. 2:20 p.m. - Coach Cal plays tour guide
Just minutes after landing, a bus was on the tarmac to carry UK into the heart of Washington, D.C. After loading a few bags and gifts, the team took to Interstate 66. Reunited, the players were still enjoying each other's company quite a bit, most notably by watching Terrence Jones' live performance of "Teach Me 'Bout Kentucky" from a few nights ago.
As the bus entered the city, Coach Cal took to the speaker system to point out a few of D.C.'s most famous landmarks. To limited heckling from the back of the bus where the players were sitting, he directed attention toward the White House off in the distance, the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol. His only misstep, which he corrected quickly, was calling the Washington Monument the "Washington Memorial." It's fortunate he just signed a new deal as UK head coach, because he might have pursued a future as a tour guide otherwise.
Navigating the D.C. traffic, the provisional plan was to make a quick pit stop at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial for some pictures, but things needed to be moved along. It was time to head to the White House.
3:20 p.m. - Security
You may not have realized this, but they don't just let anybody onto the grounds at the White House.
UK's bus turned onto a barricaded road with a checkpoint and a member of the Secret Service boarded to brief the team on security protocol at the White House, which is called "The Rock" by those who work there. Before he did, he had a question.
"Where's number 14?" he said, looking for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
It turns out he was Kidd-Gilchrist's uncle. Davis wasted no time in coming up with a retort.
"How many uncles you got?"
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
After that, the team went through baggage checks and security scans, which I would best compare to a much more intensive yet much more efficiently run version of airport security. Everyone quickly passed through that and most of the team moved inside for the tour, but Davis, Teague, Kidd-Gilchrist, Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Coach Cal stayed outside momentarily for an interview with Andy Katz, who was filming a special on UK's visit which will air May 11 at 11:30 p.m. Once they were finished, they caught up with the rest of the group.
Tours of the White House are limited these days to a smaller portion of the building than in the past, but there were still ample sights to be seen.
The Wildcats went room by room, as Secret Service officers described the historic nature of each. The first that really caught the players' eyes was the movie room, a beautifully appointed small theater with seats that looked like beds. As the tour moved on, plenty of pictures and videos were taken, many of which figure to end up on Twitter in the coming days.
In my opinion, the most interesting room we had a chance to see was one in which the president customarily hosts foreign dignitaries and places important phone calls. Most famously, it was the place where he called fellow world leaders to pass along the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed last year.
First, it had to be decided which players would fill which roles in the event with President Obama. There were plenty of takers, but eventually it was decided that graduating seniors Miller and Eloy Vargas and recently named Team USA finalist Davis would do the honors. Kyle Wiltjer wanted to be involved, but Coach Cal had some reassuring words for the freshman.
"You can do it next year, Kyle," Calipari said, words that are sure to thrill Kentucky fans.
From there, the team and coaching staff was shuffled into another room, where they would make some final preparations and await the president. Unfortunately, I had to move into the room where the event would be held, so I did not bear witness to the first meeting. However, I did hear an account of it. The team was goofing around, anticipating President Obama would enter through the door they were facing. They were taken off guard by a booming voice that came in through a door behind them, with the president saying, "Hey, Wildcats!" 5 p.m. - "Hail to the Chief"
The tour was cool, but there simply aren't many people who get to be in the same room as any President, let alone shake his hand as the entire team did.
The Wildcats took to a set of risers behind the podium that bore the presidential seal and, not long after, President Obama came in to cheers and a standing ovation from the packed room. Coach Cal took his spot on the stage behind the president and to his left, listening as he delivered remarks about the national champs.
President Obama admitted his error in picking against UK at the start of the tournament, saying he couldn't get past the Cats' youth, but in the end, their unselfishness and commitment to a common cause carried them to an eighth title. The theme of his speech was one we've heard countless times since the Final Four, but it sounded different coming from the commander-in-chief.
After the president and Coach Cal had spoken, it was time for the giving of gifts and, I must say, President Obama did alright for himself. Miller gave him a home white UK jersey with his No. 1 and "Obama" on the back. Vargas stepped forward to give him a basketball signed by the team, surprising many by throwing a chest pass to the president. I'm sure it was a scripted moment, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Finally, Davis, a Chicago native like the president, gave him a national championship ring, the first one made.
After a few more pictures and a few autographs for UK fans who knew the team would be there, the bus was once again ready to be boarded, but not by Kidd-Gilchrist.
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
With finals over on Friday, the swingman who captured the hearts of UK fans in just one season was off to go prepare for the NBA Draft. He will be back in Lexington over the next few weeks, but it was still a poignant moment as he gave hugs and handshakes to every familiar face in sight. Everyone knew this was coming, but the goodbyes made it sink in once and for all: This really is the final time this group will be together as it was assembled in 2011-12.
