OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Jr., F, Tyler Riggs (Louisville, Ky.) NOTES: Junior forward Tyler Riggs had a prolific two-game week in leading the Wildcats to a win and draw ... During the 5-1 win at IPFW, Riggs totaled two goals, his second career multi-goal game ... In the Conference USA opener against Memphis on Sunday, Riggs contributed sixth goal of the year, also adding his fourth assist ... The Louisville, Ky., native fired a total of six shots during the week, with three going for goals ... On the year, Riggs has a team-high six goals and four assists and in his career, Riggs has 22 goals, nine assists and 53 points ... With 22 goals, Riggs ranks tied with Matt Lodge for sixth-best in UK career history and his 53 points rank seventh-best.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a successful week with a win Tuesday at IPFW, 5-1, and a home 2-2 draw in the Conference USA lidlifter against Memphis. UK will return to action on Wednesday, hosting No. 8 Indiana at 7 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex.
Kentucky (5-4-1, C-USA 0-0-1) posted a 7-3 goal margin in its two games during the week, as the Wildcats got the first career multi-goal game from veteran Gabriel Conelian against IPFW, as well as multi-goal game from Tyler Riggs. A pair of three-point performances were registered in the game against the Memphis Tigers, with Charley Pettys and Tyler Riggs both accounting for a goal and an assist on the day.
UK is currently riding a stellar five-match unbeaten streak (4-0-1), its longest since the 2009 season. UK owns a 13-4 total goal differential in the five-game span, which started with a thrilling 1-0 win at No. 18 Louisville on Sept. 14, in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a UK men's soccer game, 5,583 fans at Cardinal Park.
The Wildcats have been led offensively in 2012 by Riggs, who has six goals and four assists in UK's first 10 games of the year. Senior Matt Lodge has five goals, while Pettys has added four goals and two assists. Conelian, Steven Perinovic and Bryan Celis have each added goals, while Kristoffer Tollefsen has two assists and senior Jacob Kemper owns three assists. In the game vs. Memphis, Lodge registered two shots to break the UK career shots record held by Riley O'Neill (2003-06).
A native of Richmond, Va., UK junior keeper, Jack Van Arsdale, has allowed only five goals in his last seven games. He now owns a 1.03 goals-against average in 700 minutes in 2012, saving 24 shots with two shutouts. UK freshman goalkeeper Callum Irving has also started three games, with seven saves and a 2.00 goals-against average. As a team, UK has averaged two goals a game, 13.1 shots a contest and a 66-52 advantage in corner kicks. Defensively, UK owns a 1.30 goals-against average.
UK will host No. 8 Indiana for the Wednesday 7 p.m. ET matchup at the UK Soccer Complex and then return to the road to SMU in the second C-USA match of the season on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET. The game with IU will mark UK's fifth ranked opponent in the first 11 games of the year.
Tyler Riggs netted his team-leading sixth goal in a 2-2 draw against Memphis. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
One of the goals for the University of Kentucky men's soccer team coming into the 2012 season was to finish in the top six of the Conference USA and make an appearance in the league tournament at the end of the year. The Wildcats took their first step in that direction as they picked up a point in the first game of conference action with a 2-2 draw against Memphis in double overtime on Sunday afternoon at the UK Soccer Complex.
Head coach Johan Cedergren has talked about how important the first game of conference play is and how much of a struggle it can be. The Wildcats appeared to be in some trouble heading to the halftime locker room, trailing 1-0.
The first half was not pretty for the Cats, but they responded with a spirited second half and overtime play to pick up a point and improve their unbeaten streak to five games.
"I think it's huge to get that first point," Cedergren said. "We aren't disappointed in getting a point against Memphis because they are a very good team."
Junior Tyler Riggs equalized the match in the 64th minute on assists from Jacob Kemper and senior Charley Pettys. The Wildcats looked as though they seized momentum moments later as Pettys put UK ahead with his fourth goal of the season in the 66th minute for a 2-1 advantage.
Memphis would later tie the contest off a deflected free kick on the 78th minute to knot the game at 2-all. The game went into two overtimes as neither team was able to find the game-winner, resulting in the draw.
Kentucky has played very well in its previous four games, especially getting off to good starts. Today, the Wildcats came out flat in the first half and put themselves in a hole from the beginning. Cedergren has been very demanding on his players since his arrival and made a statement in the locker room, instructing his players that their first half was just not good enough.
"That first half was unacceptable, and we talked about that at halftime," Cedergren said. "We made changes and got better, but I think we put ourselves in a huge hole. "The only way they were going to score we felt was technique, and they scored off of two set pieces."
UK appeared flat from the get go but improved significantly the rest of the way to give the Wildcats some positives to take away from the game. Cedergren was pleased with the play of several individuals but makes it clear that he is in it for the team and feels like they took a step back today.
The Cats had to play catch-up after falling behind 1-0 in the 17th minute. UK has found itself in that same position several times so far this season and showed resiliency in the second stanza and OT.
In the end, the slow start in the first half prevented the Wildcats from picking up their fifth straight win
"You can see the belief that they kept playing and kept doing things but it was the flatness in the first half that we had to struggle to get out of," Cedergren said. "It's tough because you are happy you get a point at home and you are happy with the second half and overtime but the first half leaves you so frustrated that it's hard to get over that one."
Last season, the Cats finished 2-5-1 in conference play and missed out on the league tournament at the end of the year. A point in the opening conference game should give UK a boost and help them achieve their goal of making the C-USA tournament.
Kentucky topped Louisville a few of weeks ago and have since turned their season around and hovered above the .500 mark. The Wildcats have another opportunity to pick up a huge win and ride some momentum with a battle against Indiana at home on Wednesday.
Unlike the Louisville game where UK played against 5,500 screaming Cardinal fans, the Cats will be playing in front of their home crowd. Kentucky has a couple days to prepare for the Hoosiers who come in ranked No. 8 in the country.
Wednesday will be a major test for the Cats, especially coming off a double overtime match, but Cedergren will have his players ready.
"Indiana coming in here is just like a Louisville game, and the guys are going are going to be up for it," Cedergren said. "We have worked really hard so far in the season and they are really fit and their bodies will be ready."
An overlooked aspect of Kentucky's two, make that three-match winning streak after a 3-1 win over Auburn Sunday has been the defense. The Wildcats have been all over the floor, making incredible digs and momentum-shifting blocks. They may not be getting to every ball, but for this team it's all about quality over quantity.
"It's something different each match, it seems like," said head coach Craig Skinner. "I felt like Auburn out-scrapped us for a lot of that match, but then we end up with more digs than they did. You've got to rely on your defense and you can't prepare for a good defense, so we have to make sure we're ready to go each time."
And the quality of this team's defense has been infectious.
"Anytime they can get the ball high up in the air, we're fine," said senior setter Christine Hartmann. "(Alexandra Morgan) had a dig that almost hit the ceiling in the third set, and even if we can do that, as long as we have (Morgan) in the middle whose making those kind of touches, we're going to win every (match)."
The defense even spread to Hartmann, who notched her fourth double-double of the season with 45 assists and 12 digs. But it was her ability to find her attackers behind the back that made the offense go on this day.
Juniors Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan were a lethal combo for the Kentucky offense, running mostly behind Hartmann on the right side. Billings tallied a season-high 19 kills on the day, while Morgan broke her personal best with 15 kills.
It's been their performances of late that have really solidified the offense.
"I don't know where it came from, but it's the best thing I've seen ever since I've been here," said Hartmann. "They're always ready to go, they're always calling for the ball and I always know I can count on them."
The Kentucky offense came out looking like a team riding high on a two-match winning streak in set one. UK built an impressive 8-2 lead in the first set and looked to be hitting on all cylinders. The Wildcat attackers couldn't miss, while the Tigers looked out of their element early on. But if Auburn's 12-3 record is any indication of their talent, they would not back down from the early deficit.
After the Cats looked to have the first set very much in hand at the 20-13 mark, Auburn stormed back to pull to within three points at 23-20. Auburn looked to be back on track after a sloppy start, and the Cats seemed to be doing the Tigers all sorts of favors with miscues of their own. But despite taking the Tigers' best punch, Kentucky held on for a 25-23 first-set victory.
Or at least UK thought that would be Auburn's best punch.
The Tigers were far from done after it looked like they had stolen most of the momentum in the building with their run near the end of the first. Kentucky did jump out with yet another good start, taking an early 8-5 lead after a couple of service aces by sophomore outside hitter Lauren O'Conner. But once more, the Tigers stormed back, taking an 11-9 lead in the second.
Kentucky was beginning to resemble the team that had suffered a four-match losing streak prior to the last three wins. They began to lose their swagger and confidence as the Cats began to make more unforced errors.
What had carried Kentucky through their last three matches was great defense with high-quality touches from the block and the second-row defense. The Cats turned up the heat again defensively, especially defensive specialist Jessi Greenberg, who made two incredible digs, ultimately leading to a 19-19 tie with Frazier pounding a kill on the next point to give Kentucky the late 20-19 lead.
Greenberg is always looking to bring energy to the floor for her teammates when she gets her opportunities, and she did that again on Sunday.
"I just get excited no matter who has the dig," said Greenberg. "As a defense we get so excited because that means we can transition out of it and get a kill and that's what we did, and that's Kentucky volleyball for us."
It looked as if Kentucky had stolen all of the momentum in the set, but the Tigers clawed back again, outscoring Kentucky 5-2 from that point on to take the second set.
It was a total team effort for the Cats in the third.
After Kentucky and Auburn had traded points early in the third set, the Cats suffered an injury on the front line when freshman middle block Sara Schwarzwalder went to the floor with an apparent ankle injury. Fellow freshman Kayla Tronick came in for relief, and handled herself quite well.
As the rest of the team rallied around Tronick, the Wildcats took off from there and never looked back. Hartmann went to junior right-side hitter Billings 14 times in the third, and it paid dividends. Billings put away half of those sets for kills, finishing with seven kills in the set and helping the Cats withstand another Tiger run.
"Making plays like them and making some digs and some key blocks when we needed to help stifle momentum," said Skinner. "(Morgan) really stepped up for us attacking-wise, had another big night."
Meanwhile, junior middle block Alexandra Morgan was showing just how much this team's defense has rubbed off from player to player. Morgan, typically known for her defensive efforts as a blocker, looked like a defensive specialist while holding serve. Making one-handed digs and defending the back row like she had done it all her life, Morgan helped the Wildcats maintain their late lead while growing momentum for the Kentucky. The Cats went on to win the fourth 25-19.
With the win, Kentucky (9-6, 3-2 SEC) goes over .500 for the first in the SEC this season with matches on the road at Ole Miss and Florida looming next weekend. If the Wildcats hope to sustain this momentum, the upperclassmen will need to continue to deliver the leadership they've shown during UK's recent winning streak.
"They're pretty focused throughout the day and the seniors are to starting step up and lead in that way and understanding that we have to be ready to go," said Skinner. "This is a different league with a lot of good teams and Auburn is one of them."
UK blocks a South Carolina punt to set up a touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 17-7 first-half lead. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the last few weeks, Joker Phillips has been adamant that he has an improving football team. The results the last two weekends may have suggested otherwise, but Phillips believed his young bunch was taking steps forward.
For 30 minutes, the fans in Commonwealth Stadium and a national television audience saw what he was talking about.
Kentucky raced out to a 17-7 halftime lead on sixth-ranked South Carolina, outgaining the visiting Gamecocks and running the ball effectively against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
"We played with great effort," Phillips said. "Our guys played with great effort. I tell you, I think they have all year. We've played with enthusiasm. The thing we did was play with total focus."
The goal coming out of the halftime locker room was to sustain that focus, but that proved to be too tall a task. The Gamecocks scored 31 unanswered points in the second half to defeat the Wildcats 38-17 and move to 5-0 on the season. UK, meanwhile, falls to 1-4. Bruising South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore headlined the comeback, rushing for 108 of his 120 yards and both his touchdowns after intermission.
"It just kind of felt like it was slipping away," said Cody Quinn, one the many true freshmen being asked to play featured roles. "Defensively, we made a few mistakes. They started to run the ball more, but we just got to pick it up and keep fighting. It's a 60-minute game. We can't let up."
Had UK held onto to its 10-point lead, it would have been the biggest upset of the young college football season, but it was surprise enough that the Cats had the lead in the first place.
After the UK defense forced a three-and-out on the game's first possession, Maxwell Smith - returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him last week against Florida - was sacked on Kentucky's second play from scrimmage by Byron Jerideau, who rolled up on Smith's ankle. The sophomore quarterback stayed down with an ankle injury and would not return. X-rays were negative, but Smith's status for next week against Mississippi State is unknown.
"Losing Max on the second play like that was a huge blow I think to everybody's psyche, but they kept fighting and kept competing and we had a chance," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said.
The Cats turned to Jalen Whitlow with Smith out. The true freshman played the fourth quarter against Florida, but Saturday marked his first collegiate snaps with the outcome still in doubt. He was welcomed rudely by Aldrick Fordham, who sacked him on his first play, but he settled in from there.
After the Kentucky defense had its most impressive stand of the season, stuffing Connor Shaw on back-to-back quarterback sneaks from the one-yard line on third and fourth down, Whitlow took the offense on the field with 99 yards to go and they very nearly went the whole way. The Cats converted a pair of long third downs in their own territory - including an electrifying 13-yard Whitlow scramble in the shadow of his own goalpost - before settling for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead and score Kentucky's first first-quarter points of the season.
"I kept telling him over and over and over, 'Your main job is to run the team, take care of the football, run the team, take care of the football,' " Sanders said. "And I thought for most of the game, he did a decent job of that. We ran some plays I've never seen before and the crazy thing was he was able to scramble and make some plays on a few of them."
Carolina would score a touchdown to retake the lead, but Whitlow would guide back-to-back touchdown drives - the second of which was set up when freshmen DeMarcus Sweat, A.J. Legree and Daron Blaylock combined to block a punt - to give UK a 17-7 lead. Whitlow and the offense would get an opportunity to extend the lead even further when the defense stuffed yet another fourth down, but the half expired after Whitlow fumbled on a third-and-goal sack.
"I think that was a momentum swing," Phillips said. "It was. It was a huge momentum swing. We got the ball back in the second half. I think it would have definitely helped if we got some points out of that."
While the UK coaches were making minor adjustments and talking about sustaining effort at halftime, the Gamecocks changed their game plan on the fly. Steve Spurrier elected to go to a power running game on offense while the defense ratcheted up the pressure on Whitlow. After he was sacked just twice in the first half, he was taken down four times in the second. Defensive end Devin Taylor - who stands at 6-foot-8, got credit for one and a half.
"I played against guys big and fast (in high school), but not really 6-8 and can catch you from behind," Whitlow said.
Sanders said during practice this week he is comfortable calling approximately 10 percent of the playbook with Whitlow in the game. During the first half, he was able to stick to that tenth. But with South Carolina retaking the lead with 4:56 left in the third quarter and making it a two-score game less than 10 minutes later, that changed.
"You could see there at the end when we got behind and I had to get out of that 10 percent that I thought he was comfortable with what happened," Sanders said.
Whitlow and his teammates would rather forget about what happened the second stanza and focus on the first, but there's no such thing as a half-win. Nonetheless, since they are such a young team, the Cats have to take positives where they can find them.
"Jalen Whitlow, he looked nice out there and A.J. Legree," Quinn said. "We got a whole bunch of freshmen and sophomores. You can take a positive from that. We got to just keep working and keep getting better each week."
In light of that youth, baby steps is an appropriate word for a team that played well during the first quarter against Florida and played 15 more good minutes on Saturday night.
"Last week it was one quarter pretty darn good," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "This week was a half. Maybe we're headed toward a complete game. Until we put together four quarters, it's going to be hard for our team to win."
Jon Lipsitz predicted Friday night's match against Texas A&M would be interesting. The sixth-ranked Aggies were coming to Lexington for their first-ever matchup with Kentucky as members of the Southeastern Conference. With its high-pressure style, Lipsitz called A&M the "exact foil" for the Wildcats' possession-based approach.
The contrast made for a thrilling match that ended in a 2-2 tie after a pair of 10-minute overtime periods, proving Lipsitz right.
"I just thought it was a fantastic game and Texas A&M is just pure class," Lipsitz said. "Getting to play them and knowing we're going to get to play them year after year is only going to make our program better."
UK (8-2-1, 4-0-1 SEC) twice took second-half leads after a scoreless first. True freshman Kelli Hubly scored both goals - bringing her season total to four - but A&M (10-1-1, 4-0-1 SEC) answered with the equalizer within 15 minutes each time. The game would end in a draw, but not before the Wildcats dodged a Texas-sized bullet when Shea Groom's shot went inches wide as the final seconds ticked down on regulation.
"That's what I want from a big-time matchup," Lipsitz said. "I want to play the number (six) team in the country. I want it to be a great game without bad fouls. I want it to be exciting for the fans."
Hubly's goals were certainly the highlight for the 1,006 fans in attendance at the UK Soccer Complex. The young forward is coming on strong in her first season, having scored 10 points in her last seven matches and five in her last two.
"Kelli is a very talented player and what Kelli's learning, like most young players, is you can't fade in and out of training," Lipsitz said. "You can't fade in and out of games. We see what her talent is and we expect it all the time."
It was the first tie of the season for both teams, and it left the Cats with a curious feeling. On one hand, they couldn't help but be happy to be the first SEC team to register a point against the Aggies, one of the best teams in the nation. On the other, UK wanted more.
"I want the players to be disappointed when we tie," Lipsitz said. "I think that says a lot about our attitude and where we're coming. If Texas A&M is the benchmark in our conference right now, we're doing pretty well."
Both teams in this back-and-forth battle were visibly tired by the time it ended, but they have to turn around and play again on Sunday. Kentucky host Alabama on Sunday at noon with little time to rest, but that's why the Cats worked so hard this offseason.
"We came in fit to preseason," Lipsitz said. "We came in over-the-top fit. That is because last year we were really bad on Sundays. We took it as a personal challenge to come in fit, to take care of our bodies, do a better job and be ready on Sunday."
Jon Lipsitz has led UK to a 8-2-0 start to the 2012 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Following Jon Lipsitz on Twitter, there's no way of knowing what you're going to get. He interacts with his players. He recounts beating one of his two young sons in a video game. He gives his opinions on sports other than his own, Kentucky or otherwise.
Sometimes, Lipsitz can make his followers forget he's a women's soccer coach, at least until the day or two following his team's weekend matches. He's always made a habit of sharing his thoughts on how the Wildcats played, but this season, his public evaluations have taken a statistical turn.
"Interesting stats from this weekend," Lipsitz tweeted on Tuesday. "Friday (in a 3-2 loss at Arkansas) completed 349 passes to 149 for opponent, yet lost and deserved to because (UK) did not win the box.
"Sunday (in a 2-1 overtime win at LSU) set all-time records for passes and completion rates: 451 passes at 83.1 (percent). Both are new records."
Lipsitz 140-character-or-less postgame debriefs certainly reflect UK's increased emphasis on possession this season, but where do those numbers come from? Do he and his assistants pore over game tape for hours on end, meticulously noting every detail?
Clearly not, because it's hard to imagine Lipsitz having time to talk UK basketball otherwise.
The statistics come from software developed by Prozone, a United Kingdom-based company that pioneered performance analysis in soccer and has clients like Manchester United and Real Madrid. Using cameras placed around the pitch, the software tracks the movement of players from both teams and the ball, generating statistical, graphical and video representations of the action.
UK, along with every other team in the Southeastern Conference, had used the software before this season, but just a less robust version. Recognizing its impact, Lipsitz and first-year men's soccer coach Johan Cedergren approached athletic department administration about making an investment in Prozone 3, the highest level of the software. According to Lipsitz, UK is the only school in nation make Prozone 3 available to both its men's and women's soccer teams.
"It's just great support by our administration when we went to them and Johan and I said this is really important," Lipsitz said. "It has changed the way we analyze both our play and our opponents' play."
Throughout his time as a collegiate coach, Lipsitz has relied on instincts and limited tools to evaluate the way his team plays. The new software is allowing him and his staff to go far beyond that.
"I think having a balance between us subjectively telling them what is important and showing them objectively this is who we are and who you are is nice," Lipsitz said. "I think you need both."
That doesn't mean he throws a mountain of video and statistics at his players. After taking a look at his own team's play and the opponents, Lipsitz and his coaches distill the information down to what they believe to be its essence.
"I want to decide what the team needs to see," Lipsitz said. "We all interpret things differently, on paper or visually. So we break down the film, we break down the stats and then we decide what we want our team to see. This paints a picture of who this team is and this paints a picture of how we're playing."
In no way has the software been more valuable than the way it has helped the Cats as they've evolved into a possession team. Over his first three years in Lexington, UK was primarily a team that relied on counterattack and the long ball, culminating in an NCAA Tournament berth in 2011.
But all along, Lipsitz knew he wanted to mold Kentucky into a more technical team that won matches with sound passing and consistent possession. With a talented class of newcomers arriving this season, the Cats have undergone exactly that kind of transformation.
During the preseason, Lipsitz knew his team would take steps in that direction, but even he has been surprised by the progress. And with his new favorite toy, he can quantify just how big the strides have been.
"I'm supposed do coach speak right now and say, 'Oh no, I absolutely knew it,' " Lipsitz said. "It has not surprised me that we're better than we were before. We are more technical. We are emphasizing that our players have to be more skillful to get on the field, so it doesn't surprise me that we're better. But when we're making over 400 passes a game at over an 80-percent clip, that's another level."
The play of freshmen like midfielder Courtney Raetzman, Kelli Hubly and Cara Ledman has been instrumental in that, but Lipsitz believes two veterans are truly at the heart of UK's evolution. Seniors Natalie Horner and Alyssa Telang have been Kentucky's defensive anchors all season, but with the new approach, they've started the attack too.
"I really think that the key to it has been that we put two such technical soccer players at center back," Lipsitz said. "It's not right or wrong, but I think most teams' style is to have their center backs smash the ball because they're in trouble. We have our center backs and our defensive center mids set the most play for us."
UK's new style of play will get its sternest test yet on Friday night. At 7 p.m., the Cats (8-2-0, 3-1-0 SEC) will play host to No. 6/8 Texas A&M (10-1-0, 4-0-0 SEC). Lipsitz doesn't need a computer to tell him the Aggies are really good, but Prozone does prove to him just how interesting the matchup could be.
"(Texas A&M) is the exact foil for who we are in that they are going to apply so much pressure to our backline, to our midfield that they're going to disrupt our ability to play soccer the way we like to play," Lipsitz said. "I think these games are great because it's two very different styles that both are incredibly effective."
Lipsitz watches the Aggies play and thinks back to his days at Charlotte, when the 49ers would use superior athleticism to overwhelm Atlantic 10 opponents. On the season, Texas A&M has outscored its opponents 19-3 with its high-pressure style, but the Wildcats aren't going to blink.
"We're going to have the courage that we're going to knock the ball around and we're going to play and it's going to be hard," Lipsitz said. "It's going to be harder to be us than against any other team that we've played because Texas A&M makes it hard to do anything."
Win or lose, Lipsitz will be going right back to the computer next week.
"If we're successful against A&M, that's going to tell us something and we're going to look at the film and say, 'This is what we did that made us successful,' " Lipsitz said. "If we're unsuccessful, we're going to say, 'Here's what they did to us and we've got to get better.' Either way, we're going to work on getting better."
After starting the season 1-4, the Wildcats have reeled off four straight victories and are above .500 for the first time. (Micheal Reaves, UK Athletics)
Four consecutive victories and all of a sudden the University of Kentucky men's soccer team sits above .500 for the first time in the 2012 season with a record of 5-4. The Wildcats, who began the season with losses in four of their first five contests, have seemed to right the ship and are taking a turn in the right direction for the latter part of the season.
The Wildcats have taken a little more time to get going than maybe they would have hoped but head coach Johan Cedergren is pleased with the way his team has stayed positive through the tough times.
"You have to give the guys and my staff a lot of credit," Cedergren said. "At 1-4, there are tendencies that tend to come out and then all of a sudden there are little cliques and that kind of stuff but the guys worked really hard and stayed together."
This Sunday, UK will open up the conference portion of their schedule with a clash against Memphis. The way their schedule has been set up, the Cats should be well prepared for the Tigers.
The Wildcats missed out on the league tournament last season and want to make sure that doesn't happen again. Cedergren said one of the team's goals this year is to be in the top-six of the Conference USA and compete in the league's postseason tournament.
The first game of conference play is always very important and teams seem to play with more energy. Starting 1-0 as opposed to opening with a defeat in league action can make a huge difference the rest of the way. UK looks to ride its momentum into Sunday's contest but Cedergren will warn his team that a victory won't come easily.
"Looking back at my Dartmouth career, for some reason that first league game was always a struggle, it didn't matter who it was," Cedergren said. "You have to make sure you go into that game with maybe a winning streak and you get the guys to be confident so the first 15-20 minutes you try to send a message to the other team."
C-USA is considered to be one of the strongest leagues in the country and every game is going to be a battle for UK. However, with the strong schedule to begin the year, the Cats won't be afraid of anyone.
Kentucky is returning home after crushing IPFW, 5-1 in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Tuesday. The offensive output was the most goals scored by the Cats this season and was another step in the right direction.
UK got two goals from junior Tyler Riggs, while senior Matt Lodge found the back of the net in the contest as well. The two are now tied for a team-high five goals scored and are backing up all of the expectations that were put on them before the season got underway.
After recording the two goals on Tuesday, Riggs is now tied for seventh all time in goals scored on the UK career charts. The Louisville, Ky., native has always been a score-first type of player but with Cedergren's arrival, his role has changed a bit.
"When I first got here, Riggs was looking to score," Cedergren said. "With the way we play in our system, sometimes we have to play through him and I think that slowly and surely is sinking in."
Lodge netted his 22nd career goal and 59th career point in the IPFW game and has moved up to sixth place on both UK all-time lists. Cedergren is aware of Lodge's talent and knows he wants to do everything he can to go out with a bang his last year in a Kentucky uniform.
"Lodge wants to have success before he leaves and he knows this is his last chance," Cedergren said. "He wants to do everything he can to help his team and himself and get to the next level."
The offense is clicking right now and with the vast improvement of the defense, the Cats could be a tough team to beat the rest of the way. Goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale, defenders Jacob Speed, Steven Perinovic and the unit as a whole have developed a sense of chemistry out in the back third.
Van Arsdale found himself in a position battle to open the season and even watched from the sideline in the first game as freshman Callum Irving began the year as the team's starting keeper. Nine games into the season and Van Arsdale has stepped up his game to become the starter. The decision hasn't been easy for Cedergren but Van Arsdale has been playing out of his mind lately and it's tough not to play the junior.
When the Kentucky faithful step foot in the UK Soccer Complex on Sunday they will see a different team than what they witnessed early in the season.
The Wildcats are playing more as a team now and Cedergren believes if they were to go back to the beginning of the year and play the games over, there would be different results.
"I think the team has evolved since day one and I think that if we played Dayton again, I think it would be a different result because we would respond to that challenge differently," Cedergren said. "We would not hang our heads, we would keep fighting and we would get a goal when we needed to.
"I think that comes from the seniors, the captains and really it comes from everyone because everyone is really passionate about the program and wants us to do well."
Maxwell Smith is expected to play against South Carolina after sitting out last week against South Carolina. (Hunter Wilson, UK Athletics)
Joker Phillips has an idea about how to improve college football.
It's nothing to do with a playoff system, conference realignment or recruiting rules, but if his suggestion were heeded, the playing field in college football would be leveled significantly.
He looks at South Carolina's defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor and sees the kinds of players that every team in America should have.
"I think one of the things the NCAA should do is issue every team two of those type of guys, to make everything even," Phillips said.
Of course, Phillips knows how far-fetched that proposition is. Players with the kind of size, speed and strength of Clowney (a 6-foot-6, 256-pound sophomore) and Taylor (a 6-foot-8, 267-pound senior) don't grow on trees. There aren't nearly enough pass rushers of their caliber to go around, but the Gamecocks have managed to collect a pair of them, meaning Kentucky will have to find a way to cope with both, as well as the rest of South Carolina's deep and talented defensive line that ranks among the nation's leaders in sacks.
In fact, the Gamecocks are registering nearly as many sacks per game (3.75) as the Kentucky offensive line has allowed all season (four). UK protected well against a strong Florida defensive front, as Morgan Newton and Jalen Whitlow were basically untouched in 27 combined pass attempts last week. However, the sixth-ranked Gamecocks - led by Clowney, whom many believe is the future No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick, with 4.5 sacks - are a different level of competition in the trenches.
"They're defensive front is far-and-away the best defensive front we will have seen this year," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. "Not only are they fast, but they're tall. You've got ends, and the shortest one (Chaz Sutton) is 6-5. You feel like you can throw over him."
With a roster full of pass-rushing dynamos, South Carolina rarely draws up blitzes. More often than not, it's the front four getting to the quarterback with the rest of the defense sitting back in coverage.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, their offensive line is in a much better place than it was a season ago when it matched up against South Carolina. The relatively inexperienced group has thrived in UK's new no-huddle offense. Last weekend against Florida, Kentucky may have been held scoreless, but the line wasn't to blame.
"I thought those guys did really well up front, opening up some holes and understanding the protection and all the blitzes that we were giving," Phillips said.
UK rushed for 159 yards on 32 attempts (5.0 yards per carry) last week. A similar performance on Saturday at 7 p.m. against a South Carolina defense allowing just 2.0 yards per carry and fewer than 70 yards per game could be the key to stymieing the pass rush and giving the quarterback time to throw.
"Playing against guys that weigh that much and are that strong and that physical, it's always tough," center Matt Smith said. "It comes down to the basics as an offensive line. We have to work together as an offensive line in order to move those guys and to protect our quarterback."
The good news this week is that it will be Maxwell Smith the line is trying to protect.
The sophomore was a late scratch against Florida with a sprained AC joint after Phillips opted not to risk Smith's long-term health. In his absence, Newton and Whitlow struggled to sustain the passing game that had been effective the season's first three weeks.
A healthy Smith is a far different quarterback from the freshman who threw two interceptions in three attempts last season in a 54-3 loss at South Carolina. That lopsided loss stung, but Smith and his teammates are putting it behind them.
"We got crushed last year," Smith said. "We're just going to come out and keep fighting like any other week. It doesn't really matter what happened last year, that's in the past. We're worried about this South Carolina team."
Those worries extend well beyond the matchup between Kentucky's offense and the South Carolina defense.
Quarterback Connor Shaw has dealt with injury this season, but is expected to be fully available on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium and enters the game having completed 20 passes in a row. His first attempt last weekend against Missouri fell incomplete, but he finished 20-of-21 for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Shaw also had 41 yards rushing in that 31-10 win and had an 80-yard touchdown burst called back after a penalty.
To put it more succinctly, he's a threat in both the passing game and running game, where junior Marcus Lattimore still stars.
"He's a tough guy," Phillips said of Shaw. "I think last year may have been his really first true start against us last year, and they did some things. They kind of tweaked their offense that week against us, and you see a lot of the same things that they did against us last year they're doing this year."
Shaw completed 26-of-39 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns to go with his 42 yards on the ground last season against Kentucky.
In that game, Shaw hardly played in the fourth quarter, but South Carolina scored 21 points to make an ugly loss even uglier. The Gamecocks were inspired in part by UK's comeback 31-28 upset of South Carolina in 2010, Steve Spurrier's first loss to the Wildcats.
"It's understandable because we beat them two years ago when we shouldn't have," Matt Smith said. "We came out ready to play that game when they were just coming off a huge win and were able to beat them here. It's kind of set up in the same situation this year. Hopefully we can do the same thing."
Members of the women's basketball team went through a rigorous strength and conditioning program over the summer in preparation for the 2012-13 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell didn't waste any time laying down the gauntlet to his team.
When his Wildcats gathered for the first official team meeting upon arriving back on campus, he looked around the room and saw a remarkable group of basketball players. He saw a group of basketball players with nearly unlimited potential.
"I just told them that the players sitting before me in that meeting are nothing less than championship-caliber from a gift standpoint, from a talent standpoint," Mitchell said.
Kentucky enters 2012-13 with a roster featuring five McDonald's All-Americans, one of the top freshman in the nation from last season and a player-of-the-year candidate. Pollsters will pick UK among the nation's elite, meaning expectations among those outside the program have never been greater. But no matter where they fall in preseason polls, there is no one expecting more out of these Wildcats than the players and coaches themselves.
"My message to them is we don't have to wonder about whether we can be good enough," Mitchell said. "All we have to do now is decide whether we want to be that good."
The process of turning promise into achievement, however, does not happen overnight.
Mitchell's teams at Kentucky have come to be known and feared for a signature style of play. The term "40 minutes of dread" identifies the Wildcats fast-paced, aggressive defensive approach and their deadly full-court press has allowed the Cats to force 800 or more turnovers each of the past three seasons, including an NCAA-best 939 last year, simultaneously thrilling fans and frustrating opponents.
With that in mind, Mitchell has shifted the entire focus of his team and his staff to a singular theme that plays off their on-court identity: "40 Minutes." Mitchell wants his team to be able to deliver 40 minutes of energy, 40 minutes of effort, 40 minutes of intensity every time they take the floor. That means every ounce of energy is directed toward that end, from preseason to the final buzzer in the NCAA Tournament.
"That's what 40 Minutes means to me: paying attention to all the little bitty small ways that we can contribute our gifts and our talents from everybody in the organization," Mitchell said. "If everybody can do that, we'll have a team that can play a full 40 minutes."
As Mitchell suggests, that extends well beyond the practice floor and even the players themselves. From assistants to trainers to managers, it's going to take a collective effort to make UK Hoops' championship aspirations a reality. In fact, fans have a role to play in 40 Minutes too.
UK's 48-2 home mark over the last three seasons hasn't happened by accident. An average of more than 6,000 fans have packed Memorial the last three seasons and there have been games where Wildcat faithful have helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by giving 40 minutes of vocal support. UK will once again be calling on fans for that kind of help.
As for fans who have not yet been taken in by Kentucky women's basketball, all Mitchell is asking for is one game: give UK Hoops 40 minutes to show you what it's all about.
Those fans who come to Memorial this season can rest assured that Mitchell is hard at work preparing from the summer onward. He is asking the same of his team and the Wildcats need only look inward for the reason why they should heed his demands.
A season ago, Kentucky won its first Southeastern Conference regular season championship in three decades. Nine of the 13 players on this year's roster played significant roles on that team and two more got an up-close look while redshirting. They don't have to look back too far to remember that the path to cutting down the nets in Memorial Coliseum for a celebration of the title started not in the conference opener, but in summer conditioning and individual workouts.
Last year, as well as Mitchell's first four seasons as UK head coach, proved that it's impossible to simply decide to play the way the Wildcats play on game day. In other words, it takes a lot more than 2,400 seconds of work to play 40 minutes of Kentucky basketball.
"I think the last three teams have played a little bit differently than most teams in the country and I think that's been exciting for our fans," Mitchell said. "I think our players certainly have some tangible evidence that it can be very successful from a wins and losses standpoint."
That tangible evidence comes in the form of three seasons in a row of at least 25 wins and a pair of trips to the Elite Eight. A'dia Mathies has been there every step of the way.
Heading into her senior season, Mathies is already among the most decorated players in school history. The guard was the SEC Player of the Year last season and is among the top scorers in school history. She made an instant impact after coming from Louisville, Ky., to play for the Cats and her game has only improved ever since.
She'll no doubt play a central role in whatever success Kentucky has on the court this season, but her responsibility to set the tone for her team with unwavering consistency during the preseason may be even more important.
"I think that's the final piece of the puzzle for her," Mitchell said. "We've all seen what she can do and a consistency in practice where her teammates see her going at the highest level possible has a big impact on our team."
However, it's not as if Mathies is on her own. SEC Freshman of the Year Bria Goss will be alongside her in UK's starting backcourt, while key performers Samarie Walker, Kastine Evans, Bernisha Pinkett, Maegan Conwright and Brittany Henderson, among others, also come back for another season. The Wildcats' returners alone are an impressive group, but it's the four players being added to the mix that will make them that much deeper.
Mitchell raves about the future of freshman point guard Janee Thompson and 6-foot-2 junior college transfer Jelleah Sidney, but he also has a pair of players who have already proven their ability at the college level.
Guard Jennifer O'Neill averaged 5.1 points in just over 12 minutes a game as a freshman before sitting out 2011-12 due to injury, while center DeNesha Stallworth was an All-Pac 10 selection at California before electing to transfer to Kentucky. Mitchell believes her versatile game will allow her to make an instant impact.
"DeNesha has a chance to be one of the top players in the Southeastern Conference, just from what her gifts are and the skill set she possesses," Mitchell said.
Perhaps the best thing about Stallworth and O'Neill is that they already know what is expected of them having been around the program for at least a season each. They know what 40 Minutes is all about.
Mitchell, his staff and his players have worked extremely hard to get to this point. They have built a culture and a style of play that position them for unprecedented on-court success. Now, they are going about the business of making sure their vast potential does not go unrealized.
"It will be a chore and there will be a lot of hours spent trying to get things right," Mitchell said. "But they definitely have the ability to get it done."
Whitney Billings tallied her second straight double-double with 10 kills and 16 digs in a win over Tennessee. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky volleyball team did something Wednesday night it had not done in 17 years. Not since 1995 had Kentucky swept Tennessee in three sets, either home or road. Wednesday night, in front of a national audience on ESPNU and a boisterous Memorial Coliseum crowd, the Wildcats did just that.
With a renewed vigor and confidence after pulling out an emotional win on the road at Texas A&M on Sunday, Kentucky came out and threw the first punch... and the second... and the third. After UK took a 10-6 lead in the first set, and then pushed it out to a 15-8 advantage, there would be nothing that Tennessee could do to stop Kentucky on this night.
"The one thing I knew is we needed to step up and play at the level we're playing to beat that team because it's a very talented team," said head coach Craig Skinner. "This group was really focused. I'm really proud of the way they were focused after game 2 even being up 2-0. That's a sign of a good team and a step forward and progress for us. We've got to keep moving."
It was a huge step into the right direction for the Cats, as they continue to build momentum with the meat of their Southeastern Conference schedule looming. After taking down the Aggies on Sunday, they were looking at another top-tier SEC program, and their biggest rival at that.
Between Sunday and Wednesday, Kentucky tried hard to focus at the task at hand while also appreciating the rivalry.
"Tennessee is a huge huge, huge rival," said junior middle blocker Alexandra Morgan. "We always play hard against them and they always play hard against us so that definitely had a lot to play. The fact that we haven't been doing so well, we wanted to come back to our home court, all of our fans. That really encouraged us and we just played loose."
One of Kentucky's weaknesses during the rough patch was an inability to play loose and limit mistakes. Wednesday night saw UK take on a bit of a role reversal as the Wildcats were nearly flawless for most of the match. In fact, two of their players were.