The remainder of the team headed to the airport for a flight back to the Bluegrass that left at 7 p.m., with Sam Malone and Brian Long splitting off to head home for the first few weeks of the summer. There weren't a lot of empty seats on the flight home that landed, but everyone on the plane knew the scattered vacancies reinforced that a special season is over.
A little after noon on Friday, John Calipari and the national champion Kentucky Wildcats will board a plane to Washington, D.C., for a tour of the White House and visit with President Barack Obama. We will be live tweeting the trip from @UKAthleticsNews, but there will likely be a hiatus in our coverage during the tour and visit itself. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can watch the proceedings:
ESPNU's SportsCenterU Special: Kentucky at the White House (begins at 5 p.m.)
After the stop at the White House has concluded, look for post-event coverage here and on Twitter, including stories, video and photos.
Now, here are a few more notes to kick off your Oaks Day:
-Baseball mounted a comeback Thursday night against No. 5 Florida, but it fell just short in a 5-3 loss, Kentucky's fourth in five games. The streak is the Wildcats first extended stretch of things not going their way, but head coach Gary Henderson and his players believe that, with final exams finally coming to an end and their track record of bouncing back from series-opening losses, they won't have any trouble rebounding. LHP Jerad Grundy (4-1, 4.29 ERA) will start game two, which begins at 7 p.m. at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Neil Price will have the radio call on the UK IMG Network while CSS will televise the game. If your cable provider does not have CSS, ESPN3 will be live streaming the game here.
-The other UK team in action this weekend is playing a huge series against No. 22 LSU. As Ryan Suckow wrote about in a feature from earlier this morning, UK softball is playing with its back against the wall, needing to take at least two of three from the Tigers to climb back to .500 and remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Head out to the UK Softball Complex to take in the action.
-Anthony Davis sure has a lot of cool stuff going on in his life. He's the player of the year and a national champion. He is about to meet the President and become the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and now he has a chance of becoming an Olympian. Davis has been selected as a finalist for the 2012 USA Basketball Men's National Team. He will attend a training camp from July 6-12 in Las Vegas, Nev., with the 16 other finalists, among whom 12 will be selected for the final roster that will look to win Team USA's second straight gold medal at the London Olympics.
Brittany Cervantes and Chanda Bell (center) are part of a six-member group of seniors that will play its last home games this weekend. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
After a surprising series victory over No. 2 Florida last weekend in which the Wildcats took two-of-three games, the Kentucky softball team has put itself in a position where it controls their postseason destiny.
Louisiana State comes in, another ranked opponent at No. 22, with the Wildcats needing to, at the very least, take the series from the Tigers. Kentucky (26-27, 12-13 SEC) is projected as a bubble team at the moment, and would likely need a .500 record or better to make the NCAA Tournament.
While last year's team at the same point in the season was a lock for the field, Kentucky's postseason hopes hinge on the final games of the schedule. And while the pressure mounts, this team is enjoying the chase for a postseason berth.
"This team loves to compete," said Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson. "We've never made anything easy, especially this senior class. They've never made anything easy over the last four years. So to be able to end on such a push is actually fitting for them."
Lawson, of course, said that jokingly. But other than last season, it hasn't always been easy for this group of seniors. That's why it's only right that they go out this way, grinding and making one last push for the NCAA Tournament. That final push begins Friday at 6 p.m. at the UK Softball Complex.
"I think they love the limelight," Lawson said. "They love playing on the national level. They love the SEC. I mean they love everything there is about Kentucky and softball. So I think from that perspective, it's kind of fun to see if they can get it done."
Senior pitcher Chanda Bell expressed a similar sentiment about this team making a late-season surge. Of course, it was Bell who mowed down Florida Gator hitters twice this past weekend, getting wins on Friday and again on Sunday to seal the series victory. Her performance over the weekend garnered SEC Pitcher of the Week honors.
It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Bell this year. After a fantastic 2011 season in which she went 15-8 with a 2.24 ERA, Bell's season started slowly thanks to an injury she sustained at the beginning of the season. As of late, however, it appears she's gotten back into the groove.
"Coach was doing a great job of mixing all my pitches," said Bell. "I've added a couple of pitches this year, and just the fact we were able to mix some different pitches in there, and not being predictable helped a lot."
Lawson complimented Bell for the way that she's come back and battled this season, noting that she has been rock-solid the last few weekends. Bell now has her numbers back to where she is used to seeing them, sitting at 14-10 with a 2.61 ERA for the season.