Junior right side hitter Whitney Billings and Morgan had 10 and nine kills respectively. But even more impressively, they combined for a goose egg in the error column. Billings tallied her second straight double-double, adding 16 digs (a match high) and hitting .455 on the night. Morgan also enjoyed a big night on the attack, posting a .562 hitting percentage for the match and kicking in three block assists on defense.
A big reason for their success on the night was Kentucky's ability to move the ball around at will offensively. The Wildcats showed great offensive versatility, making defense a guessing game for Tennessee defenders all night. Kentucky also did a great job of exploiting the Volunteer game plan that left Morgan and Billings with one-on-one opportunities from behind the setter for the majority of the night.
The lack of a defensive presence on the right-side attackers came as a surprise to Billings and Morgan, but one-on-one looks are a more than welcome site for any hitter.
"You could tell they were focusing on the outsides," said Billings. "When they do that, we just keep on going behind and we'll score."
While Morgan and Billings were getting free, open looks all night, the Tennessee defense focused heavily on the Kentucky outside hitters. Realizing that senior outside hitter Ashley Frazier had been receiving a lot of swings lately, UT devised a plan around stopping the left-side attack.
While Frazier tallied only three kills on 13 attempts for the night, sophomore outside hitter Lauren O'Conner was left with the responsibility of making things happen on that side of the net. O'Conner had been struggling in recent weeks, shuffling in and out of the lineup, but against Tennesee she made her present felt more than at any point at this season, looking to be back to her SEC All-Freshman team form.
O'Conner got 29 swings on the night, tops on the team, and delivered in a huge way. The sophomore had been experiencing her own problems with attacking errors, but over the last two matches, she's been able to keep herself from compounding those mistakes. She's become resilient. She showed that often Wednesday night with a team-high 11 kills, with a few of them coming immediately after committing errors on the previous play.
It appears that maybe she's turned the page on a slow start to her 2012 season.
"That's as good as she's been all year," said Skinner. "It's good to see her back and feeling good about things and being aggressive."
It wasn't just the offense though. The Cats played well in all facets of the game. They were relentless defenders. They blocked, they covered, they dug, they passed. It was an impressive performance that saw them out-dig the Vols, 54-45, while out-blocking a Tennessee squad that Skinner called the most physical in the league, 9-4.
What may have been the driving force behind Kentucky's energetic play was the energy they received from a loud crowd at Memorial Coliseum with a "White Out" promotion. They certainly made an impression, as even Skinner noticed the home-court advantage.
"Boy, they were juiced tonight," said Skinner. "I actually heard them tonight. I don't usually hear the crowd. I'm pretty into what's going on in the match, but I love the energy they gave us."
The Wildcats (8-6, 2-2 SEC) will celebrate the win tonight, knowing that they are the first UK team in 17 years to send the Vols home with a 3-0 defeat. But if the last two matches are any indication, the focus will soon turn to Auburn (12-2, 3-1 SEC), which is enjoying a great start to their 2012 campaign. The Cats will look to grab their third straight win on Sunday when the host the Auburn Tigers in Memorial Coliseum at 1:30 p.m.
Maxwell Smith sustained a shoulder injury against Western Kentucky, forcing him to miss UK's game at Florida. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Standing on the sidelines on Saturday wasn't easy for Maxwell Smith. The sophomore had taken hold of the quarterback position through three games, deftly running Kentucky's no-huddle offense, and he had no intention of letting go.
Unfortunately for both him and the Wildcats, the decision on whether he would play against Florida was out of his hands. Smith reaggravated a shoulder injury sustained last season against Georgia and Joker Phillips, with the counsel of UK's training staff, opted to sit him out to avoid a potentially more serious injury.
Left to his own devices, it may not have been the decision Smith would have made, but he recognizes it was the right one.
"It's not what I wanted to do, but I knew that's what was best for me and that's the decision Coach decided to make," Smith said on Wednesday. "I really wasn't a hundred percent and I could have taken one hit and been out for the rest of the season or something. I went with what the coaches said and I was alright with that."
Because of the fact that he sat out last weekend, Smith is in position to play this Saturday against South Carolina at much closer to full strength and Phillips anticipates he will be available. Smith returned to practice on Tuesday, taking reps with the first team.
"I felt like I threw it pretty well," Smith said. "It was painful, so maybe I wasn't able to snap on some balls like I wanted to, but I made every throw. A little bit inaccurate, but I'll be alright. It will all come."
Smith and the coaches worked with the training staff to devise a schedule to best prepare him for the Gamecocks. He took a day off from throwing on Wednesday, taking only a few snaps and handing the ball to running backs. In his place, Jalen Whitlow took reps with the first team. Smith will throw again on Thursday. Originally, Smith was set to throw only on Wednesday, but he wanted an extra day of work.
Perhaps the most concerning thing about Smith's injury is something he'll have to continue dealing with. When he originally injured his AC joint last season, it was the first time Smith had ever hurt his shoulder. After tweaking it for the second time in 10 months, Smith doesn't expect to play without pain at any point the rest of the year, but he also doesn't expect to be limited in terms of effectiveness.
That's good news because, in Smith's absence, UK's passing game sputtered. Whitlow and Morgan Newton combined to complete just 8-of-27 passes against Florida for 60 yards and three interceptions. With Smith back on the field for practice on Thursday, the receivers' energy level picked up significantly.
"The guys, when Max is out there, you can tell the receivers practice at a different level, definitely," Phillips said. "I don't know if it's a rhythm, but I can tell you this: there's a little bit more enthusiasm."
In an offense that relies so much on timing in the passing game, it's natural to wonder how Smith's time away could affect his ability to connect with receivers as consistently as will be demanded against a South Carolina defense allowing fewer than 10 points a game. Smith understands the thought process, but he's also not too concerned.
"It's not too bad," Smith said. "I'd like to get out and be able to throw with them every day, but it's a lot of the same routes that we've been throwing all season and we've been connecting on."
Smith's injury is not limiting him off the practice field, so that's where he's making sure to get all the work in that he can.
"It's really just about watching film," Smith said. "That's the biggest way I got to be prepared is to understand what they've going to do on defense."
Barring any further setbacks, Smith is likely to play on Saturday. But in the meantime, the Cats are preparing for contingencies. After coming on in relief of Newton last weekend, Whitlow is being groomed to be UK's backup the rest of the season. The true freshman may not have a complete grasp on the playbook yet, but he does have one thing on his side and it happens to be what allowed him to beat out fellow first-year quarterback Patrick Towles for the No. 3 spot in the first place.
"He can move around a little bit better in the pocket and has more ability to escape," Phillips said. "You better be able to escape against the guys that we're playing against."
In this week's edition of Coaches Corner, head volleyball coach Craig Skinner talks about his team's win over Texas A&M and the performance of Whitney Billings, the Tennessee rivalry, and then he takes us back to his playing days at Ball State.
Make sure to submit your questions to Coach Skinner on Twitter at @UKCoachSkinner or @KentuckyVB to have a chance to have your question read and answered on our next edition of Coaches Corner. Make sure to hash tag your questions with "#CoachesCorner."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 23:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Junior Whitney Billings guided the Wildcats to a big-time road victory at Texas A&M to help UK snap the Aggies' nine-match winning streak. Billings notched her 18th career double-double effort with season-high totals of 16 kills, 16 digs and six blocks. She also had a career-best five service aces in the win. Against LSU, she totaled 14 kills and added seven digs. For the week, she had team-highs in points (4.10), blocks (1.0) and aces (0.50).
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
For just the sixth time in her career, senior libero Stephanie Klefot posted back-to-back 20-dig matches this weekend in helping lead UK to a 1-1 weekend on the road. Klefot matched a career-high of 29 digs at LSU, and then charted 20 in a five-set win at Texas A&M to help snap the Aggies' nine-match winning streak. Klefot for the week, averaged 4.90 digs per set - well above her 3.96 season average. She topped 20 scoops in a match for the 25th and 26th times in her career. Furthermore, with the 49 digs, Klefot (1,641) officially moved into second place on the UK all-time career digs list passing BriAnne Sauer (1,634). That total also ranks 10th all-time in the SEC record books.
Women's soccer: Courtney Raetzman
Freshman Courtney Raetzman has been on fire for the Wildcats as of late, tallying 10 points in the last four games. The freshman charted a goal on Friday night on the road vs. Arkansas, and also scored two goals in UK's win over LSU. Raetzman scored all four of UK's points Sunday, scoring the go-ahead goal in the opening half as well as the golden goal in the 106th minute to give UK the 2-1 OT win. The freshman has scored four goals in four games, while also charting two assists in that time frame.
Men's soccer: Tyler Riggs
Junior forward Tyler Riggs had a prolific week in leading the Wildcats to a pair of wins ... During the two wins, Riggs totaled a goal and two assists ... In a win over East Tennessee State, Riggs contributed his second assist of the year ... On Saturday night at Evansville, Riggs netted the game-winning goal and later dished out an assist ... The Louisville, Ky., native played the full 180 minutes on the week, firing a total of nine shots ... His seven-shot outing at UE on Saturday marked a new career high and a season individual high for the Wildcats ... On the year, Riggs has three goals and three assists and in his career, Riggs has 19 goals, eight assists and 46 points.
Men's soccer: Jack Van Arsdale
Junior Jack Van Arsdale had another dominating week in between the pipes, leading the Wildcats to a pair of wins ... A native of Richmond, Va., Van Arsdale paced a stellar UK defensive attack in a 3-1 win over East Tennessee State on Wednesday, with the Bucs getting their goal on a penalty kick ... On Saturday, Van Arsdale notched his second shutout of the year in a 2-0 winning effort ... On the year, Van Arsdale has a 0.90 goals-against average in six games and 500 minutes, saving 18 shots ... Over the last three games - all UK wins - Van Arsdale has allowed only one goal in 270 minutes.
Whitney Billings and Kentucky take on Tennessee on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
When you talk about Kentucky's biggest rivals, two schools immediately come to mind. One, the University of Louisville, is an in-state, non-conference foe that Kentucky teams usually play once a year in each respective sport. The other, the University of Tennessee, is from the neighboring state to the south. Tennessee is a Southeastern Conference opponent, however, meaning that it is on Kentucky's schedule rain or shine, year in and year out, and often multiple times.
That's the case in volleyball, where even with the addition of two new teams to the SEC, Kentucky still plays Tennessee twice this season, and likely for the foreseeable future.
But in the not too distant future, the Wildcats and the Lady Vols have an early season match up this week, and once again the rivalry will be on display for the entire nation to see. For the fourth straight season, UK versus UT will be televised live on ESPNU at 8 p.m. ET.
As per usual, whenever these two schools get ready to clash, the intensity of the rivalry around the teams and campus ratchets up. Add to it the opportunity to play on national television, and the hype soars through the roof.
Hype has been a buzzword for Kentucky this season, as there was much around the program to begin the year. Expectations were high, but a brutally tough non-conference schedule, perhaps tougher than head coach Craig Skinner initially thought it would be, saw Kentucky drop four of seven matches after the first weekend. Add to that losses to Florida at home and to a hungry LSU team that had yet to play a match in front of its home crowd, Kentucky was left searching for answers.
The Cats have played one of the toughest schedules in the country. That's a fact. But they started the season as a top-15 team nationally, moving up into the top 10 after sweeping their first weekend at home. Then Kentucky hit the road, first in Louisville, then to Ohio University, then to Nebraska. Between the match at Louisville and its latest win over Texas A&M, Kentucky had played nine of its last 10 matches on the road. That's no easy task for any team.
In addition to life on the road, Kentucky has gone up against some of the best competition the nation has to offer. Louisville is ranked 17th. Oregon was ranked 17th when the Ducks and Cats met up in Athens, Ohio. Oregon is now ranked No. 2 nationally and is making a case for the top spot. And then Kentucky went into one of the best atmospheres in all of collegiate volleyball at the University of Nebraska, taking the then No. 1 ranked Cornhuskers to the brink, even while UK was in a bit of a transition.
Kentucky did not win one of those matches. And with a team that started three freshmen at one point this season; good competition may not always translate into better volleyball when those rookies aren't seeing instant gratification.
Off to College State, Texas, went the Wildcats Saturday afternoon; a chance to regroup and refocus on the road. But the Aggies were streaking, and each team looked to be trending in opposite directions. Texas A&M sat at 10-1 (2-0 SEC) on the season and had won nine consecutive matches. Meanwhile, UK had lost four in a row and had lost its first two matches in the conference. On paper, things were only about to get worse for Kentucky.
Luckily for Kentucky, matches are played on the court, and in this case, Reed Arena, a place where Kentucky had tasted success less than nine months ago when the Cats beat the Aggies to advance to the Sweet 16. Maybe those memories and that experience sparked something, because it sure looked like it.
Kentucky was not perfect, but it had success in all facets of the game against the Aggies. The Cats passed well, served tough, and played great defense. They put a whole match together and took down a talented Texas A&M team. But Kentucky didn't win because of Texas A&M. They won because of UK. They took care of business. Kentucky got back to being Kentucky and focusing on itself, rather than the team across the net.
That's what has to happen Wednesday night, rivalry or not.
The planned "Whiteout" and national television appearance are fun and great things for the program, but the team needs to focus on one thing and one thing only: Kentucky.
This match is not about Tennessee. In fact, it could be anyone coming into Memorial Coliseum this Wednesday. This match is just as important as any of the 17 SEC matches left on the schedule. Who is on the other side of the net isn't important when wins are of premium significance at this point in the season.
Maybe that's what this team realized on Sunday, as the Wildcats came out with a new demeanor. Junior right side hitter Whitney Billings described her new demeanor as "free" and "loose." If that's what it takes to put up a stat line of 16 kills, 16 digs, five aces and five blocks as Billings did on Sunday, then everyone needs to play "free" and "loose."
For Kentucky, there are no more marquee matchups left this season. At least they can't think so. There is only Kentucky versus the SEC, every weekend, for the rest of the season. It's up to the Wildcats how this season ends up, and a win over their opponent on Wednesday after their win Sunday would be a great way to begin the rest of the year.
There's nothing fun about rehashing a dismal day at The Swamp last Saturday, so this week, we'll take a break from the current season and relive some memorable Southeastern Conference upsets by the Wildcats, given that the next opponent was the victim of one of those upsets the last time South Carolina visited Lexington.
These memorable moments are listed not in terms of the opponent's ranking but in terms of how unlikely the outcome seemed before kickoff. 2009: Kentucky 34, Georgia 27
It wasn't a shock that Kentucky would knock off Georgia that season. The Cats had already won at Auburn and had only lost by four to Georgia the year before. But what made this outcome so surprising was the location - Georgia' Sanford Stadium. The Wildcats' previous win "between the hedges" had been back in 1977.
The turning point in this comeback win was a fumble that Moncell Allen forced on the opening kickoff of the second half. That led to points and ignited Kentucky's rally from a 20-6 halftime deficit.
Quarterback Morgan Newton threw touchdown passes to Derrick Locke and La'Rod King as Kentucky outscored Georgia 28-7 in that second half. UGA appeared poised to get a tying score in the final minutes but fumbled at the one-yard line. And after a UK punt, linebacker Sam Maxwell provided one of his many big plays of that season with a game-clinching interception in the final minute.
2010: Kentucky 31, South Carolina 28
South Carolina came into this game off an upset of top-ranked Alabama, but when you have Randall Cobb on your team, getting an upset win is not all that shocking.
And how he could get so wide open for the winning touchdown pass was quite amazing. Underrated quarterback Mike Hartline had to stand in and know he was going to take the hit from an oncoming rusher in order to hit Cobb and his payoff was getting to celebrate while lying on his back.
An injury that sidelined star runner Marcus Lattimore certainly compromised USC's chances but the Gamecocks led 31-10 at that point. Coach Steve Spurrier correctly stated after the game that the Wildcats just flat outplayed his team.
Current Cat and South Carolina native Cartier Rice played a key role in securing the win. With USC throwing into the end zone for the win on the game's final play, Rice deflected a pass into the hands of Anthony Mosley and the party erupted at Commonwealth Stadium, as the Cats had their first-ever win over Spurrier.
2006: Kentucky 24, Georgia 20
Yes, Kentucky had just eked out a road win over Mississippi State but this matchup with Georgia came just three weeks after a 49-0 thrashing at LSU. I can tell you that Rich Brooks and his coaches were growing increasingly optimistic as this game approached, because of how the team's confidence had grown after that win at State.
Keenan Burton caught two of Andre' Woodson's touchdown passes but Matthew Stafford kept the Dogs on top until the final two minutes, when UK drove down the field and Tony Dixon punched in a short-yardage score.
But UK fans were uneasy about the time left for Stafford to launch one of those rallies they had seen all too often. Brooks often talked about working to change that mindset of dread in the final minutes of a close game and this game provided the opportunity to re-emphasize the new way he wanted his players to think. Somebody needed to make a play to clinch the game and cornerback Trevard Lindley stepped up with an interception to seal the deal.
2011: Kentucky 10, Tennessee 7
I will always believe the fact that it was Thanksgiving week was crucial to this streak-busting victory. In a normal week, UK's plan to use wide out Matt Roark at quarterback might have leaked out. Instead, when Roark was taking snaps on UK's opening drive, Tennessee's coaches were confused and that enabled the Cats to get one of their two long drives of the day. This one resulted in a field goal and that turned out to be the margin of victory.
Roark earned legendary status with a performance that featured a 100-plus-yard rushing performance and the leadership to inspire confidence in his teammates that they could pull this off. Unlike last week's game, the coaches knew that Maxwell Smith was out from Sunday so they developed a plan tailored to Roark's skill set and he executed it to perfection, engineering a win that set off an unlikely rush-the-field moment at Commonwealth. 2007: Kentucky 37, #1 LSU 31 (3OT)
Sure, Kentucky featured some future NFL talent but we're talking about the No. 1-ranked team and an LSU squad that would eventually win the national championship that season.
The common theme to all of these wins is that the Cats trailed at some point in the game and with UK behind the fourth quarter, it was Lindley - again - who provided a key play at a crucial moment. His interception led to a tying field goal.
In the third overtime, Woodson had a moment similar to the one Hartline faced against South Carolina in 2010 - delivering a possible game-winning touchdown pass while knocking you're about to get drilled by a rushing defender. Woodson deftly lofted a pass to Stevie Johnson and the Cats then needed only to keep LSU out of the end zone to get the improbable win.
Braxton Kelley's fourth-down tackle on Charles Scott stopped him short of the first down stick and Commonwealth Stadium erupted.
In a league like this one, the Cats are going to be provided with regular opportunities to produce memorable moments - like this Saturday, against a top 10-ranked South Carolina team.
Junior DeNesha Stallworth will be eligible to play for the Wildcats after transferring from California caused her to sit out a year. (UK Athletics)
Growing up right outside of the bay area in Richmond,
Calif., DeNesha Stallworth was a standout basketball player for Pinole Valley
High School. Stallworth led the entire state of California in scoring her
senior year, averaging 27.7 points per game on her way to being named a 2009
McDonald's All-American and WBCA All-American.
Stallworth's success on the basketball court drew attention
from the eyes of several colleges. She was rated as a top-20 prospect in the
nation by multiple recruiting websites, including No. 12 by Blue Star and No.
15 by Collegiate Girls Basketball report. As her high school career was winding
down, it was time for her to make a decision on where she would play college
ball. Among the schools in contention were Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona.
However, Stallworth decided to stay in her home state and chose to play hoops
at the University of California.
Stallworth didn't disappoint during her freshman campaign,
averaging 12.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest, while being named to the
Pacific-10 All-Freshman Team. Another year went by and she continued to
dominate on the court, pouring in 13.3 points and corralling 6.4 rebounds a game
and was selected to the All-Pac-10 Team.
However, two weeks following the conclusion of her sophomore
season, Stallworth decided to look elsewhere to play college basketball. She
narrowed her options down to three schools: Florida, LSU and Kentucky.
Florida had Stallworth's attention ever since high school
recruitment and it continued into the summer of 2011.
LSU was in the mix after head coach Nikki Caldwell was hired
heading into last season. Previously, Caldwell had coached at UCLA, where
Stallworth had the opportunity to play against her for two seasons. Stallworth
felt like Caldwell was a great coach who knew her game very well.
UK head coach Matthew Mitchell and his staff had their work
cut out for them that summer in order to beat out two opposing Southeastern
Conference teams in acquiring Stallworth. Mitchell, however, received some help
from the Kentucky faithful in his recruiting that eventually helped reel in the
"I just had to choose Kentucky because of the fans,"
Stallworth said. "I love the team more than anything, and definitely by far the
coaches, they are just amazing. The fact that they care about you off the court
and on the court really stood out."
Some may wonder how you come from the West Coast and choose
a school or even hear about the Bluegrass state. Stallworth had some help from
the people close to her in researching schools and making a decision.
Stallworth's AAU coach contacted assistant coach Matt Insell
and the recruiting took off from there. The UK staff was in frequent contact
with Stallworth and provided her a home away from home. Stallworth's father,
Chris, has been huge in every part of her basketball career, including her
recruitment. Chris offered her advice and even made Stallworth aware of the
Wildcats and their program.
"My dad is a really big basketball fan," Stallworth said.
"He keeps up on all the teams. He was the one that said Kentucky will fit me."
After her decision was made, Stallworth was still facing a
redshirt year due to NCAA rules. She had to sit and watch as the Wildcats won
just their second regular season SEC title in program history in 2011-12, with
the other coming 30 years ago in 1981-82. UK had one of the best seasons in program
history last year, finishing the season 28-7 and an appearance in the Elite Eight
of the NCAA Tournament.
Stallworth admits last season was tough for her. Going
through practice each day and not being able to go out on the court and help
the team was hard to take in. The year off gave her a chance to bond with her
teammates and coaches, which helped her get through the transfer year.
"It was definitely tough," Stallworth said. "But the plus
part about it was that I had my teammates and my coaches and they kept me going
and kept me working hard. "Without them I probably wouldn't have gotten through
Transitioning from the West Coast was a big move for
Stallworth, but the adjustment hasn't been too difficult for her. It helps that
her teammates are from all over the United States and they all just blend together.
However, there is one thing Stallworth has had a tough time adjusting to.
"The weather is horrible here, it's so cold," Stallworth
said. "I have to wear jackets on top of jackets."
A year off also gave her a chance to focus on her studies. Stallworth
uses time management to juggle athletics and academics. She is a family science
major, which may sound broad, but Stallworth has a unique passion. Her dream
job is to be an interpreter for American Sign Language.
Stallworth developed this interest back home where she met
one of her fans, Alexis, who is deaf. Stallworth did a project on Alexis her
senior year of high school and became interested and engaged in the culture.
She is currently enrolled in her first sign language class since high school
and continues to keep in contact with Alexis, as the two will exchange text
messages from time to time.
Stallworth loves her hometown in Richmond and has thought a
lot about how she can give back to her community after she graduates.
"I want to host a deaf basketball camp back home in my
community," Stallworth said. "Outside of that I want to be an interpreter and
shadow a child and experience what they have going on."
Now that Stallworth has gone through her year of sitting
out, she has a chance to get back on the court and play the sport she loves.
Stallworth brings another dynamic to a Wildcats' squad that returns four
starters from last year's roster. Although she is one of the tallest players on
the team, Stallworth can step outside and knock down a 3-point jumper, which
makes her a difficult player to guard. She will help the Cats on the glass as
well, as she charted 12 double-doubles in her two years at Cal.
Now that she gets to play again, Stallworth sees big things
in her team's future.
"Definitely Final Four and a national championship, that is
where our minds are," Stallworth said. "Our coaches try to install that in our
brains. Personally, I think that if I just do my best and give my best
everything will take care of itself."
Though Big Blue Madness is traditionally a basketball only event, the Kentucky volleyball team will be sharing the Rupp Arena floor this year. After the news was released and the volleyball staff and players shared doughnuts and chips and queso with the campers, Tent City showed their love for the volleyball team with a mini pep rally before they took off for a weekend road trip last Thursday. Take a look at the warm reception the campers gave to the team as they boarded the bus.
Football - The football team dropped its Southeastern Conference opener Saturday to No. 14 Florida 38-0 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. - Junior tailback Jonathan George led the team in rushing for the second-consecutive game, posting 52 yards on 13 carries. Overall, UK had 159 rushing yards against the Gators, which was the most a UK team has posted vs. UF since gaining 175 in 2003. - Sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree paced the UK defense with eight tackles and a sack. Junior Avery Williamson also gathered eight tackles in the game, while senior Martavius Neloms had an interception and Collins Ukwu blocked a field goal. Volleyball - UK dropped a heartbreaking five-set loss at LSU, before rallying for a five-set win that snapped a nine-match winning streak at Texas A&M. UK was led by senior Stephanie Klefot who put together back-to-back 20-dig matches for just the sixth time in her career. The 49 digs allowed her to chart 1,641 for her career and officially moved her into second place on the UK all-time career digs list passing BriAnne Sauer (1,634). That mark also ranks 10th all-time in the SEC. - Junior Whitney Billings also provided a spark for UK in the win in College Station. She had season-high numbers in kills (16), digs (16) and blocks (6), while also charting a career-high five aces. It marked the 18th double-double effort of her career. Senior Ashley Frazier launched 17 kills at LSU and followed that with 16 at A&M to lead the way offensively for UK.
Women's soccer - The UK women's soccer team split its first SEC weekend series, winning the Sunday game in overtime with LSU 2-1. - Freshman Courtney Raetzman scored one goal Friday night and two goals Sunday, including the golden goal in the 106th minute of the game to top LSU 2-1. The Elk Grove, Ill., native has tallied 10 points in the last four games. - The one goal allowed Sunday in the win over LSU was the eighth time in 10 games that the UK back line has allowed one or fewer goals in a game. Men's soccer - Kentucky won its third consecutive game with a victory at Evansville on Saturday to pull up to a .500 record after starting the campaign 1-4-0. The Wildcats used an explosive offensive attack and sterling defense during their three-game winning streak. - The Wildcats have been led offensively by Tyler Riggs in 2012, who has three goals and three assists in UK's first eight games of the year. - A native of Richmond, Ky., Jack Van Arsdale has allowed only one goal in his last three games, coming on a penalty attempt. He now owns a 0.90 goals-against average in six games and 500 minutes, saving 18 shots with two shutouts. UK freshman goalkeeper Callum Irving has also started three games, with seven saves and a 2.00 goals against average. - As a team, UK has averaged 1.62 goals a game and 11.8 shots a contest and a 53-43 advantage in corner kicks. Defensively, UK owns a 1.24 goals-against average.
Cross country - The women's cross country team finished second with 47 points at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational, its second runner-up finish of the year. The men's team finished seventh with 200 points. - Junior Cally Macumber led the women's cross country team at the Virginia/Panorma Farms Invitational, winning the 5K event with a time of 17:29.13. - Senior Chelsea Oswald and junior Allison Peare earned their second top-10 finishes of the year, with Oswald finishing sixth with a time of 17:53.34 and Peare finishing ninth with a time of 18:28.84. - Senior Luis Orta led the men's team in the 8K event, finishing 16th after completing the event in 24:37.73.
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team placed eighth at the Mason Rudolph Invitational. Ashleigh Albrecht finished with the lowest score for the Wildcats at 12-over par and was tied for 23rd individually. - Next up for the Wildcats is the Tar Heel Invitational, Oct. 12-14 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Men's tennis - The UK men's tennis team competed in its third tournament of the fall, as the Cats traveled to Louisville to take part in the Louisville Invitational. - Brett Johnson, Maks Gold, Beck Pennington and Michael Binder made the trip to Louisville for UK as both Johnson and Gold recorded wins in the singles draw. Upcoming schedule
Monday, Sept. 24 Men's golf at Saint Mary's College Invitational (Monterey, Calif.)
Tuesday, Sept. 25 Men's soccer at IPFW - 7:00 p.m. Men's golf at Saint Mary's College Invitational (Monterey, Calif.) Wednesday, Sept. 26 Volleyball hosts Tennessee - 8:00 p.m.
Seniors Ashley Frazier and Stephanie Klefot each achieved career milestones in a 3-2 victory over Texas A&M. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky's win over Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, was a significant day in program history. While the win itself, a 3-2 nail biter against a 10-2 Aggie team, was both crucial and impressive, two Wildcat accomplishments made the taste of victory even sweeter on Sunday.
Two seniors went into last weekend's matches at Louisiana State and Texas A&M with an opportunity to achieve personal milestones in their careers. Outside hitter Ashley Frazier was on the cusp of 1,000 career kills, while libero Stephanie Klefot was hunting down Brianne Sauer on the all-time Kentucky digs list.
Each senior put up big numbers in a losing effort at LSU on Friday night, inching them even closer to their marks. Their performances also put them right on schedule to clinch the records in the same match.
And as fate would have it, they did just that, this time in winning fashion.
As Kentucky stopped a four-match losing skid against the streaking Aggies, Frazier became the 15th player in University of Kentucky history to record 1,000 kills. On her way to a 16-kill performance against Texas A&M, Frazier reached the mark in the fourth set on her 10th kill of the match.
She's the first Wildcat to reach the 1,000-kill mark since Lauren Rapp in 2009.
Not to be outdone, Klefot put up her second consecutive match of 20-plus digs against the Aggie offense. After tying her career high with 29 digs against LSU on Friday night, Klefot tallied 20 more digs to lead the Kentucky defense.
The 49 digs over the weekend moved Klefot into sole possession of second place on the all-time digs list at the University of Kentucky with 1,641 and counting. Klefot passed her former teammate and fellow Louisville native Brianne Sauer who had 1,634 digs over her four-year career at UK. Not only did Klefot pass Sauer in the UK record books, but she also vaulted past Sauer into the SEC top-10 leader board. Klefot currently sits behind Jenni Casper (2,037 digs) on the all-time UK digs list.
In the Southeastern Conference record books, Klefot is just 18 digs shy of Arkansas's Krystal Osbourne, who racked up 1,659 digs from 1994-97, to reach ninth all-time.
While the two players player came to Kentucky in much different fashions, both have been instrumental in UK's success during their time wearing Blue and White. Klefot stepped right into the libero position after Sauer graduated and ran with it. Frazier came to Kentucky as a transfer from Alabama after spending two seasons with the Crimson Tide and has banged out 561 kills since becoming a Wildcat, filling a void at the outside hitter position. Sitting at 1,006 career kills, Frazier figures to continue to increase her gaudy numbers with still 17 matches remaining in the SEC.
For Kentucky to reach their goals this season, Kentucky will need both players to continue to pad those numbers and ascend ever higher up leader boards and into the record books. But no matter what happens this year, both Klefot and Frazier have already solidified themselves as significant figures in Kentucky volleyball lore for many years to come.
Center Matt Smith has anchored an offensive line that has allowed just four sacks in four games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Perhaps more than any position group on the roster, Kentucky's offensive line was a question mark heading into the 2012 season. Replacing three graduated starters with three new full-time starters - including a true sophomore and a redshirt freshman at left tackle and left guard - it was difficult to predict how the line would perform.
And that was before fans and media even had a full grasp on the fact that the Wildcats would be transitioning to a fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
Four games into the season, the offensive line has gone from a question mark to one of UK's greatest strengths. The Cats are 1-3 following a loss to Florida this weekend, but it's hard to pin much of that on the offensive front.
"I thought this offensive line did as good as any we've been around against the Florida team because we ran the ball for five yards a carry," head coach Joker Phillips said. "And they protected. I don't think we even got hit once at the quarterback position as we were delivering the football."
Through four games, the line has allowed just four sacks even though UK is passing the ball on 64-percent of its plays. The Cats' quarterbacks have been sacked just once per 44.5 pass attempts.
On other hand, the statistics - at least on the face of things - don't look so good for the ground game. UK is 13th in the Southeastern Conference in total rushing with 119.5 yards per game. Twice already this season the Cats have been held under 100 yards rushing, but that's partially a function of circumstance.
UK fell behind early against Louisville and Western Kentucky University, forcing the Cats into passing almost exclusively. The Wildcats are eighth in the SEC in yards per attempt at 4.8 and are fresh off producing 5.0 yards a carry against a staunch Florida defense after being held to barely two yards against WKU.
"We were able to come out and be a lot more physical against Florida than we were against Western, so we felt pretty good about that as an offensive line overall," center Matt Smith said.
The offensive line will need all the good vibes it can get heading into what might be its toughest test of the season. South Carolina boasts a defense allowing under 10 points a game and a defensive line that has already rolled up 15 sacks.
"Watching this film on South Carolina so far, they're definitely the best we've played so far this season and very well could be throughout the entire season," Smith said. "They're very good defensively and they're taught well and they're very good at what they do."
The Gamecocks also allow just 2.0 yards per carry and feature former No. 1 overall recruit and potential future No. 1 NFL Draft pick Jadeveon Clowney.
"And talk about Clowney, I think one of the things the NCAA should do is issue every team two of those type of guys, to make everything even," Phillips said.
Backup quarterback headlines depth chart changes
For the first time this season, there is a new name listed under the "QB" heading on Kentucky's depth chart. Maxwell Smith is once again listed as the starter, but there are now two players listed as his backup: Morgan Newton and Jalen Whitlow.
Newton got the start on Saturday vs. Florida with Smith out due to a shoulder injury. With little time to prepare, the senior struggled, completing just 7-of-21 passes with three interceptions. He was eventually lifted for Whitlow - a true freshman - who was 1-for-6 for 12 yards in fourth-quarter duty.
Smith is still recovering from his injury and is termed questionable and "day-to-day" by Phillips, so the decision between Whitlow and Newton at backup could be a big one come Saturday. He will need a week of practice before he can make a final determination, but Phillips is leaning Whitlow's way right now.
"I don't know exactly if we go with Morgan or Jalen," Phillips said. "But I think Jalen would probably deserve (to start in Smith's place) based on the way we performed Saturday."
Phillips revealed on Monday that Whitlow has been in the process of being groomed for the backup role since after the Louisville game. Ultimately, the decision was made to go with Newton on Saturday due to experience.
"When Max went down, we just felt like (Whitlow) wasn't ready, wasn't quite ready to go in in that type of environment," Phillips said. "I've been down there when we put a freshman quarterback in there, and it's pretty tough."
Elsewhere on the depth chart, Jonathan George has moved into the top spot at tailback with CoShik Williams, Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley behind him. George has 265 yards from scrimmage in his last three games after not playing against Louisville.
There are also a couple changes to report on defense. Defensive tackle Tristian Johnson is a starter at defensive tackle with Mister Cobble recovering from injury. At cornerback, true freshman Cody Quinn moves into a starting role after filling in for Cartier Rice on Saturday and performing admirably.
"He played as well as any freshman I've ever been around," Phillips said. "The guy challenged receivers, made a huge play in the first series. He drove on a quick screen that he took on a blocker and ran through the blocker and made the play. We're excited about him."
As referenced earlier, Maxwell Smith is the most high-profile player dealing with injury this week. The decision was made for his long-term health to hold him out on Saturday after he reaggravated a sprain in the AC joint of his throwing shoulder against WKU. He has improved over the past week, but his status is still uncertain.
Joining Smith in the questionable category are CoShik Williams (hip strain), safety Ashely Lowery (head), Cartier Rice (thigh bruise) and right tackle Kevin Mitchell (ankle). Phillips expects Mitchell to be available, but Trevino Woods would likely go in his place if cannot, although Woods himself is dealing with an ankle injury.
Doubtful for Saturday are tight end Gabe Correll (hip flexor), linebacker/safety Josh Forrest (hip flexor) and Mister Cobble (infection). Cobble was admitted to the hospital with a joint infection on Friday, but has since been discharged. However, he ate very little last week which will likely prolong his recovery time.
SEC Network to carry UK-Mississippi State
Television selections for games on Oct. 6 were announced on Monday and Kentucky's game vs. Mississippi State will be at 12:21 p.m. on the SEC Network. Also, Saturday's game against South Carolina will be at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
John Calipari speaks to the crowd at Big Blue Madness 2011. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Just two days after tickets to Big Blue Madness were distributed in 35 minutes, it was announced that fans who didn't secure seats to Kentucky's first open practice opportunity of the 2012-13 will have a chance to watch on national television.
UK will be featured as part of ESPNU Midnight Madness on Friday, Oct. 12. From 9 p.m. to midnight, ESPNU will show "whip-around" coverage from seven different schools. Jimmy Dykes and another announced to be named will be on site.
"The defending champs have once again one of the most intriguing players in the country in Nerlens Noel," ESPN's Andy Katz said. "The frontline should be one of the longest, and most intimidating groups in the country. And, because its Kentucky, there will always be a show."
In addition to ESPNU's coverage, complete live coverage of Big Blue Madness will be shown online on ESPN3 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Additional coverage information for Madness will be announced later, including live local broadcast information.
Overall Record: 4-4-0, 0-0-0 C-USA Record Last Week: 2-0-0, 0-0-0 C-USA
Recent Results Wednesday, Sept. 19 * won vs. East Tennessee State, 3-1 Saturday, Sept. 22 * won at Evansville, 2-0 Upcoming Schedule (times eastern) Tuesday, Sept. 25 - at IPFW - 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30 - vs. Memphis - 2:30 p.m. DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE R-Jr., GK, Jack Van Arsdale (Richmond, Va.) NOTES: Junior Jack Van Arsdale had another dominating week in between the pipes, leading the Wildcats to a pair of wins ... A native of Richmond, Va., Van Arsdale paced a stellar UK defensive attack in a 3-1 win over East Tennessee State on Wednesday, with the Bucs getting their goal on a penalty kick ... On Saturday, Van Arsdale notched his second shutout of the year in a 2-0 winning effort ... On the year, Van Arsdale has a 0.90 goals-against average in six games and 500 minutes, saving 18 shots ... Over the last three games - all UK wins - Van Arsdale has allowed only one goal in 270 minutes.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Jr., F, Tyler Riggs (Louisville, Ky.) NOTES: Junior forward Tyler Riggs had a prolific week in leading the Wildcats to a pair of wins ... During the two wins, Riggs totaled a goal and two assists ... In a win over East Tennessee State, Riggs contributed his second assist of the year ... On Saturday night at Evansville, Riggs netted the game-winning goal and later dished out an assist ... The Louisville, Ky., native played the full 180 minutes on the week, firing a total of nine shots ... His seven-shot outing at UE on Saturday marked a new career high and a season individual high for the Wildcats ... On the year, Riggs has three goals and three assists and in his career, Riggs has 19 goals, eight assists and 46 points.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a dominating week with a win over Evansville on the road and a home 3-1 win over East Tennessee State. UK will return to action on Tuesday, traveling to IPFW for a road contest at 7 p.m. ET.
Kentucky (4-4-0) won its third consecutive game to pull up to a .500 record after starting the campaign 1-4-0. The Wildcats used an explosive offensive attack and sterling defense during their three-game winning streak, outscoring its opponents 6-1, including a 1-0 win at No. 18 Louisville.