And if Bell's been the key to the pitching lately, fellow senior Brittany Cervantes is responsible for kick-starting the offense. In a similar situation, Cervantes struggled to get back into last season's form.
After belting 35 home runs in her first three seasons as a Wildcat, Cervantes didn't hit her 36th until the 26th game of the season. The 36th home run gave her the all-time record at UK, and since then, Cervantes has been on a tear.
The senior third baseman leads the team with 10 home runs and has since been moved to the leadoff spot in the lineup in an attempt to get the offense going. Though it was a bit unnatural for her at first, Cervantes is relishing the role as the team's table setter.
"Actually, I'm not the most comfortable in the leadoff spot. I wasn't, but now I'm totally fine with it," said Cervantes. "I kind of want to set the tone for the game. Even though there's high expectations for it, I feel comfortable in the leadoff position. And I think I've finally turned it around."
And it's important that she has. The resurgence of these two seniors has come at an opportune time.
With possibly just a few games left in their careers, both Bell and Cervantes feel a bit of urgency to perform well this weekend to set themselves up for the best possible position to find a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
"Well we know it's a pretty big weekend; we need to take two out of three," said Cervantes. "A sweep would obviously be ideal. These games are pretty important, obviously because we need them, but it's also the senior weekend. We want to go out and bang 'em in our last home games. We can't go in tense, but I think we need to have the same demeanor we had when we went into Florida."
Bell was passionate in talking about making the postseason in her final year, regardless of how much pressure was involved. She wants this badly.
"I want to go to postseason so bad," said Bell. "Knowing that we need to take two, we really need to take three this weekend. It's a lot of pressure even though we do have nothing to lose right now."
There's no doubt the pressure will be high, as are the stakes. Knowing that, Bell has the utmost confidence, as she should after her performance last weekend, that she can come up big again this weekend.
"I always feel like I perform better when the pressure's on, it's really fun," said Bell. "I don't really get nervous in pressure situations. I always seem to do a little better, I think. So hopefully our team can too."
Kentucky will no doubt fell the pressure. And they do have to play well this weekend or risk having to run the gauntlet in the SEC Tournament next weekend to nab a postseason berth. But there was pressure last weekend too. Lawson says that no matter how much is at stake, it is important that her team stays focused and have fun playing the game no matter the outcome.
"I think having those two wins against such an awesome opponent, I think it gives you a lot of confidence that if we can bring our 'A' game this weekend, I think they know they can end up on the winning side of things," said Lawson. "On the other hand, it was just fun. They play the best when they're fun and they let the game come to them. I think they've just had a great time with it, and I hope we can take that attitude against LSU."
Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced a new contract for Matthew Mitchell that will keep him at UK through 2019. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
When Mitch Barnhart was named Kentucky's Athletics Director 10 years ago, he inherited a women's basketball program that he believed needed to be bigger and better than what it was. With the support of Dr. Lee Todd, then UK's president, he undertook the task of positioning UK Hoops for success.
Nine years ago, a young assistant named Matthew Mitchell came to Lexington to work for new UK coach Mickie DeMoss. He worked alongside her in building the foundation for the kind of success Barnhart envisioned.
Five years ago, Mitchell returned to UK after two seasons at Morehead State, this time as head coach. With the program already having taken major steps in the right direction, Mitchell was there to take things over the top, to make Kentucky a national player.
On the heels of a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, a berth in the Elite Eight and the school's first Southeastern Conference championship in three decades, UK Hoops hasn't quite reached the summit Barnhart dreamed of, but it's certainly pretty close.
"For the past five years, he's led our program and moved us to a spot where arguably we're talked about on a regular basis as one of the top programs in the country," Barnhart said. "That's in large part due to his efforts and the efforts of his staff."
In recognition of all he has done, Barnhart signed Mitchell to a new seven-year contract through the end of the 2018-19 season. The deal provides for a raise from his previous salary and is worth a minimum of $7.95 million and can escalate based on performance incentives.
"This is a very, very happy day for Jenna (Mitchell's wife) and me to have a chance to continue as the coach here and for us have a chance to be a member of this university and continue to try to serve this university," Mitchell said.
The agreement also serves as a symbol of the commitment of both Mitchell to UK and vice versa, thereby quelling some of the concern among fans that the rising star among the coaching profession might take another job.
"I go around this town, go in grocery stores and restaurants, anywhere in Lexington and out in the Commonwealth and people have always said to me, 'I hope you're going to stay at Kentucky.' They often say that with a tone like they would think there's somewhere better for me to go."
Even though Mitchell heard the anxiety, he never quite understood it. With UK's ascent as a program, the staff and fans that surround it and the commitment of the administration to women's basketball, he can't imagine being anywhere else.