During the week, UK posted a 5-1 goal margin in its two wins, as the Wildcats got the first career goals from veterans Gabriel Conelian and Steven Perinovic and the third goal of the year from senior Charley Pettys. UK keeper Jack Van Arsdale was robbed of a clean sheet with a penalty kick chance. In the win at Evansville, UK got a goal from Tyler Riggs - his 19th career goal - and the team-leading fourth of the year from senior Matt Lodge. In the win at UE, UK owned a staggering 14-0 advantage in shots on goal and outshot the Purple Aces 18-6.
The Wildcats have been led offensively by Riggs in 2012, who has three goals and three assists in UK's first eight games of the year. Lodge has four goals, while Pettys has added three goals and one assist. Conelian, Perinovic and Bryan Celis have each added goals, while Kristoffer Tollefsen and Jacob Kemper each own two assists.
A native of Richmond, Ky., Van Arsdale has allowed only one goal in his last three games, coming on a penalty attempt. He now owns a 0.90 goals-against average in six games and 500 minutes, saving 18 shots with two shutouts. UK freshman goalkeeper Callum Irving has also started three games, with seven saves and a 2.00 goals-against average.
As a team, UK has averaged 1.62 goals a game and 11.8 shots a contest and a 53-43 advantage in corner kicks. Defensively, UK owns a 1.24 goals-against average.
UK will travel to IPFW for the Tuesday game and then return to the UK Soccer Complex to host Memphis in the Conference USA opener on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
There are two ways you can go after a tough loss. You can revert as a team, feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for your teammates to pick up the slack.
Or you can take the challenge head on and learn from your mistakes.
The Kentucky volleyball team chose the latter Sunday afternoon in College Station, Texas, when they took on a scorching hot 10-1 Texas A&M team.
Kentucky was reeling a bit after a difficult stretch in the non-conference portion of their schedule heading into Southeastern Conference Play. The Cats played point for point with then No. 1 ranked Nebraska. But in their first Southeastern Conference match of the season, Kentucky suffered a sweep at the hands of the Florida Gators.
Facing a three-game losing streak, Kentucky was looking to get healthy against a struggling Louisiana State team who was winless through their first two SEC matches of the season in Baton Rouge, La.
The Tigers took the Wildcats to a decisive fifth set on their home court, and despite Kentucky's best efforts, it would be LSU's night to get into the SEC win column.
Kentucky was facing adversity as UK was suffering from their first four-game losing streak for the first time in the Craig Skinner era. After post-match staff meeting and a team meeting at the hotel in College Station Saturday evening, the Wildcats were looking to regroup and refocus going into their match with one of the hottest teams in the country.
"It was really important because I feel like people had been worried about making mistakes or losing their spot if they went out and didn't perform their best," said senior outside hitter Ashley Frazier about the team meeting. "That was really holding us back."
Maybe expectations were too high. Maybe the pressure of a top-15 ranking was too much too handle. Maybe this team missed last year's seniors more than they realized. But there was definitely something amiss from this talented Kentucky squad.
But Sunday was a new day, an opportunity for Kentucky to right the ship and prove to everyone, including themselves, that there was still plenty to play for.
Kentucky took the challenge and at no point looked like the team who lost to LSU just two days prior.
A big reason for Kentucky's misfortune this season was their inability to get out of the gate faster in matches. Slow starts have hampered Kentucky in several of their losses so far this year, and even have shown up in some of their victories. There was no evidence of that on Sunday as UK jumped on Texas A&M right away to grab the first set.
It wasn't pretty, as Kentucky hit .059 for the first set, but UK held the Aggies to a .000 hitting percentage with some great defense. But the first set victory in the hostile, loud environment that was Reed Arena helped Kentucky get out to the quick start that they were looking for.
"It's a great environment," said Skinner. "Texas A&M does a great job at what they do for sporting events. I told our players before the match to embrace it, and they did. They came out and won game one and I don't think it was a factor after that point."
While the crowd wasn't a factor for Kentucky, Whitney Billings was.
Billings went out and had her best match of the season, and it all started in that first set. She used two service aces, three kills and five digs to lead Kentucky in each category. And that was just the beginning of what would be a huge day for the junior right side hitter.
After the early blow, Texas A&M stood right in there with the Cats and levied a counter attack. Texas A&M was led by Tori Mellinger and Alisia Kastmo who had four and five kills in the second set for the Aggies, but it was no easy task. Kentucky could have very well taken a 2-0 lead into the locker room, taking a 24-23 lead late in the second set, but the Aggies rallied for three consecutive scores to give them the 26-24 second set victory to even the match at one point a piece.
Kentucky could have folded right then and there, but a new attitude was apparent on this day.
"We just went out and played loose and free," Billings said. "We weren't thinking about anything except for the moment right now and what we were going to do right now."
With some help from Frazier and outside hitter Lauren O'Conner, Billings and co. went to work on the Aggies yet again, erupting for 10 consecutive points in the third set, including two service aces by Billings, upping her total for the match to five. Kentucky ran away with the third set to the tune of a 25-18 score heading into the fourth.
The Aggies showed once again just why they were 10-1 and answered once again in the fourth. It was an incredible offensive display by both sides. Kentucky tallied an impressive 16 kills in the set, hitting .424, including Frazier's 1,000th career kill, an impressive achievement. But Frazier was quick to give credit to those who helped her reach this milestone.
"It says I have really good teammates," said Frazier. "I couldn't have gotten there if the passes weren't they way that they are. We have great passers on our team and a great setter who puts it where I need it every time."
But Texas A&M's offensive attack was much more lethal. Though UK was impressive defensively for most of the match, the Aggies could not be stopped in the fourth as they went off for 22 kills and a .514 hitting percentage.
It looked as if the Aggies may have regained the momentum as they nabbed the fourth set, 25-20, to take the match to five.
Yet again, Kentucky was faced with a difficult challenge of fending off the Aggies and a raucous Reed Arena.
Kentucky and Texas A&M exchanged blow after blow, point for point, until UK grabbed a 14-11 lead late in the fifth set. With match point on the line, the Cats and Aggies played out a long rally until freshman middle blocker Sarah Schwarzwalder eventually capped things off with a kill to finish off the Aggies.
The road doesn't get much easier from here. Kentucky (7-6, 1-2 SEC) has a quick turnaround and another challenge in front of them when they host rival Tennessee (9-4, 2-2 SEC) this Wednesday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU. The real challenge will be whether or not Kentucky can build on their success for the upcoming schedule that lies ahead.
"We have to remember how this felt and how we did so when we play Tennessee, we can look back to this match and do some of the same things," said Billings.
John Calipari spoke to fans at the campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness on Friday night. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Perhaps as well as any coach that has sat in his seat, John Calipari understands the passion of the fans that support the Kentucky program. He understands what drives them to brave the elements en masse seeking tickets to Big Blue Madness, and he appreciates it.
That's why he felt so bad that he has been gone all week recruiting. He would have liked to have been making the rounds at Tent City on Wednesday or handing out pizza on Thursday with his team, but duty called.
So on Friday night - when Coach Cal finally returned to Lexington - he wanted to make sure he did something to show the fans how thankful he is. Rather than trying to do it with a tour of the campout, by distributing foodstuffs or by signing autographs - though he did plenty of that too - he decided to just tell them directly.
"How about all of you guys?" Calipari said in a familiar refrain. "You're nuts, you're crazy and I love it."
In an event that was equal parts political rally and the headlining act at a music festival, Coach Cal took to a makeshift podium on the outdoor basketball courts adjacent to Memorial Coliseum. Microphone in hand and portable speakers to his left right and front, Calipari addressed hundreds of fans who temporarily vacated the nearly 600 tents at the campout to say thank you.
He thanked them first for what they do for his team. With a roster featuring four freshmen and a first-year transfer playing projected to play significant roles, the three days of the campout served as a sort of an initiation into what it means to play basketball at UK.
"You have inspired them, no question," Calipari said. "Because every team I've coached, think about it if you're them and you're saying, 'Six hundred tents, three thousand people waiting on tickets to watch me practice. This must be serious.' "
The fans surrounding Coach Cal only broke their rapt silence to loudly cheer parts of his seven-minute speech they especially enjoyed. Many such moments came when Calipari was discussing the prospects of this year's team, which will try to defend UK's 2011-12 national title.
"This team we have here, you won't believe this, we're going to be young," Calipari said.
He went on to say he may start as many as four true freshmen this season, meaning early-season expectations should be adjusted accordingly.
"I really don't know," Calipari said. "I do know we'll be different but I think we're going to be a really good team as the year goes on. Early, it's going to be really ugly. But that's because we're so new, we don't know each other."
Players and coaches may still be getting accustomed to one another, but this week was the first time members of the Big Blue Nation got to meet the team they'll cheer on this season.
"I hope you see that the guys that are around, they're all good guys," Calipari said. "Yes, they can play basketball, but they're good guys."
Fortunately for Calipari, his current players ably filled in by signing autographs and posing for pictures while he was out making sure there are more players to follow them at UK.
"I hope you enjoyed yourself here," Calipari said. "I apologize. I just got back (from a recruiting trip) and picked up my wife and came on over. The flight took a little longer than I thought, but I did want to come over and say thank you all for doing this and being here and being a big part of what we do and being a big part of what we recruit."
If that means another top-ranked recruiting class or two will be around at future campouts, fans will assuredly take the trade.
Members of the men's basketball team handed out pizza to campers on Thursday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the record-setting crowd of campers surrounding Memorial Coliseum, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
As the first control cards were handed out to ticket seekers at 2 p.m. on Friday, the final official tent count reached approximately 595, 25 more than the 2011 campout that previously had the record.
There are still a few new tents being set up here or there, but by this point most of the crowd has been patiently waiting for as much as 55 hours since tents could officially be set up at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. With tickets set to finally be distributed at 7 a.m. on Saturday, that patience is about to be rewarded.
We will have some additional coverage from "Tent City" on Friday night, but before then, we at UK Athletics would like to thank campers for your passion. An event like this is truly a rare thing. To those campers who have not yet received a control card, please bear with us.
Fans surround the Blue Courts at Memorial Coliseum to watch Nerlens Noel and some of his Wildcats teammates play. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Energized by a visit and pizza delivery from the men's basketball team, Tent City 2012 now has a record.
With 55 new arrivals overnight, the tent count for the annual campout for Big Blue Madness tickets has climbed to approximately 582, topping the previous record of 570 set in 2011. Dozens of new tents popped up in the overflow area on Stoll Field, but fans also managed to find some open grass along Rose Street and around the Blue Courts, where Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin and others played with fans on Thursday night.
With hours still to go before control cards are passed out at 2 p.m. on Friday, the tent count is likely to climb past 600 at the final official count this afternoon.
When all is said and done, the 2012 campout will have set a record that will be tough to beat. I have a feeling the Big Blue Nation will make a run at come early fall in 2013 though.
The likes of Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen and Andre' Woodson have rewritten most of the entries in the passing record book at Kentucky but there is one mark that former UK quarterback Bill Ransdell still holds--the record for single-game passing accuracy.
Ransdell once completed 20-of-23 passes. It came on a gray, rainy November day at Commonwealth Stadium in 1986 - against the Florida Gators. Ransdell led his team to a 10-3 win that day and it marks the last time the Cats defeated the Gators.
By the way, the last UK quarterback to get a win at The Swamp was Juan Portela in 1979.
From worst to first. That's the story of UK's third-down conversion stats from last year to this.
The Wildcats converted only 29 percent of their third-down plays last season, 12th in the SEC, but now they rank first in the league at 51 percent. Burton and his Wildcat role
Florida excelled in red-zone offense in its win over Kentucky the last time the Cats visited The Swamp. That's because of the damage Trey Burton did from the Wildcat formation, scoring a record six touchdowns.
Burton was back in that role last week, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the win at Tennessee, one of them in the red zone. That was a noteworthy change, given that the Gators have settled for a field goal on half of their trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Gators to test Cats with ground game
Kentucky has struggled to stop the run in the first three games and now the Cats face perhaps their biggest challenge yet in that department.
Under first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who came from Boise State, the Gators have improved their per-game rushing total by 90 yards per game, to 233 yards per game. That total ranks third in the SEC at this juncture of the season.
Florida offense's second half improvement
In wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee the past two Saturdays, Florida has dominated the second half. But Pease, who was the offensive coordinator at UK in 2001-02, says it's not because of some amazing halftime adjustments.
Here's what he said to GatorCountry.com this week:
"There's not a lot of adjustments," Pease said. "There's some minor things, and really when you take the game plan, you kind of eliminate some things that haven't worked and 'let's get away from this, here's what they're stopping us on.' We've got to make our adjustments to how we're going to attack them."
There's just not much green left on the lawn surrounding Memorial Coliseum. Fans seeking tickets to Big Blue Madness 2012 have packed as close to every square foot of grass from Rose Street to Lexington Avenue. The result is a mass campout still on track to break last year's record.
As of 4:30 p.m. on Thursday - the second day of the annual Madness campout - the tent count is up to approximately 527. The growth of "Tent City" slowed a bit, as 18 new tents were set up since the last official count at 9:30 a.m.
Even so, this year's tent count is nearly 30 ahead of the pace of the 2011 edition - which would end up with a record 570 tents. As a reference, 50 new tents popped up on Thursday night and early Friday morning last year.
For those debating making the trip to campus, there is still plenty of room for more tents in the overflow area at Stoll Field. Nearly 100 tents have already been set up there, but that's still one of the few spots around Memorial with grass to spare.
While you await our next official count first thing on Friday morning, I recommend you read Ryan Suckow's story from the campout about the Big Blue Nation traveling far and wide to attend this unique event. Here's an excerpt:
If there's anything to learn about the Big Blue Nation, it's that its limits reach far and beyond the boundaries of the Bluegrass.
Teressa Steinbergen is camping out for the ninth consecutive year. Nine years. In a row. And where is she from? Jeffersonville, Ind. But it only took one trip to Lexington to reel her in.
"I went to my first Big Blue Madness nine years ago and I was set," said Steinbergen. "I saw the tradition and family atmosphere and I was set. I've been a fan ever since then."
The family atmosphere is one of the most unique qualities of the Madness campout as Kentucky fans of all sorts come together for one common passion. For Steinbergen, it's that experience that truly makes Big Blue Madness special.
"(I prefer) camping out. I do," said Steinbergen. "(My family) like(s) Madness better, but I like good people and the good atmosphere and the chants, 'Go Big Blue,' and it's just all awesome to me."
Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith has thrown for 986 yards and eight touchdowns through three games in 2012. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Collins Ukwu is one of a handful of Wildcats to see extensive action the last time Kentucky traveled to Gainesville, Fla., to face the Florida Gators.
The senior defensive end tied for the team lead with six tackles in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that September evening. He remembers well the venue recognized almost unanimously as one of the hardest on road teams in the nation. He knows about the Gator chomps and the fans seated so close to the visiting sideline they can be heard loud and clear.
Ukwu and the Cats may have fallen that day, but he isn't intimidated by the idea of going back into the building known commonly as "The Swamp." In fact, he looks forward to it.
"It's a great football atmosphere," Ukwu said. "It's probably one of the best places I've played at since I've been in school here. It's just one those places that you always want to play. Personally, I like going to away games. I don't know why. I just like it for some reason."
Almost exactly two years later, Ukwu will get to make that return trip, as Kentucky (1-2, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) will head south to take on No. 14 Florida (3-0, 2-0 SEC) on Saturday at 12:21 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. Having lost two of three games, the Wildcats sense an opportunity in front of them. A win would inject a sense of momentum into the season and put the Cats back on track to their goal of reaching a bowl game.
"Games that we should have won, we didn't take advantage of those," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "Now, we got to really take advantage of this Florida game."
To do that, UK will have to overcome a Gator squad off to an impressive start.
Florida entered this season under second-year head coach Will Muschamp with plenty of question marks. The Gators were on the fringes of preseason top-25 polls and the doubts were only reinforced after an underwhelming performance in a 27-14 win at home against Bowling Green. The last two weeks, Florida has looked an entirely different kind of team, pulling off back-to-back SEC road wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee. Most recently, Florida exploded for 555 yards in a 37-20 win over the previously unbeaten Volunteers.
"They're really, really good," quarterback Maxwell Smith said. "They've already proven it. They beat a really good Tennessee team. They beat Texas A&M, who looks really good as well. If we can go down in The Swamp and beat them, that would really be something special."
If you listen to UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter, Smith may even be selling the Gators short, at least offensively. He likens Florida to an even scarier version of a team that's had one of the best offenses in football over the last decade.
"On down through the years, I used to watch Boise State as a spectator and I would say, 'Man, that is really one of the better offenses I've ever seen,' " Minter said. "I'm talking execution, diversity, razzle dazzle. Well that's now what it is. It's Boise State offense with really fast players."
After splitting time in the opener, quarterback Jeff Driskel has taken over full-time at the position, and the offense has thrived under him. He has thrown just 36 combined passes the last two games, relying on a dangerous ground attack under first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease that features running back Mike Gillislee, the SEC's leading rusher.
In addition to an effective power running game, Florida still features plenty of the speed the Gators have come to be known for. In particular, UK fans will remember Trey Burton, the player who takes snaps in the Wildcat formation for Florida. He scored a record six touchdowns two years ago against Kentucky and had another effective day last week against Tennessee, carrying the ball three times for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
"They're very diverse, much more so than what I remember in the past, so the challenges are great," Minter said. "But we got to get out there and see what we can do."
There will be similar chances for the Kentucky offense, but the Wildcats have a different weapon in their arsenal from the last time they were in Gainesville. UK's no-huddle offense has rolled up over 400 yards a game, including 322.0 through the air. Smith has a number of options at his disposal and an offensive style that Joker Phillips believes will make it easier to operate in a hostile environment.
"(The no-huddle offense) definitely helps because you got more time to operate at the line of scrimmage," Phillips said. "There's not a of verbal communication. Everything's hand signals from the line of scrimmage."
Instead of Smith having to spend time getting his teammates to the line and relaying calls to them, each of UK's position players looks to the sideline and receives the call simultaneously.
"Max doesn't have to tell the running back," Phillips said. "He doesn't have to tell the receivers. The receivers know all the signals."
Taking things a step further, the fast-paced offense presents challenges for the defense. As games have worn on, the Cats' attack has gained steam as opposing defenses are unable to substitute freely. Moreover, the new offense allows UK to dictate the game's tempo.
"That's the idea with the no huddle, that we have all those different modes that we can play," Phillips said. "We can play fast-paced, we can play a mode where we can get up and look over to the sideline and we can do them all in the same series."
The next big challenge for the Cats - other than facing the athletic Gators - is getting the offense going from the opening kickoff. UK has been outscored 18-0 in the first quarter so far this season, falling behind early in all three games. Responding to those struggles, Phillips has switched up the way Kentucky opens practice with an intense 11 vs. 11 session just a few minutes in.
A good start would surely be crucial as Kentucky looks to end a 25-game losing streak at the hands of Florida - the longest active streak among major conference opponents. The streak may be daunting, but the Cats are just 10 months removed from ending an even longer one against Tennessee.
"Anything can happen," said tailback Jonathan George, who is expected to start in place of CoShik Williams on Saturday. "When you play hard and you know that you can win, I feel like good things come out of it."
Nathan DeWall, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky, teams up with Chair of the Military Science program and Army ROTC, Lt. Col. Jason Cummins, UK football head coach Joker Phillips and UK Football senior center Matt Smith to discuss the psychology of leadership, inside and outside the classroom.