"What Mitch Barnhart's done, what the players have done is that, for any coach in America, any coach, Kentucky would be a great job," Mitchell said. "But for Matthew Mitchell, Jenna Mitchell and our family, it is the best job, the best job in the country to have."
What really makes this job special to Mitchell is coaching the young women who also happen to be largely responsible for UK's ascent.
"The opportunity it really provides us is to do what we love, and that's to work with the players," Mitchell said. "That's the most important thing at Kentucky. That's the most important part of what we do and today wouldn't have been possible without a bunch of kids working really, really hard and giving everything that they've had."
Mitchell and Barnhart sat side-by-side in announcing the contract and spoke repeatedly of the respect they have for one another. They have inarguably made a good team over five seasons and likely the most important reason why is a shared sense of what matters. Both Mitchell and Barnhart believe that, more than anything else, their responsibility is to the student-athletes they lead.
"I think he has an extremely special desire to help young people, specifically young women, pursue greatness," Barnhart said. "And he expects them to pursue greatness."
"There is no one who I've ever been around in this business of college athletics that cares more about people than Mitch Barnhart," Mitchell said. "That's somebody that I want to be involved with, that's somebody I want to work for and he, in a more sincere way than I've ever seen in college athletics, cares about these student-athletes and their experience."
The business of negotiating a new deal was necessary and the financial security it entails is nice for Mitchell's family, but both are ready to get back to what they really care about doing. Mitchell didn't get into coaching for big payday, and he doesn't intend to change now that he ranks among the nation's highest paid women's basketball coaches.
"I've never put a lot of thought into that and it's just kind of happened the way that it's happened," Mitchell said. "The focus has been on trying to add value to kids' lives and trying to teach them and trying to help them be great basketball players and great people. I think that's where the focus needs to remain."
Mitchell definitely has a group with the potential to be great. UK loses Amber Smith, Keyla Snowden and Crystal Riley for 2012-13, but returns the rest of the Wildcats who played in the Elite Eight in March. Kentucky also adds a pair of McDonald's All-Americans in forward DeNesha Stallworth, a transfer from California, and point guard Janee Thompson.
"We have a terrific group of players that's coming back so we're excited for the future," Mitchell said. "They are giving an awful lot to the University and I want to thank them." Mitchell to donate $100,000 to University
During the press conference discussing his new contract, Mitchell also announced he would be donating $100,000 back to UK for educational purposes as a demonstration of his family's commitment to contributing positively to the University.
"We just want (UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto) to know that we are partners here," Mitchell said. "We want to be great servants to the University and it's just a complete honor to sign this contract." Search for new assistant ongoing
Last week, associate head coach Kyra Elzy resigned from her post at UK to accept a job as an assistant at Tennessee, her alma mater. Due to UK hiring regulations, Mitchell has been unable to have formal discussions about a replacement, but at the end of the day on Thursday, those restrictions are lifted. After that, he will waste no time.
"I can assure you that we're moving forward in that area and hopefully you will have something very quickly on that," Mitchell said.
On Thursday, Indiana University announced the end its series with Kentucky due to an inability to agree on the site of the annual game. Later on Thursday afternoon, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart released a statement on the same subject which you can read below in its entirety:
"We are extremely disappointed in Indiana's decision to end our annual men's basketball series. We were under the impression that we were in continued negotiations with Indiana University on signing a two-year contract to play the annual game at neutral sites.
"After the NCAA Championships, both schools verbally agreed in principle to play for two years at neutral sites (December 8, 2012 and December 7 or 14, 2013) and agreed to revisit campus sites upon completion of the two-year deal. The public comments by Indiana prior to today over the last week led us to believe that our previous verbal agreement could be in jeopardy, but at no point did we ever have any mutual discussions with Indiana to end the series.
"We were contacted by Indiana today shortly before 2 p.m. ET and informed that due to our desire to move to neutral sites they were moving on for the 2012-13 season and would revisit continuing the series at a later date.
"Our desire to play the series at a neutral site was due mainly to the success of the series from 1992-2006. It allowed the fans of both schools to enjoy the experience of one of the greatest rivalries every year. Everyone that watched or attended those games said it was a great atmosphere for college basketball. We looked at this as an opportunity to recapture that atmosphere and unfortunately it ended today."
Around this time on Friday, the national champion Kentucky Wildcats will be getting ready to board a plan to Washington, D.C., to take President Barack Obama up on his offer to visit the White House. You won't be able to get a spot on the trip, but you will be able to follow along live.
ESPNU will be covering live UK's tour of the White House and meeting with the Commander-in-Chief. Andy Katz will be with the team in D.C. for the SportsCenterU Special: Kentucky at the White House, which begins at 5 p.m. on Friday. It will be simulcast on ESPN3 at this link.
Additionally, ESPNU will show a half-hour special, All Access: Kentucky at the White House next week, with the first episode airing on Friday, May 11, at 11:30 p.m.
I'm also happy to report that Cat Scratches as well as Eric Lindsey of CoachCal.com will be making the trip with the team. It's certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, but more importantly for you, we will be providing joint coverage of the event similar to what we did throughout the postseason. We will have Twitter updates, stories, video and a photo gallery from the White House visit, so stay tuned for that on Friday.
Gary Henderson, Michael Williams and the Wildcats will host No. 5 Florida beginning on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Until recently, the Kentucky baseball team didn't know what it felt like to have a bad week.
Before this past Sunday, the Wildcats had charged through the first 10 weeks of the season without dropping a weekend series. Improbably, six of those series wins had come in the gauntlet that is the Southeastern Conference, five against top-25 teams.
This past weekend, Vanderbilt put an end to that streak with Saturday and Sunday victories as UK hit the road for the fourth time in seven weeks. The Cats can no longer puff their chests out as the last SEC team with a series defeat, but they see the change as merely superficial. Accordingly, they don't plan on altering their approach.
"The message doesn't change," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Thursday's the biggest game of the year, then Friday will be the biggest game, then Saturday will be and the next series will be the biggest game of the year."
Henderson has espoused the mantra that each successive weekend represents the most important one of the season, and with No. 5 Florida coming to Cliff Hagan Stadium for a made-for-primetime series between a pair of conference contenders, it would be hard to argue with him right now.
UK has the challenge of rebounding from a three-loss week - the third came in a midweek game against Louisville - facing a team ranked first in the preseason. The Gators (33-12, 12-9 SEC) are headlined by defending SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino, who leads the conference in slugging percentage, home runs and doubles, but the rest of the lineup is far from full of slouches. Even without Zunino's 12 home runs, the Gators have hit 44, more than every other SEC team, save for UK's 48. Moreover, the majority of those homers come from players that contributed to last year's team that advanced to the College World Series final.
"They've got real power in more than one guy, and when you've got that much experience and as many skills as they have, they're a tough club," Henderson said. "They've had some injury issues that have slowed them down a little bit, but they're getting past that. They're just a really talented, really experienced club."
Yes, UK - now in a three-way tie atop the SEC standings - comes into the difficult series on more of a sour note than any other this season, but the losses to Vanderbilt were not without silver linings. First, Taylor Rogers - who will pitch the opener against Florida on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU, turned in one of his best starts of the SEC season in picking up the win last Friday, which followed a resilient start the previous week in a losing effort vs. LSU.
"I think it's always important when a guy pitches well and gets some positive feedback with a 'W,' but more important than the 'W' itself was the way he went about his business and how he pitched," Henderson said. "I was really proud of him and he did a nice job. That's a tough environment down there."
Even in the two defeats, Henderson couldn't help but be encouraged.
On Saturday, UK managed to chase star freshman Tyler Beede after seven scoreless innings due to an escalating pitch count before wasting no time in rallying for three eighth-inning runs to tie the game. In the bottom of the frame, Vanderbilt mounted a two-rally that scored the decisive run when Cameron Flynn's diving effort to corral a fly ball came up empty. Henderson called it "a play we've made all year."
Sunday's game had a similar feel, as another pitcher with a bright professional future in Kevin Ziomek handcuffed the UK offense before leaving earlier than he would have liked due a pitch count climbing past 100. Once again, the Cats tied the game in the eighth on an RBI groundout by J.T. Riddle, only for Vandy to undo UK's chances with a grand slam and five runs in the bottom half off closer Trevor Gott, who was facing just his second batter in two weeks.
"We pitched, except for the eighth inning on Sunday, extremely well out of the bullpen all weekend," Henderson said. "You're talking 1-1 going into the eighth on the road, you're happy about what you've done to that point, now you've got to close it out and you got to pitch well for 27 outs and we didn't do that. As a whole this year, we have. Those are some of the positives that you take out of the weekend."
As they have all season, the Wildcats have relied on freshman to carry a heavy load, most notably Austin Cousino and A.J. Reed, who have batted first and third in the UK lineup for the majority of the year. The two combined for just two hits in 16 at-bats in the two losses, indicative of their importance to the team.
Concern over Cousino - who has gone hitless in back-to-back games just once all season - should be minimal, but Reed is a slightly different story. Since his batting averaged peaked at .386 following a sweep of South Carolina, he has seen it dip to .302. During the 23-game stretch, he has just 21 hits and 11 RBI in 89 at-bats after tallying 27 hits and 28 RBI in his first 21 games.