Joker Phillips spoke for more than 12 minutes in his last media opportunity before his Kentucky Wildcats head south for a Southeastern Conference opener against the Florida Gators.
The biggest news that came out of Thursday's session was on the injury and redshirt fronts. Offensive linemen Darrian Miller (ankle) and Matt Smith (toe) each practiced in spite of their injuries and are expected to play this week. Phillips is also unconcerned about quarterback Maxwell Smith, who has some lingering soreness in this throwing shoulder from hits taken last weekend.
CoShik Williams (hip strain), on the other hand, is not expected to play. He will make the trip with the team, but Jonathan George, Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley will likely be the guys come Saturday. A fourth running back, Josh Clemons, has not yet played this season after having his knee scoped before the season opener. According to Phillips, it is likely at this point that the sophomore will redshirt.
To hear Phillips talk about those topics, as well as UK's no-huddle offense, getting off to a fast start and others, watch the video below.
They braved a torrential downpour to line the sidewalk of the Avenue of Champions a day early. They attacked the surrounding grounds of Memorial Coliseum at 7 a.m. Wednesday. They pitched their tents and set up their temporary three-day establishments. All of this in an effort to get free tickets to the Kentucky men's and women's basketball teams' first open practice of the season.
They... are the Big Blue Nation.
There is simply nothing like it in all of sports, and the Big Blue Nation has represented itself well once more through the first day of the Big Blue Madness campout. These fanatics have set records for the tent count around Memorial Coliseum and the Joe Craft Center the past two years. Kentucky fans have shown once again that they "truly are crazy," as head men's basketball coach John Calipari likes to describe them, by showing up this year at a record-breaking pace. They are coming off a national championship campaign, after all.
By Thursday morning at 9:30, the tent count had ballooned to 509. At the same point in last year's campout, there were just 445 tents on the premises. As the weekend draws nearer, that number is expected to get even bigger and break last year's record of 570 tents.
After spending some time around the campgrounds, a few traits of the Big Blue Nation stuck out: It is "big", it is diverse and the fans that comprise it travel far and wide to see their Cats. Even if it's just a departure from rival territory to gain a piece of sanity.
"You don't have to see the orange and you don't have to hear Rocky Top," said Monica Fradey. "That gets old if you're a Kentucky fan. It really does."
Fradey and her husband Jerry live in Madisonville, Tenn., and this year marks their second straight year of camping out. Monica, a Kentucky native and graduate, moved to Tennessee when she attended the University of Tennessee for graduate school. Jerry was born and raised a Tennessean, but just on the border of the Tennessee and Georgia line. Monica never traded her allegiance, however. In fact, there was a stipulation proposed in order for Monica to take Jerry's hand in marriage.
"I had to sign a pre-nup to marry her, can you believe that?" said Jerry.
If there's anything to learn about the Big Blue Nation, it's that its limits reach far and beyond the boundaries of the Bluegrass.
Teressa Steinbergen is camping out for the ninth consecutive year. Nine years. In a row. And where is she from? Jeffersonville, Ind. But it only took one trip to Lexington to reel her in.
"I went to my first Big Blue Madness nine years ago and I was set," said Steinbergen. "I saw the tradition and family atmosphere and I was set. I've been a fan ever since then."
The family atmosphere is one of the most unique qualities of the Madness campout as Kentucky fans of all sorts come together for one common passion. For Steinbergen, it's that experience that truly makes Big Blue Madness special.
"(I prefer) camping out. I do," said Steinbergen. "(My family) like(s) Madness better, but I like good people and the good atmosphere and the chants, 'Go Big Blue,' and it's just all awesome to me."
This year, she decided to bring her daughter, Kiera. The 11-year-old straight-A student finally earned her trip to Lexington. But unlike her mother, she's excited for the main event.
"(I'm excited for) whenever we actually get to go to the Madness," said Kiera. "It's just exciting. There's no word to explain it."
And maybe that's the best way to explain the passion of the Big Blue Nation. It's unexplainable. It's unexplainable how a small town just south of Dayton, Ohio is predominately full of Kentucky fans. Not the University of Dayton, not Ohio State, but UK. At least that's the case according to Brandon Collins.
"My whole town is just UK fans, and I just kind of fit in that way," said Collins. "I think it's just natural in that area."
Collins has recently transplanted himself into the heart of Kentucky at his new job at the Jif Peanut Butter plant in Lexington, and he's already taking advantage of his new hometown. He made sure to get an early start on the process, showing up on the Avenue of Champions the night before they could cross the street. He came by himself, while he waits for some other friends he's made since moving to Kentucky, and has been given the responsibility of holding down the fort in their stead. Literally.
But despite his physical absence from work, Collins isn't scot-free.
"Getting on my work emails and trying to get them back," said Collins of the dependence on his phone to stay in touch with his job.
That sort of thing is normal for Kentucky fans. It's almost expected. It's life. Outsiders often don't see it that way.
The week of the campout is truly a big deal for these loyal fans. For Steinbergen, it's the only vacation she gets all year. And nothing will stand in her way.
"This is my vacation," said Steinbergen. "I take it every year. People at work think I'm completely insane. I'll go to work with a 103 fever and the flu as long as I don't mess up my hours allotted up for my Big Blue Madness camping, I'm OK."
The event even drives people to do things that they've never done before.
"Last year was the first time I had ever slept in a tent," said Monica Fradey. "I do not camp. I do not camp in a tent, so last year was my first experience for even sleeping in a tent. Everyone tells me we've lost our mind down there, but up here, no one seems to think this is unusual at all."
And that's why they come from all over the country to convene in one central location. Even if it's for free tickets. Even if it's for a "glorified practice." Even if you can get the tickets online.
If they win it, they will come. Kentucky did, and its fans have. And being a Wildcat fan has never been so enjoyable.
"We bleed blue," said Steinbergen. "That's the best way to explain it. We're just passionate about our basketball and we like to win, and Coach Cal's got us winning. So, we're pretty happy."
At this point, it is becoming less of a question whether a record is going to be set and more a question of when and by how much.
With dozens of new campers arriving overnight, the tent count at the campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness 2012 has ballooned to approximately 509 as of 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. The count stood at 460 just 17 hours ago, meaning 49 new tents were set up on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
At the same time during last year's campout, there were 445 tents surrounding Memorial Coliseum, putting the 2012 edition comfortably ahead of record pace. The 2011 count didn't reach 500 until late afternoon on Thursday.
The final tent count last year was 570, meaning there is a chance the record could be broken at the next count later this afternoon. It's more likely though that the record will be set at the morning count on Friday.
The majority of the new tents were set up on the overflow area on Stoll Field, but some new fans arriving have taken advantage of limited space still available along Rose Street.
Before the next official tent count, expect to see some additional coverage here on Cat Scratches from the campout. Ryan Suckow is putting the finishing touches on a written feature to set the scene and Wednesday proved you never know what else might happen at Tent City.
The big star on day one of the campout was "Yellow Tent Guy," who was captured on video at an inopportune time trying to set up his tent. There have been plenty of follow-up stories on the fan, named Aaron Perkins, who eventually was able to win the battle with his uncooperative tent, including this video from UK Rewind.
UK defeated East Tennessee State 3-1 on Wednesday night at the UK Soccer Complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After beginning the season 1-4, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team put together its first win streak of the season Wednesday evening, topping East Tennessee State 3-1. The Wildcats have improved their record to 3-4 on the year and seem to be playing with a sense of looseness and confidence.
Last Friday, the Cats defeated nationally-ranked Louisville on the road, standing tall in the face of several attacks from the Cardinals. Tonight, Kentucky played with the same energy it brought on Friday.
Kentucky got a first half goal from Gabriel Conelian in the 34th minute, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime. The Wildcats seemed to be fired up and ready to charge out of the gates in the second half. However, two minutes into the second stanza the Buccaneers equalized on a penalty kick. In the past, the Cats may have lowered their heads and started playing not to lose.
Instead, a more mature UK team responded with a goal in the 74th minute by Steven Perinovic and added an insurance goal by Charlie Pettys in the 83rd minute on a penalty kick.
"I think you can definitely see the confidence," head coach Johan Cedergren said. "They scored to equalize the game and our kids said 'Okay they scored, fine we will score another one.' I think that's the big change you see is that they know they can do so much better and they know they can play with anyone in the country."
Junior goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale has played huge for the Cats the last few games and has come up with some big-time saves. Van Arsdale held off the Louisville attack, recording six saves in the process to pick up the upset. With the score tied 1-all this evening, the Bucs had a chance to go ahead on a header midway through the second half but Van Arsdale made a tremendous save to keep the game even.
The Cats seemed to get a boost from the play and were able to get a set piece to Perinovic, who found the back of the net for the game winner.
"Jack has been coming up huge," Perinovic said. "In the Louisville game he had six saves and was named national team of the week and he has been playing out of his mind for us right now. He's been keeping us in a lot of the games."
Assistant coach David Casper works with the goalkeepers and has put in a lot of time trying to help Van Arsdale, Callum Irving and Dary DeWalt improve. Cedergren gives a lot of credit to Casper and feels that Van Arsdale is really thriving under his guidance.
Not only has Van Arsdale's play improved, but so has the entire defense. The Cats were a goal away from recording their third shutout in four games and they seem to be trusting each other more and building chemistry.
"We are finally becoming a cohesive unit," Perinovic said. "The more you play with each other it gets more solid in the back and you get to know what each other is going to do. (Jacob) Kemper played great tonight as he always does. (Jacob) Speed, it's been a good partnership with him and then Dylan (Asher) is always solid on the right so I think we have been coming along really well."
Perinovic's goal came on a header off a free kick from the left corner. Cedergren has talked about how great Perinovic is in the air and they have been working on set pieces attempting to get him opportunities to score.
Being good in the air is one thing but it's a two-way street. There needs to be a good service into the box in order for Perinovic to have a chance. Pettys served a great ball to the far post and Perinovic found the back of the net for his first career goal.
"It was great because we have been working a lot on set pieces in practice," Perinovic said. "It was nice to get one and especially to go up 2-1. Pettys kept trying to go near post but it was so crowded in there so I told him to go far post and he played a great ball in. Give him all the credit on the service."
Pettys is another player who has brought a lot of energy to the squad. He started the year playing outside back and has since made the transition to midfielder. The move looks to be brilliant as Pettys has brought another dynamic to the offense using his hustle and knowledge of the game.
Pettys is someone the Cats can play through because he is so smart with the ball and makes good decisions. He led the team in passing/completion ratio against Louisville at 93 percent and gives UK a chance with his lethal leg on free kicks.
It was Pettys' assist to Perinovic that gave UK the lead and he sealed the game as he stepped up and drilled a penalty kick.
"I think Charley's got an engine that never stops running," Cedergren said. "For Charley, I think that's sometimes his biggest strength is to just keep going. He was very confident with the penalty kick, made good service with the free kicks and he filled in fullback for us when we were trying to figure out our system. Now he's playing wide midfield I think he can add even more going forward."
Riding an upset over Louisville, the Cats kept their momentum going tonight and seek to make it three in a row as they travel to Evansville this Saturday. First things first though, Kentucky took care of business tonight and really showed some swagger out on the field.
They allowed a tying goal in the second half but instead of getting down on themselves, stepped back up with their heads held high and used a team effort to get back-to-back wins.
"We came off a big emotional win against Louisville on Friday," Cedergren said. "It was really important for us to come out and keep that momentum going. I think we did that tonight, we came out a little slow in the first half but picked it back up and we all worked for each other and ended up getting the win."
The talk of day one of the Big Blue Madness campout was a fan who came to be known only as "Yellow Tent Guy." The fan was front and center of Sports Video's time lapse showing campers set up shop next to Memorial Coliseum and drew national attention for his lack of his success getting situated with his - you'll never guess it - yellow tent.
Well, the fan - Aaron Perkins - eventually did get his tent set up. UK Rewind caught up with the Monticello, Ky., native.
As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday - the first day of the annual campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness - approximately 460 tents had popped up around Memorial Coliseum. That most recent count represents a 35-tent increase from 9:30 a.m.
The 2012 campout is well ahead of last year's pace. At the same time on Wednesday in 2011, the count was at 398. The 2011 campout set a record of 570 tents by the time all was said and done.
The line for tickets to UK's first open practice opportunity for men's and women's basketball spans the entire perimeter of Memorial and the Joe Craft Center, from Lexington Avenue to Rose Street. In addition, 63 tents have already been set up across the Avenue of Champions on Stoll Field, which is designated as the overflow camping area. UK officials did not even begin directing people to Stoll Field until Wednesday afternoon last year.
The first day of the campout garnered plenty of attention, with various print, online and television outlets on site to interview ticket-seeking fans. There was even some national coverage of the campout, as the popular sports website Deadspin ran a story from the event using footage shot by our own Sports Video department.
The Wednesday afternoon count will be the final one of the day, with another to follow first thing on Thursday morning. Last year, the tent count climbed by nearly 50 overnight, so there should be a big jump in store. It also seems that the most memorable campout events happen when the sun goes down, as student-athletes often spend time with fans.
As you'll surely remember, Wednesday night of the Madness campout is when this happened on the Blue Courts.
Freshman wide receiver DeMarcus Sweat has scored a touchdown in each of UK's last two games. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
DeMarcus Sweat is the most dangerous player on Kentucky's roster. The freshman wide receiver, just three games into his college career, already has a well-earned big-play reputation.
In limited duty as a receiver and kick returner, he has only nine touches. He has caught the ball three times, but scored two touchdowns on his few receptions, including the game-tying score with 22 seconds left in regulation against Western Kentucky. Adding his 172 kick-return yards, Sweat leads all Wildcats with 252 all-purpose yards.
So, why is a player averaging 28 yards every time he gets his hands on the ball getting just three touches a game?
"Right now when he's on the field, there's a good chance somebody's band's going to play," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said.
Calling Sweat's number - at this early point in his career - is a little bit of a game of trick or treat. Sometimes you are rewarded with a king size candy bar, others you are left wishing you hadn't knocked on the door in the first place. As UK prepares to travel to No. 14 Florida, Sanders is going about the business of making Sweat's highlight-reel plays the kind that are fun to watch in the film room on Saturday.
"We're working hard with DeMarcus and we're pushing him, trying to get him to learn what to do and how to do," Sanders said. "DeMarcus has to do his part. I think some days he's much better at it than others. We need to see consistency out of him because there's no question he can make plays."
It's that ability that is making it impossible for the coaches to keep Sweat off the field. He's at a position with plenty of experience, as four seniors are on the depth chart. Even so, Sweat was listed as a starter for the first time this week alongside Aaron Boyd at one receiver spot.
"Older is nice, but talented is better," Sanders said.
Sweat will see the field no matter what in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday, but he and Boyd have competed this week to determine who will get the start. The young freshman knows what it's going to take.
"I'd probably say getting in that playbook and staying consistent," Sweat said. "That's really it: staying consistent and staying on top of your stuff."
From the moment Sweat arrived on campus, Maxwell Smith has taken the receiver under his wing. During fall camp, the sophomore quarterback famously requested Sweat as his roommate.
"He's doing well," Smith said. "He obviously has a long way to go. There's a lot for him to learn as a young receiver, but he's doing a really good job. I'm helping him as much as I can."
That doesn't mean Smith refers to him by his birth name. Sweat shares his surname with a certain R&B artist most popular in the 1990s.
"They call me Keith around the team so some of them probably don't even know my first name," Sweat said. "They think my name's Keith Sweat."
Even though Sweat - who has not yet turned 18 - was one-year old when the man he shares his name with last had a song on the Billboard Hot 100, the receiver understands the reference. If he keeps making plays at his current rate, it might not be long before the football player is more famous than the recording artist.
"We only had, before the year started, I think in the summertime a week together or two weeks because he came in a little bit late," Smith said. "To think what I could do with all the work in the winter and the summer and the spring with him, it could be something to see I hope."
Not even three hours to the campout for tickets to Big Blue Madness 2012, the population of "Tent City" is already on a record-setting pace.
As of 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, there are approximately 425 tents encircling Memorial Coliseum. Last year's tent count on day one was 398 and that number wasn't totaled until late afternoon. By the end of the 2011 campout, there were a record 570 tents. By this point, it should come as no surprise, but the Big Blue Nation continues to outdo itself.
The configuration of this year's campout is a bit more organized, as more ticket-seekers have been directed across the Avenue of Champions to Stoll Field. However, the festive atmosphere of the annual event remains. Many familiar faces (and tents) have returned from previous year's campouts, surely planning vacation schedules around the campout.
Fans were able to officially line up at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, meaning those that arrived first will have camped out for 72 hours when tickets are distributed at 7 a.m. on Saturday.
Throughout the week, we'll have full coverage of the campout and visits by UK student-athletes and coaches, so stay tuned. We'll also have our next official tent count late on Wednesday afternoon.
In the mean time, here are a couple videos to give you an idea of the scene. Madness setup sights and sounds
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 16:
Women's soccer: Kayla King
Junior Kayla King helped anchor the UK defense in two SEC games as UK upset No. 13 Florida (2-1) and knocked off undefeated Mississippi State (3-0). King made nine saves on the weekend, while only allowing one goal, which was a PK on Friday. The Louisville, Ky., native also tallied her first individual shutout of her career Sunday, as UK notched its fifth shutout as a team in just eight games.
Men's soccer: Matt Lodge
Senior midfielder Matt Lodge netted one of the biggest goals of his decorated career in leading UK to a monumental 1-0 win at No. 18 Louisville on Friday night ... Lodge's third goal of the year came in the 38th minute at UofL, in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a UK men's soccer game, 5,583 fans at Cardinal Park ... His tally was a gorgeous strike on a free-kick opportunity from just outside of the 18-yard box, bending it around the wall and past the diving keeper at the far post ... The goal was Lodge's 20th career, ranking his sixth-best in UK annals ... He also ranks sixth in UK career history with his 55 points, adding 15 assists in his 59 career games.
Women's soccer: Courtney Raetzman
Freshman Courtney Raetzman scored the game-winning goal Friday night against No. 13 Florida in the SEC season opener off a corner kick in the 47th minute. The goal was the first-career goal for Raetzman. The freshman from Elk Grove, Ill., also notched two assists in the 3-0 win Sunday afternoon over undefeated Mississippi State, giving her four points on the weekend.
Men's soccer: Jack Van Arsdale
Junior keeper Jack Van Arsdale turned in the best game of his career in leading the Wildcats to a thrilling 1-0 win at No. 18 Louisville on Friday night in front of 5,583 at Cardinal Park - the most fans to ever witness a UK men's soccer game ... A native of Richmond, Va., Van Arsdale saved a career-high six shots in his first career clean sheet ... Among his remarkable saves in an electric atmosphere, Van Arsdale thwarted a breakaway with a kick save, extending his right leg out to narrowly stop a scoring chance ... His performance helped UK post its first win at Louisville since 2004 ... The transfer from Virginia Commonwealth saved shots in the ninth, 22nd, 36th, 47th, 72nd and 83rd minutes ... On the year, Van Arsdale has started in three games and played in four, owning a 1.12 goals-against average in 320 minutes with 15 saves ... In his two-year UK career, Van Arsdale has a 1.47 goals-against average in seven games, with 21 saves. "Jack you could see in him today that he made up his mind he was going to keep a clean sheet," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said of Van Arsdale's outing. "To come in here at Louisville to keep a clean sheet is a fantastic feeling." ... "Jack kept us in the game," UK senior co-captain Matt Lodge said. "He must have made about 10 saves in the second half. Credit the back four as well, Stevie (Perinovic), Dylan, Speed and Kemper they all played really good tonight."