For most newcomers, hitting a midseason wall is close to inevitable, but Henderson sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He expects to see strides out of Reed and his fellow freshman beginning this weekend.
"I think we're almost past it, I really do," Henderson said. "I guess this week will be the determining factor whether we're still in the middle of it or whether we're over the hump so to speak. I think they're almost getting that second shot that you usually see and the knowledge that we're going to get to play a little bit more is good for those guys and their mental health."
Handling failure isn't something that concerns Henderson much when it comes to his "very consistent group of kids," as he calls his team. The Cats may not have experienced the sting of a series loss before, but they know what it takes to get past it.
"We're either the last club or the second-to-last club in the country to lose a weekend series," Henderson said. "They don't give you any awards for that, but I think it just speaks to how the kids have handled it. They've done a good job. We've got enough experience and enough leadership to not go over the edge because you lost a series."
University of Kentucky sophomore Trevor Gott and junior Luke Maile were named to the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List Tuesday.
Making the 60-man watch list puts the Wildcat duo in contention for the most prestigious award in college baseball. USA Baseball has honored the top amateur baseball player in the country with the Golden Spikes Award since 1978.
The NFL draft is hardly the last chance college football players have to make their professional dreams come true. In the 24 hours that follow every draft, a frenzy of rookie free-agent signings happen - and several Kentucky players were part of that mad dash to snatch up less-heralded talent this year.
Along with the Wildcats' two draft picks - safety Winston Guy to the Seattle Seahawks with the 181st pick and linebacker Danny Trevathan to the Denver Broncos with the 188th pick, both in the sixth round - five former UK players have signed rookie free-agent contracts.
University of Kentucky's Eric Quigley, who has set the school record for most wins in a season (47 and counting), has been named the Southeastern Conference Tennis Player of the Year by league coaches.
Quigley is the second player in UK history to earn the title, joining former UK All-American Jesse Witten (2005).
The sixth-ranked University of Kentucky men's tennis team, which won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title with an undefeated record in league play, has received an at-large selection into the NCAA Tennis Tournament, the NCAA announced Tuesday.
The University of Kentucky basketball team is headed to the White House, by invitation of President Obama, and the Wildcats had better hurry up and pack. Word of the invitation came Tuesday -- with the visit scheduled for Friday.
UK's players and coach John Calipari will be honored by the president at 4:50 p.m. Friday for winning this year's NCAA championship, the program's eighth.
University of Kentucky senior and National Champion Eloy Vargas will conduct five area youth basketball camps during the month of May.
Vargas, who helped the University of Kentucky men's basketball program capture its eighth national championship earlier in the month, will hold five camps in as many days May 14-18. The Nation of Blue Championship Camp featuring Eloy Vargas will tip off on Monday, May 14 at Belfry High School. Each camp will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
UK women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell said he was the program's spokesman this year because he sees himself as a teacher first and a coach second. But Mitchell didn't know that he would be among those honored as a teacher who made a difference.
Mitchell was presiding over the recognition ceremony at the UK Student Center when one of his players, senior guard Keyla Snowden, walked in to surprise him, representing the team.
It was somewhat easy to forget amidst the controlled chaos that was the Clippers' 28-3 run to close Game 1 in FedEx Forum. But Bledsoe's hustle play along with several other moments from the second-year guard playing his first career playoff game, were essential to the 99-98 victory.
Or as Paul said about Bledsoe and the rest of his teammates efforts prior to Monday's practice at the arena, "Each one of those plays had to be made in order for us to have a chance to win."
With injury befalling Team USA, two recent Kentucky Wildcats are reportedly under consideration to be added to the Olympic roster for this summer's games in London.
Twenty finalists for the 12 spots on the final roster were announced in January, but five of those candidates have since been removed from contention, most recently Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard due to season-ending injuries. USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo announced plans to add one or two players to the preliminary roster and, according ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are both in contention:
"Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Sacramento Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins, Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe and incoming Kentucky star Anthony Davis -- widely regarded as a lock to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft -- are among the young big men under consideration to be among the late additions Colangelo mentioned."
With Howard out of commission due to a back injury, it stands to reason that Team USA would want to add a big man to help compensate for the loss of its primary center. Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler and Blake Griffin are the only players listed as forwards or centers among the remaining 15 finalists. Clearly, Cousins and Davis fit the bill, particularly considering that Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers, the most logical choice to replace Howard, already has announced plans to take the summer off.
In his second year in the NBA, Cousins was among the most improved players in the league, averaging 19.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks after the All-Star Break. UK fans need no reminder of the potential impact the 19-year old Davis could make with his defensive prowess. He set the NCAA freshman record with 186 blocked shots en route to national player of the year and Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. The last player to play in the Olympics for Team USA before his first NBA season was Emeka Okafor of Connecticut in 2004. The last former Wildcat to play in the Olympics for Team USA was Tayshaun Prince in 2008.
Obviously, nothing is even close to official, and even if it were, being named a finalist is no guarantee of making the final roster for either Davis or Cousins. Nonetheless, simply having their names mentioned in connection with Team USA is an honor for two players 21 years or younger.
SEC Player of the Year Eric Quigley leads UK in the NCAA Men's Tennis Tournament with a No. 3 singles ranking. (Steve Harp, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky men's tennis team will have a chance to add another chapter to an already memorable season beginning next week.
The Southeastern Conference champions received the No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA Men's Tennis Championships and will play host to first and second round matches for the fourth consecutive season and Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.
The Wildcats (26-5) will face Radford (20-5) in the tournament's opening round, while familiar foes await in a potential second round matchup. Indiana (21-8) and Louisville (18-9) will play in the first round, with the winner advancing to play UK or Radford with a berth in the Sweet 16 at stake. All rounds beginning with the Sweet 16 will be played in Athens, Ga.
Earlier this season, UK won a 7-0 decision over the Hoosiers in Lexington. In last year's NCAA Tournament, UK defeated U of L in a memorable second round showdown between the two rivals. The Cats beat the Cardinals en route to the Elite Eight, the best finish in school history. This year, UK will be looking to advance to the first Final Four in Dennis Emery's three-decade tenure.
We'll have plenty more coverage leading up to and during UK's 2012 NCAA Tournament run, so stay tuned. In the mean time, check out the full release on UKathletics.com for more information.
This week, students throughout Kentucky are taking standardized tests as a part of the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System. In support of the young test-takers during the week, men's basketball stars Anthony Davis and Darius Miller filmed a series of three short video messages with words of encouragement.
Davis and Miller emphasize the importance of tests while encouraging students to do the best they can by focusing, getting a good night's sleep and eating a healthy breakfast. It's a familiar message for anyone who has taken part in CATS testing before, but coming from a pair of NBA-bound national champions, it's sure to be heard loud and clear.
You can watch the video below or download the video file. Here is what Davis and Miller had to say to Kentucky students:
You may have seen photos of it on Monday, but here is a video of local baker Brandi Romines bringing a cake replica of the national championship trophy to John Calipari at the Joe Craft Center. As you'll hear in the the video, Romines logged nearly 40 hours of work creatively baking the cake beginning on Saturday evening.
Since Kentucky won the national championship nearly a month ago, the team's celebration tour has been full of unforgettable moments. There was the gathering in Rupp Arena in front of 20,000 or more fans, the trophy voyage that zigzagged the state and even a visit by former President Bill Clinton.
All those are about to be topped.
As is the tradition for championship-winning teams, President Barack Obama has invited the team to the White House for a visit on Friday at 4:50 p.m. President Obama will welcome the team to commemorate the school's eighth national title and deliver remarks in honor of the Wildcats. The visit will also include a guided tour of the White House.
"The amazing thing is the first thing that was said when the horn sounded in New Orleans was, 'We're going to the White House!' " Calipari said.
"It's one of those moments for these players that they have probably thought about without us even knowing that it was important to them. So I'm excited about the opportunity for them to meet the President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World and someone who is trying to make a difference in their lives."
Baseball - 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 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 offensive 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 has 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.
Softball - The Kentucky softball team charted a 3-1 week, which included a series-upset of No. 2 Florida in Gainesville this weekend. It marked the second consecutive season the Wildcats have captured the series from Florida, and it was the first series this season the Gators had dropped in conference play. - The tremendous week was led by the senior trio of Chanda Bell, Brittany Cervantes and Rachel Riley. Bell picked up both victories in the Florida series working 14.0 innings and allowing just one run. She struck out 21 batters, including a season-high 13 in the series-clincher. For the weekend, she struck out 10.5 batters for every one she walked. - Riley batted .500 for the week which included the game-winning bases-clearing double in the series win over Florida. She also pitched UK to a victory in the midweek contest with Morehead State striking out seven and giving up just three hits. - Cervantes led the bats with a .583 week which included hitting what would become the game-winning solo homer in the opening win of the Florida series. With that long ball she became the only UK player in school history to hit 10 or more homers in all four seasons of a career. - With the wins over Florida, the Wildcats also guaranteed themselves a spot in the SEC Tournament for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year.