Jack Van Arsdale recorded a shutout in Kentucky's win over Louisville on Friday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Four days following the big upset of No. 18 Louisville, the
University of Kentucky men's soccer team has wasted no time shifting the focus
to its next opponent: East Tennessee State on Wednesday.
The Wildcats dropped four one-goal games in their first five
games before pulling out a 1-0 victory over the Cardinals last Friday evening
at Cardinal Park in Louisville, Ky. Not only did the Cats start the 2012 season
with an uphill climb after four losses in their first five games of the year,
but they had played three ranked opponents in those contests.
Louisville was next up on the brutal schedule, but UK found
a way to win and may have turned their season around. Kentucky has a stretch
where they have an opportunity to roll off a winning streak and get some
In their next three games the Cats will face ETSU at home,
and Evansville (Sept. 22) and IPFW (Sept. 25) on the road. Head coach Johan
Cedergren sees this as an opportunity to right the ship and get back to an even
"We are 2-4 so we need a couple to get back to .500," Cedergren
said. "I think we are ready for it. Like I've have said all along, it's a good
team and it's just a matter of putting it all together. Now we know that we can
do it in a hostile environment against a very good team. So let's show our home
fans on Wednesday that we can do it back-to-back."
However, East Tennessee will be no slouch when the Buccaneers come
to the UK Soccer Complex on Wednesday. They own a 4-2 mark on the year, including
a 1-0 victory in double overtime over Conference USA foe, No. 17 UAB.
Cedergren is aware of ETSU and what it can bring, but knows that
if his team plays with the same energy that it brought against Louisville, the
Wildcats can beat anyone in the country.
"We have a brutal schedule, and ETSU and their coaching staff have
a very good program," Cedergren said. "They have had success, been to the
tournament (2010), have a wonderful facility down there and have some very
special players going forward. We are definitely going to have to be on our
toes, but at the same time if we can beat Louisville and can put that kind of
performance together on Wednesday then I will feel pretty good about our
After recording his first shutout of the season against
Louisville, junior goal keeper Jack Van Arsdale received two weekly awards for
his performance. Van Arsdale was named to the national team of the week by
College Soccer News and the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week.
Van Arsdale and the defense are taking that step forward that
Cedergren has been preaching all season. Along with the Louisville match, the
defensive unit has posted a shutout against St. Joseph's and held No. 4
Charlotte scoreless in the second half in its last three contests.
The Wildcats took a beating with the early schedule but Van
Arsdale likes his team's chances the rest of the season.
"It gives you confidence
that if you are playing the best teams in the country to start out with,
theoretically it gets easier from here," Van Arsdale said. "Our conference is
really tough with really good teams. Basically, we need to take what we have
learned from these games and use them going forward."
Senior forward Matt Lodge
scored the winning goal against the Cardinals on Friday and was awarded the
Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. The win over Louisville was huge
for Lodge in particular, considering it was the first time he had tasted a
victory over the archrivals.
Lodge was pleased with the
UK fan turnout in Louisville and is excited to play in front of the home crowd
on Wednesday. The Rossington, England native believes that Friday's win will
persuade the fans to keep supporting the Cats this season.
"Yeah, especially after the Louisville game," Lodge said. "We had
a lot of fans there and they saw us win, so hopefully they will be at our home
game against ETSU. I don't know a whole lot about them but I know they are a
solid team. They beat UAB so it's going to be a test."
Cedergren has been consistent since the offseason and the kickoff
to the season. He has constantly talked about his team getting better every day
in training and games. The record didn't always show it, but only he and the
rest of the team have really been able to see what's going on day in and day
After topping the Cardinals, the Cats now can show the rest of the
world what they are made of and how much they have improved since the start of the
season. No more playing well for stretches at a time or for just one half and then
having the wheels fall off. This team appears to have grown in maturity and
experience that is ready for the long haul.
"We are at the point now
where we can put together a good performance for ninety minutes," Cedergren
said. "The guys were really passionate, and we came out on fire against
Louisville. That surprised us a little bit, and that gave us confidence. Then
from that point we were just trying to sustain what we had done. I think we are
a really good team. We just need to realize that ourselves and put it together
now for several games in a row."
Beginning on Wednesday, a city of tents will spring up around the Joe Craft Center and Memorial Coliseum in anticipation of the distribution of tickets to Big Blue Madness. Thousands of Kentucky faithful will brave the elements waiting in line for tickets - which will be available on Saturday morning - in one of the most remarkable displays by a group known as one of the most fervent in the nation.
Throughout the three-day campout, we will be providing coverage of the annual event. Our offices on the second floor of the Joe Craft Center are right in the middle in the chaos, so this is the place to go for the best video, photo and written content from one of the most festive lines you'll ever see.
While we await the campout - which begins officially at 7 a.m. on Wednesday - let's take a look at last year's edition: Wednesday - The 2011 campout started off with a bang. Before fans could even get in line, they were in formation across the street from Memorial Coliseum. When the clock hit 7 a.m., the race was on. The video below captures the scene.
Now, that video is fun to go back and watch again only because no one got hurt. We at UK Athletics encourage those who will be on campus on Wednesday morning to be much more orderly and safe this time around.
The most famous moment of last year's campout happened in the evening on Wednesday when Anthony Davis crossed the street from the old Wildcat Lodge to play some ball on the Blue Courts. The result was the first of many highlight-reel dunks from Davis' lone season at Kentucky.
Thursday - By 9 a.m. on day two, "Tent City" had grown to 445. Day two is also when I witnessed my favorite interaction of the week. Here's an excerpt from my blog post that day:
I had a chance to walk around the campout a bit this morning and mingle with a few people and I overheard a conversation that reminded me just how unique this event is. A woman was passing through the campout on her way to work and she stopped to chat with a camper. It turned out the woman had just moved to Lexington and had absolutely no idea why people were camping out, so she was naturally curious.
She asked the camper why all the tents were set up and he explained they were waiting for tickets to a UK basketball event. The woman responded by asking who UK would be playing and the camper told her it was actually just a practice. Surprised, the woman asked how long everyone had been there. The man said most of the campers had arrived early Wednesday morning. The woman took the answer in stride, but then said, "Wait, you SLEPT out here?"
By late afternoon on Thursday, the tent count was up to 500, virtually assuring that the 2010 record of 525 tents would fall.
Friday - And fall the record did overnight. By 9 a.m. Friday, the tent count climbed to 550. Early in the morning on day two, members of the men's basketball team stopped by the campout bearing breakfast. Here's a shot of Terrence Jones giving a tent full of fans a pleasant wake-up call.
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
At the final tent count just after the first control cards were handed out to fans at 2 p.m. on Friday, the 2011 campout only added to its record with 570 tents. In my post announcing the record, I wrote the following:
I'd like to call the 2011 total insurmountable, but I know better than to bet against the Big Blue Nation.
Last week, the Big Blue Nation celebrated the Wildcats' storied basketball tradition during the Alumni Charity Game, an event John Calipari hopes is on its way to becoming an annual affair. Now, the focus will shift toward the present-day Cats.
It's not long before Coach Cal will be showing off his new team at Big Blue Madness, but thanks to Twitter, UK fans get plenty of regular updates. And one consistent theme in recent months has been Calipari's positive vibes about freshman 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, the least-hyped member of UK's latest top-ranked recruiting class.
One person who is not surprised about the promise Cauley-Stein has flashed is his high school coach, Mike Grove.
"The sky is the limit for Willie Cauley. Great hands, great feet, great length. He really has upside that is off the charts," said Grove, who coached Cauley-Stein at Olathe Northwest (Kan.) High School. "He buys into Coach Calipari's system, buys into working hard and training the proper way. You got a big athletic specimen there who can really explode.
"I only had him for two years. He has an uncanny passing ability. He is very, very unselfish. He can lead the break and he can put the ball on the floor. He has some uncanny abilities that you would see in a 6'3 or 6'4 guy but he is a seven-footer."
Grove said he saw a great improvement in Cauley-Stein's work ethic during the two years that Grove coached him and he sees nothing but continued growth.
"His best attributes are his strength and his athleticism," Grove said earlier this summer on "The Leach Report" radio show. "He is a big-time shot blocker. Not only does he have the size and the length but he has uncanny timing. His hands are really, really special."
Calipari has raved about Cauley-Stein's ability to run the floor and Grove says athleticism is why he thinks "the sky is the limit" for his former pupil.
"You get a guy that is 6-foot-11, 7-foot that has those kinds of attributes and there are only a few amount of guys that can do that and I think his athleticism and his upside is what Kentucky fans should be excited about and hopefully watching and seeing what happens for him over the next year or so. I think he still has a learning curve but I think as he continues to learn and drive himself - wow, he can be a special, special player there," Grove predicted.
One of the most amazing facts about Cauley-Stein is that he played football as a wide receiver through his prep career.
"He is a well-rounded kid who, in his early years, was playing three or four sports. He played baseball, basketball and football and I think that is one of the things that really helped him - his eye-hand coordination and his feet - those things are not broken and when he gets to Kentucky, those things are already there. They won't really have to fix those things and as long as he continues to buy into what they are preaching and working hard," noted Grove. "He is going to be very, very good. It didn't surprise me in football because he is that athletic. He is that unbelievably athletic."
Grove says Cauley-Stein did not do much weightlifting in high school but having embraced the contact on the gridiron should help the big man handle the physical demands that come with a transition to college basketball.
At Olathe Northwest, Grove says Cauley-Stein was mostly a face-up big man and the coach thinks Calipari's system and the versatile skill sets big guys can display in it was appealing to Cauley-Stein.
"I think the dribble drive motion, where they play the post players away from the basket a little bit, appealed to him because he wasn't a straight back-to-the-back post player and never really wanted that. I think the other thing that appealed is the high success rate for Coach Cal and his staff and how they have prepared players and produced players for the NBA and the whole mystique of Kentucky basketball and that big blue fan base down there," Grove said. "I think that just all appealed to him. He wants to be the best basketball player he can become and I think he felt that Kentucky was the right place for him."
An inadvertent elbow to her right eye in practice that clocked Raetzman never got the rookie down. In fact, her only disappointment was that she couldn't jump back in the game.
"I've never seen a blackout like it and to get it in practice tells you something," Kentucky head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "She never showed a negative emotion until I told her she couldn't play. She literally cried. Here's a kid who is only a few games into her freshman season and she is so passionate. It wasn't the fact that she had gotten hurt, it was the fact that she couldn't play that was so upsetting."
When Raetzman returned to action, she came up swinging.
The Elk Grove, Ill., native was named the Southeastern Conference's Freshman of the Week after scoring the match-winning goal in the team's upset of then-No. 13 Florida and then provided two assists in a 3-0 victory against Mississippi State.
"I definitely wanted to get back on the field playing and help our team," Raetzman said. "No one wants to sit out and just watch games, everyone wants to be playing."
SEC Digital Network: You're in your fourth season at Kentucky; how does the program's progress compare to where you wanted it to be when you first started?
Jon Lipsitz: "I am very happy with where we are, but we're not there yet. I am proud of the work that all of us together have done and that goes from the administration to the coaches to the support staff and mostly to the players and their families. That doesn't mean that we're satisfied or we're finished. We want so much more - how do we get there? We get better tomorrow. I always bring it back to that - to be your best tomorrow and move on from there. Obviously, I'm very proud of what we've done and I'm very proud of the players, but that's only good enough for today."
UK will take its show on the road this weekend for games at Arkansas and LSU.
The University of Kentucky volleyball team has a chance to make history the UK athletics department announced Monday evening. For the first time in program history, the volleyball team will play a regular season match on the floor of Rupp Arena on Oct. 12.
If that date sounds familiar, it's because Big Blue Madness happens to be that night as well.
The process started a couple of months back when volleyball head coach Craig Skinner, who has been trying to make this event happen for the last few years, ran into men's basketball head coach John Calipari and approached him with his idea. Cal was all for it, and it materialized from there.
The match will be the opening act to an evening full of "Madness," as if the event wasn't already chock-full enough with Blue and White already. Now, the event grows even bigger and has allowed another sport and Kentucky team to share the big stage.
And by big stage, I mean potentially the grandest stage to ever host an NCAA volleyball match. That's right. The current record for attendance ever to watch a volleyball match is 17,430, which occurred Dec. 18, 2008 during the NCAA semifinals at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Rupp Arena seats 23,000.
You do the math.
Last season, UK was tripped up by Mississippi State midseason down in Starkville, Miss. That, too, happened to be during Mississippi State's version of Big Blue Madness, known down there as "Maroon Madness." The match broke the single-match record for Mississippi State with 4,535 Bulldog fans in attendance.
As fate, and the schedule, would have it, Mississippi State is due into Lexington on Oct. 12, this year's date of Big Blue Madness. Almost exactly one year later, Kentucky has the chance to return the favor while hosting potentially five times the amount Mississippi State had during its madness celebration.
A record crowd of 23,000, or anything near it, would not only break the national attendance record, it would shatter the program record of 9,475 which took place Oct. 29, 1993 in Memorial Coliseum against Louisiana State. That event also took place at what was then called "Midnight Madness."
As fans begin to lineup around UK volleyball's current home at Memorial Coliseum this week in the traditional campout for Big Blue Madness tickets, Skinner hopes his program can continue to build their own tradition while riding the coattails of the national champs. A win at Rupp Arena over the Bulldogs could go a long way in making this one-time event an annual occurrence if all goes as planned.
With what normally marks the official start of basketball season in the Bluegrass, the volleyball team now has an opportunity to make its own mark on a basketball-hungry fan base. The significance of this event could make waves for the Kentucky volleyball program for years to come as prospective athletes look to be a part of such a special match that only the Big Blue Nation could pull off.
The match will kick off an extravagant evening of Big Blue events starting at 5 p.m. at Rupp Arena. Only fans with tickets to Big Blue Madness will be permitted to the volleyball match. Those with volleyball season tickets purchased prior to Sept. 13 can RSVP to the UK Ticket Office by Sept. 25 for replacement tickets. For more information on tickets and the event, visit UKAthletics.com.
Football - Junior tailback Jonathan George had a career game, scoring three touchdowns - two rushing, one receiving - in Kentucky's 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday. George finished the game with 13 rushes for 51 yards, adding a career-high six catches for a career-best 54 yards. The junior was the first player to score two rushing touchdowns and a receiving score in the same game since Randall Cobb in 2010 vs. Auburn. - Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith three for 300-plus yards for the second-consecutive game, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since Mike Hartline in 2010. - Defensively, Collins Ukwu, Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Avery Williamson, Taylor Wyndham, Mister Cobble and Martavius Neloms all had career-high tackles. Williamson led the way with 14 stops. Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team opened SEC action with a home contest against No. 13 Florida. The Wildcats suffered a 3-0 loss to the Gators in front of more than 1,800 fans at Memorial Coliseum. - Senior libero Stephanie Klefot had a season-high 18 digs in a three-set match. - Junior Alexandra Morgan matched a career high with 10 kills to lead the offensive effort for the Blue and White. - Kentucky will now hit the road for its first two-match conference set with dates at LSU on Friday and Texas A&M on Sunday.
Women's soccer - Kentucky upset No. 13 Florida Friday night 2-1 in a game that featured a PK from each team before freshman Courtney Raetzman scored her first-career goal in the 47th minute to notch the game winner. The win over the Gators was the Wildcats' first since the 2006 SEC Championship game. - UK ended Mississippi State's undefeated season Sunday, collecting three goals from three different players in a 3-0 win. The win marked the third-consecutive win over MSU for the Wildcats. - Sophomore Arin Gilliland scored a goal in each game this weekend, charting the equalizer in Friday night's upset on a PK in the 30th minute, and also scored in the 50th minute vs. Mississippi State on a rebound. - Junior Kayla King recorded her first-career shutout Sunday afternoon in a 3-0 win over MSU. In addition, King was in the cage for the entire 90 minutes, collecting the win Friday over No. 13 Florida as the Louisville native recorded six saves.
Men's soccer - The Kentucky men's soccer team continued its stiff schedule to open up the non-conference season, traveling to No. 18 Louisville and springing a thrilling 1-0 win on Friday in front of 5,583 fans at an electric Cardinal Park. - Kentucky faced its fourth ranked foe in the first six games of 2012 on Friday night in an intense, rivalry atmosphere in the Derby City. The Wildcats struck for a free-kick goal on the boot of senior midfielder Matt Lodge in the 38th minute and used a heroic defensive effort from goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale, defenders Steven Perinovic, Jacob Speed, Dylan Asher and Jacob Kemper, with midfielder Cameron Wilder also starring in the winning effort. - The win for UK was its first at Louisville since 2004 and snapped a three-game winning streak in the series for the Cardinals, the 2010 NCAA College Cup runner-up. - Lodge continued to move up the record books with his goal on Friday night, giving him 20 goals, 15 assists and 55 points in his career, ranking sixth in UK history in goals and points.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf team opened up their 2012-13 year with a fifth place finish at the Wolf Run Invitational this past weekend. - Stephen Powers and Will Bishop finished in the top-20, posting scores of 5-over-par and 7-over-par, respectively. Women's golf - The women's golf team kicked off their 2012 fall schedule with a victory at the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational, winning the tournament by two strokes with a score of 14-over. - Ashleigh Albrecht led the Wildcats with a 1-over-par, sixth place finish. - Freshman Cylia Damerau also recorded a top-10 finish, placing ninth with a score of 4-over. Damerau was huge down the stretch for the Cats, shooting 3-under the final two rounds.
Josh Harrellson was a man without a team at this weekend's Alumni Charity Game. The only former Wildcat to play in the NBA last year still unsigned, he elected not to play in the game.
Harrellson has a team now.
On Monday, the Miami Heat announced it had come to terms with the Kentucky fan favorite. Harrellson brings the Heat's roster up to 18, meaning Harrellson will have some competition to make the team opening day. However, his size, strength and rebounding could be a solid addition for the NBA's defending champions. The Heat won the title in 2012 with just two true centers seeing significant minutes during the postseason.
Harrellson's rookie season with the New York Knicks was marred by injury, but he showed promise. He averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 minutes in 37 games. He also made four starts in which he averaged 10.0 points and 8.5 rebounds. This offseason, the Knicks traded Harrellson to the Rockets, who released him due to a surplus of post players.
With Harrellson's new contracts, UK now has 23 former players signed to NBA teams. Also, notice the concentration of Kentucky players on the league's elite teams. Six of the 10 teams with the best overall records in the NBA last season have former Cats on their rosters.
Here is the updated list of UK players and their NBA teams:
Kelenna Azubuike - Cleveland Cavaliers Eric Bledsoe - Los Angeles Clippers Keith Bogans - Brooklyn Nets DeMarcus Cousins - Sacramento Kings Anthony Davis - New Orleans Hornets Josh Harrellson - Miami Heat Chuck Hayes - Sacramento Kings Terrence Jones - Houston Rockets Enes Kanter - Utah Jazz Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - Charlotte Bobcats Brandon Knight - Detroit Pistons Doron Lamb - Milwaukee Bucks DeAndre Liggins - Oklahoma City Thunder Jamaal Magloire - Toronto Raptors Jodie Meeks - Los Angeles Lakers Darius Miller - New Orleans Hornets Nazr Mohammed - Chicago Bulls Daniel Orton - Oklahoma City Thunder Patrick Patterson - Houston Rockets Tayshaun Prince - Detroit Pistons Rajon Rondo - Boston Celtics Marquis Teague - Chicago Bulls John Wall - Washington Wizards
Junior running back Jonathan George scored three touchdowns on Saturday against Western Kentucky University. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
To a man, the Kentucky Wildcats admit their locker room was not a fun place to be on Saturday night. The team's 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky University was a tough one to stomach.