Track and field - Freshman Keilah Tyson finished second in the Women's 100-Meter Dash Championship at the Penn Relays on Saturday, clocking the third fastest 100m dash in UK history and the fastest ever by a freshman. - Senior Luis Orta finished fourth in the men's 3,000m steeplechase with a career-best time of 8:47.52. Orta's time is the second-fastest steeplechase in Kentucky history. - Sophomore Andrew Evans won the Men's Discus Throw Championship by six inches at the Penn Relays on Friday, throwing 185-06/56.56m. - Senior Jennifer Svoboda finished fifth in the Women's Shot Put Championship on Thursday at the Penn Relays, throwing a season-best mark of 50-10/15.49m.
Thursday, May 3 Baseball hosts Florida - 7:30 p.m.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, April 29:
Softball: Chanda Bell
Senior Chanda Bell simply had the best pitching performance of the season during the most critical stages of the year for the Wildcats. With UK needing to stay close to .500 for the season for any post-season hope, UK traveled to No. 2 Florida who had not yielded a single SEC series this season. Bell opened the series as UK's starter and pitched a four-hit shutout of the Gators - only the fourth time all season Florida had been shutout. She struck out eight in the contest and gave up just one walk. After Florida evened the series on Saturday, UK turned to its senior right-hander in the rubber game. Bell simply was masterful; she struck out a season-high 13 batters and gave up just one run to the powerful Gators. Three times in the game she struck out the side. The 13 strikeouts tossed against Florida was the second-highest total of the year for any pitcher. She walked just one batter in the contest and for the weekend struck out 10.5 batters for every one she walked. The Gators stranded eight in the game including four in scoring position and every time it appeared Florida would threaten, Bell stood her ground and escaped the jams. For her career, she now sits a mere 13 strikeouts away from recording 900 for her career. She's the only pitcher in UK history to throw 150 or more strikeouts in each of her four seasons.
Track & field: Raymond Dykstra
Finished fourth in the men's javelin throw championship at the famous Penn Relays.
Threw 229-10 in the javelin at the championship at the Penn Relays, which would be the second-best javelin mark in school history (he currently holds the top mark).
Track & field: Andrew Evans
Won the men's discus championship at the famous Penn Relays with a throw of 185-06/56.56m.
Has led the Wildcats all season, currently holding the seventh best discus mark in UK history (188-10).
Track & field: Luis Orta
Ran a career-best time in the men's 3,000m steeplechase.
Ran the second-fastest time in the men's 3,000m steeplechase in school history.
Finished with the third-fastest time in his heat amongst collegiate athletes.
Was competing in arguably the most competitive distance running meet in the country.
Softball: Rachel Riley
Senior Rachel Riley provided both an offensive spark as well as one in the pitching circle to help lead the Wildcats to a series-upset of No. 2 Florida as well as earning a non-conference win over Morehead State. Against the Eagles, Riley tossed a complete-game win, striking out seven and giving up just three hits while also going 2-for-3 at the dish in an all-important win. In the opening game of the Florida series she drove in a run with a slicing single to give UK a 2-0 lead in the third inning. In the second game of the series, she notched another hit while also working 5.0 innings of relief and giving up just one earned run and striking out four. In the rubber game between the squads, Riley delivered the game-winning sixth-inning bases-clearing double to propel UK to a 5-1 upset of the Gators. It marked just the first time this season Florida has dropped a conference series, and the four-run margin was the largest win of the season for a Gator opponent. With four RBI this weekend, Riley has now driven in a career-high 30 RBI as well as logging a career-best 44 hits. Her 11 strikeouts tossed on the week runs her season total to a career-best 73. With three walks this week, Riley has now moved into UK's all-time top-10 list for career walks.
Track & field: Jennifer Svoboda
Finished fifth in the women's shot put championship with a season-best mark of 50-10 at the famous Penn Relays.
Threw a season-best mark in the shot put (50-10/15.49m).
Has led the Wildcats all season in the shot put.
Track & field: Keilah Tyson
Broke the Kentucky 100m dash freshman record for the second time this year.
Her time of 11.48 in the 100m dash is a career-best and the third best in school history.
Finished 1st in her heat in the 100m dash at the famous Penn Relays.
Finished 2nd in the 100m dash championship at the Penn Relays, running a UK freshman record in the process.
Has the fastest 100m time among freshmen in the SEC, and the eighth fastest overall.
Has set four freshman records at Kentucky, including two this outdoor season (100m dash and 200m dash).
Ran the second leg in Kentucky's first-place 4x100m relay team in the second final of the event.
Ran the final leg in Kentucky's seventh-place 4x200m relay team that advanced to the championship.