Now, a couple days have passed since the loss. Much of the talk outside the program is still centered around the defeat and what it means for the UK football program.
As for players and coaches, they left their disappointment behind on the night of the game.
"After that, it's gone away," defensive end Collins Ukwu said. "That's the thing about football: you can't just be focused on that loss. You got to go past that because you got another game the next week, another top-25 team, another way to make a statement in this league."
That chance to make a statement will come against Florida. The No. 14 Gators (3-0) have already been sternly tested this season having won Southeastern Conference road games against Texas A&M and Tennessee the last two weeks.
"Watching those guys on film and seeing a little bit of their games, they are a really good ball team," running back Jonathan George said. "We're going to have to come out and attack this week of practice, stay in the film room, (study) the game plan and get ready to play."
Based on Saturday's game, as well as those against Louisville and Kent State, there will be one notable change at practice this week. UK's opponents struck first in each of the three games so far this season and the Cats - in spite of significant improvement on offense - have not yet scored a single first-quarter point.
With that in mind, Joker Phillips is changing around the beginning of his team's practices. After stretches and 10 minutes of individual work, the Cats will jump right in to 11-on-11 drills.
"We can't wait and see what the tone of the game is," Phillips said. "We got to start fast right away."
Phillips taking criticism in stride
As a player and assistant at UK, Phillips has seen some lean times. He was a freshman when Kentucky went 0-10-1 under Jerry Claiborne in 1982. He was a coach when the Wildcats won five combined games in 2004-05.
He was also a player when UK turned it around in 1983 and 1984, making back-to-back bowl games and winning nine games in a season for the only time in the last 35 years of the program's history. He was also an assistant and eventually a head coach when the Wildcats came back to reach five bowl games in a row from 2006-10.
All that's to say that Phillips has been a part of making bad times good again. Joker Phillips knows what it's like to deal with the kind of criticism he's facing in the wake of a 1-2 start.
"I'm built for this," Phillips said.
In his weekly press conference on Monday, Phillips heard just about every possible question about the direction of his program. He'll get more chances to hear them when he speaks to the media after practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but beyond that, he'll be too bogged down in preparation for the Gators to pick up a paper or browse the Internet.
"We'll be buried in the office," Phillips said. "We sense it, but we don't get a chance to hear it because we're buried in there trying to get ready for the next opponent, and our next opponent is Florida."
With 72 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, there were going to be some growing pains this season. But that doesn't mean Phillips, his staff and his players are taking two losses in three games sitting down.
"My job is to make sure we win football games, continue to do the things we need to do to win football games," Phillips said.
Week four depth chart changes
As has been the custom after each game this season, there are tweaks to the depth chart at wide receiver. DeMarcus Sweat, after one of his two catches last week was a 22-yard game-tying touchdown with 22 seconds left in regulation, is now listed as the starter at one wide receiver spot with Aaron Boyd. Sweat and Boyd will rotate with the first team this week in practice.
No matter who ends up starting on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., UK will be looking to get the ball to Sweat more often. Two of the dynamic freshman's three catches have gone for touchdowns. Sweat also had UK's longest punt or kick return of the season against WKU, a 51 yarder. All told, Sweat has gained an average of 28 yards on his nine combined receptions and kick returns.
"The problem with Sweat, we're not getting it in his hands enough," Phillips said.
The only other change to the depth chart on offense is at tailback, where Jonathan George (105 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns against WKU) has moved past Raymond Sanders into the backup role behind CoShik Williams. Williams will be held out of practice this week until at least Thursday. If he cannot play, George will start and Sanders - reinstated this week after a suspension for a violation of team rules - will back him up.
On defense, the starter at safety opposite Ashely Lowery is now listed as Mikie Benton or Dakotah Tyler. Injury update
Williams (hip strain) is among three players listed as day-to-day entering practice this week. Cornerback Cartier Rice has thigh bruise and Darrian Miller has a sprained ankle, but it is not classified as a high ankle sprain. Linebacker/safety Josh Forrest (thigh bruise) is doubtful for Saturday and tight end Gabe Correll (hip flexor) is out.
Overall Record: 2-4-0, 0-0-0 C-USA Record Last Week: 1-0-0, 0-0-0 C-USA Recent Results Friday, Sept. 14 - won at No. 18 Louisville, 1-0
Upcoming Schedule (times eastern) Wednesday, Sept. 19 - vs. East Tennessee State - 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 - at Evansville - 8 p.m.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE R-Jr., GK, Jack Van Arsdale (Richmond, Va.) NOTES: Junior keeper Jack Van Arsdale turned in the best game of his career in leading the Wildcats to a thrilling 1-0 win at No. 18 Louisville on Friday night in front of 5,583 at Cardinal Park - the most fans to ever witness a UK men's soccer game ... A native of Richmond, Va., Van Arsdale saved a career-high six shots in his first career clean sheet ... Among his remarkable saves in an electric atmosphere, Van Arsdale thwarted a breakaway with a kick save, extending his right leg out to narrowly stop a scoring chance ... His performance helped UK post its first win at Louisville since 2004 ... The transfer from Virginia Commonwealth saved shots in the ninth, 22nd, 36th, 47th, 72nd and 83rd minutes ... On the year, Van Arsdale has started in three games and played in four, owning a 1.12 goals-against average in 320 minutes with 15 saves ... In his two-year UK career, Van Arsdale has a 1.47 goals-against average in seven games, with 21 saves. "Jack you could see in him today that he made up his mind he was going to keep a clean sheet," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said of Van Arsdale's outing. "To come in here at Louisville to keep a clean sheet is a fantastic feeling." ... "Jack kept us in the game," UK senior co-captain Matt Lodge said. "He must have made about 10 saves in the second half. Credit the back four as well, Stevie (Perinovic), Dylan, Speed and Kemper they all played really good tonight."
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE Sr., MF, Matt Lodge (Rossington, England) NOTES: Senior midfielder Matt Lodge netted one of the biggest goals of his decorated career in leading UK to a monumental 1-0 win at No. 18 Louisville on Friday night ... Lodge's third goal of the year came in the 38th minute at UofL, in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a UK men's soccer game, 5,583 fans at Cardinal Park ... His tally was a gorgeous strike on a free-kick opportunity from just outside of the 18-yard box, bending it around the wall and past the diving keeper at the far post ... The goal was Lodge's 20th career, ranking his sixth-best in UK annals ... He also ranks sixth in UK career history with his 55 points, adding 15 assists in his 59 career games.
TEAM NOTES The Kentucky men's soccer team continued its stiff schedule to open up the non-conference season, traveling to No. 18 Louisville and springing a thrilling 1-0 win on Friday in front of 5,583 fans at an electric Cardinal Park, the largest crowd to ever witness a UK soccer game. UK will return to action on Wednesday, hosting East Tennessee State at 7 p.m. ET at the UK Soccer Complex.
Kentucky (2-4-0) faced its fourth ranked foe in the first six games of 2012 on Friday night in an intense, rivalry atmosphere in the Derby City. The Wildcats struck for a free-kick goal on the boot of senior midfielder Matt Lodge in the 38th minute and used a heroic defensive effort from goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale, defenders Steven Perinovic, Jacob Speed, Dylan Asher and Jacob Kemper, with midfielder Cameron Wilder also starring in the winning effort.
The win for UK was its first at Louisville since 2004 and snapped a three-game winning streak in the series for the Cardinals, the 2010 NCAA College Cup runner-up. UK owns a 10-5-4 all-time record against the Big East power Cardinals, including a 6-1-2 record in Louisville, and the win was UK's first over a top-25 foe since a 5-1 smashing over No. 15 Brown in 2011.
Lodge continued to move up the record books with his goal on Friday night, giving him 20 goals, 15 assists and 55 points in his career, ranking sixth in UK history in goals and points.
On the year, UK has eight goals in six games, owning 11.5 shots per game and a 42-33 advantage in corner kicks. Lodge leads UK with three goals, while Tyler Riggs has two goals and one assist and Charley Pettys has two goals. Freshman Bryan Celis has added UK's other goal, while freshman Kristoffer Tollefsen paces the club with two assists. Kemper and freshman Jacob Scearce each have an assist. In goal, Van Arsdale has a 1.12 goals-against average in four games, recording 15 saves. Freshman Callum Irving has seven saves and one clean sheet in three games, sporting a 2.00 goals-against average.
UK will return to the UK Soccer Complex on Wednesday for a matchup with East Tennessee State at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats will conclude the week with a Saturday night trip to Evansville to face the Purple Aces at 8 p.m. ET.
Kelli Hubly and Caitlin Landis (wearing No. 9) each scored goals in UK's 3-0 victory over Mississippi State. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
With the Kentucky women's soccer team off to a 6-1-0 start to 2012, identifying the Wildcats' issues was an exercise in nitpicking. With already a pair of wins over top-25 teams, there wasn't a lot that UK had not done well.
There was one notable exception to that.
Twice the Cats had played Friday and Sunday games in the same weekend. Facing the quick turnaround, UK had once looked underwhelming in a 1-0 with over Southeastern Missouri and once "very poor" - in the words of Jon Lipsitz - in a 3-1 loss to Samford.
Kentucky had a chance to take a step in the right direction against Mississippi State. After an emotional 2-1 comeback win over No. 13 Florida on Friday, in which Lipsitz reported eight different players ran at least six-and-a-half miles, the unbeaten Bulldogs were coming to town.
"On the days when we might be tired physically, we have to be mentally sharper," Lipsitz said. "Today was the day when we grew up some, when we did it all together."
It took a collective effort to complete a dominant 3-0 victory over Mississippi State. Three different Wildcats tallied goals in the win and three different Wildcats had an assist, including freshman Courtney Raetzman who put the finishing touches on an excellent weekend with a pair of assists.
"We've come from in the past where we were almost entirely a counter-attack team that was giving away possession in order to spring some chances to a team that wants to keep the ball," Lipsitz said. "I thought today we probably did our best job of keeping the ball, of really spreading it around the park a little bit."
The weekend was an impressive one for the Cats, as they swept a pair of SEC weekend games for the first time during the Lipsitz era. UK is assured of being in a tie atop the conference standings through the opening weekend with no more than three other teams, pending the results of other SEC games still in progress on Sunday afternoon.
"I thought it was a good step in what is going to be a grind," Lipsitz said. "We still have 11 more games in the conference."
The Cats will take their show on the road next weekend, heading to Arkansas and LSU. The good news on that front is that UK's leading returning scorer finally got into the goal-scoring column this season. Junior forward Caitlin Landis scored Kentucky's second goal less than 12 minutes into the game after she assisted on Kelli Hubly's goal just four minutes in, UK's fastest goal of the season.
"It was a long time coming," Landis said.
Landis scored six goals in 2011, including one in the season's first game, so the wait wasn't much fun. Even so, her four assists entering Sunday's match led the team and Landis has been doing plenty to help her team win all season.
"I'm sure it's a relief for her," Lipsitz said. "For me, she's been playing fantastic. If Cat scores goals, if Cat gets assists, if Cat just holds the ball for us and starts our attack, if she just moves without the ball and someone else gets it, I'm proud of her."
For Lipsitz, Landis and the Cats, any worries about goal scoring were put into perspective quickly after the final whistle. Sunday was Kentucky's second annual "Kick Cancer Match" and the team held a ceremony with fans after the game to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and honor those suffering from the disease. One dollar from each ticket sold to Sunday's match went toward the fight against pediatric cancer.
The original inspiration for the Kick Cancer Match came from Allison Berger. A few years ago, Lipsitz got a call from the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at the UK Hospital about Berger, a young soccer player and fan being treated for brain and spinal cord cancer. Lipsitz went to the hospital to bring Berger some UK gear and what he thought would be a short visit, but it turned out to be much more.
"The cause of raising money for the pediatric oncology unit here at UK just means the world to us," Lipsitz said. "Our lives were changed forever when we met Allison Berger a few years ago over there."
Berger passed away from her illness in March of last year, but her memory lives on through the "Kick Cancer Match" and in the minds and hearts of the Kentucky team.
"Meeting her and her family and now in, Allison's memory, to get to do this every year to raise money just to give back to the kids is amazing for us," Lipsitz said. "We're so honored to get to do something to give back."
UK wore special gold jerseys for Sunday's match. The jerseys are being sold in an open auction online and all proceeds will go to fight pediatric cancer. Go to UKathletics.com/auction to bid.
Avery Williamson intercepted a pass by Kawaun Jakes in the first quarter of UK's 32-31 loss to Western Kentucky University. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Late in the second quarter, things looked bleak for Kentucky. Visiting Western Kentucky University had a 17-0 lead and the crowd in Commonwealth Stadium was wondering if the Wildcats could pick themselves up.
After a bruising Hilltopper drive to open the second half, the situation looked dire once more. WKU had just driven 75 yards for a touchdown in seven minutes to take a 24-10 lead and stem the momentum gained by the Cats when they scored 10 points in the final 5:01 of the first half.
One last time, UK seemed in nearly inescapable trouble with the clock ticking inside four minutes left in the fourth quarter. WKU's grinding ground game had just converted a third-and-one with UK down a touchdown and with just two timeouts in hand.
Somehow, the Cats managed to dig themselves out of each of those holes. Some way, UK tied the game with 24 seconds left in regulation and scored a go-ahead touchdown in overtime.
But in the end, it was the Wildcats left heartbroken when WKU answered with a touchdown of its own, went for the two-point conversion and won when Antonio Andrews threw back from behind the line of scrimmage to quarterback Kawuan Jakes, who ran into the end zone after a shoestring catch.
"It was well-designed play," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "It might work once or twice a year, but it worked tonight. Give them credit."
After watching your players refuse to give up for 60 minutes and more only to have their effort rewarded with a 32-31 loss sure to be prominently feature on the SportsCenter Top 10, what do you tell your football team?
"Tonight, you don't say a whole lot," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "You tell them you're proud of the effort and proud of the way they competed and proud of the way they battled. Obviously we made too many mistakes early, put ourselves in a hole. I was proud of the way they competed. They obviously never give up on anything, keep competing, keep fighting and put ourselves in position to have a chance."
Perhaps best exemplifying his team's night, which sent UK to 1-2 on the season, was Maxwell Smith. The sophomore signal caller was turnover-free through his first eight quarters of the season, but tossed three interceptions in his first 16 attempts and another in the midst of UK's comeback bid in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, Smith just kept on throwing, and then throwing some more. He finished with 37 completions in 60 attempts, 332 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-tying score to freshman DeMarcus Sweat.
"I was really proud of him," Sanders said. "He kind of dinged his shoulder up a little bit, kind of hurt his leg a little bit. It obviously affected him a little bit with some of his accuracy there in the fourth quarter, missed a couple throws that we usually hit. But the guy kept competing, kept standing in there, kept making plays."
Smith certainly made his share of plays in his second 300-yard performance in as many games, but he was more concerned with the miscues.
"I thought I had an alright game besides the four picks, but that's like saying I pitched well but I gave up four grand slams," Smith said.
Smith was at the helm for UK's comeback bid, but it was running back Jonathan George he dubbed player of the game. With Raymond Sanders suspended due to a violation of team rules and starter CoShik Williams going down with a hip strain early, the Cats turned almost exclusively to George in the backfield. He did everything that was asked of him and more.
"Jon played great tonight," Smith said. "He was doing a lot of things. He did well in protection, making guys miss, doing what you got to do as a back and not letting the first guy bring you down."
George had 105 total yards from scrimmage (51 rushing, 54 passing) and three touchdowns because he was prepared to step up when the moment called for it.
"I always tell myself just to be ready to play whenever because you never know what can happen," George said. "Last week with CoShik out and Raymond out this weekend, it just shows why you need to be ready to play."
Thankfully for UK, he was ready.
"He was the only one we had and I thought he cowboyed up for us and really played well," Randy Sanders said. "Fortunately he did. I don't know what we would have done if he had not been able to do it."
Whether it's George, Williams or Raymond Sanders in the backfield, the question for a Kentucky team facing seven Southeastern Conference games in a row without a bye week becomes whether it can rebound from a disappointing loss. Head coach Joker Phillips looks no further than UK's performance against WKU for the answer.
"They had an opportunity to hang their heads today," Phillips said. "They had an opportunity down in the first half and even late in the second half. They had an opportunity. This team is a team that I know I've heard the word soft a couple times, and this team is not soft by any means."
Even so, everyone involved with this team also realizes the distractions they are about to face in the wake of the loss. Fans will wonder whether the SEC schedule will be too difficult and media will ask plenty of tough questions.
"We know it's going to be there, they know it's going to be there," Sanders said. "You always try to teach them that, when things are going good, you better listen to your coaches and listen to your teammates. When things are going bad, you better listen to your coaches and to your teammates. We still got nine games to play. I've been here for five bowl games and I want to be here for six. That's still our goal."
Players and coaches will do their best to block out everything outside of the team, but they still have a message for the UK faithful.
"Don't lose hope on us," George said. "We're fighting hard. We're going to come out every week. We're working hard."
A busy three-day stretch in the world of Kentucky basketball came to an end Saturday afternoon, concluding with the inaugural UK Alumni Charity Basketball Game at Rupp Arena. What started with the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience ended in a fantastic show of former Wildcats displaying their collective talents in Lexington once more.
Since taking over the Kentucky men's basketball program, Calipari has made it a point to invite former players back to feel included in the tradition they helped build during their time in Lexington. That sentiment was never more evident than this weekend.
As several former players returned to the University of Kentucky campus to help run the camp, several of them serving as coaches, at no time previous had there been more Wildcats, past and present, in one central place. From the days of the 1996 national championship team to the present, players from several eras were making connections and sharing stories about their heydays.
The relationships being fostered under Calipari are making former players feel like much more than alumni. Connections and relationships have turned Kentucky basketball into one giant family; and a very talented and successful one at that.
It used to be that way, once before. But with Calipari in command, he's gone out of his way to make sure that family atmosphere would be restored.
"What he's done a good job of is bringing everybody back and making us one big family," said Tony Delk, member of the 1996 championship team at Kentucky. "That's the most important thing at Kentucky and we got away from that at one point in time. Now he's brought everybody back and we're a family again."
Delk, along with several members of that championship team, participated in two games Saturday afternoon. The first paired the '96 champions up against several campers tabbed the "Calipari All-Stars." Hilarity and entertainment would ensue.
While several middle-aged men tried valiantly to play with the champs, most of the 1996 team looked to still have a little bit of magic left in the tank. Delk, Wayne Turner, Derek Anderson, Anthony Epps, Jeff Sheppard, Antoine Walker, Oliver Simmons and Jared Prickett were all in attendance and on the floor to help put on a show in their reunion.
With the All-Stars showing an inability to stop the champs, the great John Lucas, coach of the All-Star team, opted to empty the bench and throw 12 of his players on the floor to create a hectic game of 12-on-5. The Champs were unfazed. Delk, Walker, and the rest of the group continued to heave three pointers, and just as they did in their glory days, burying 17 in 34 attempts
The champs, as expected, buried the "All-Stars" by a final score of 103-43 as Delk led the way with 23 points and eight assists.
While the championship game of the camp played out, one by one more former Wildcats made their grand entrance into Rupp Arena to loud roars from the Rupp faithful. More family members were showing up for the reunion.
First DeMarcus Cousins. Then Anthony Davis. John Wall and many more to join in the festivities. And while each was happy to see each other after many have gone their separate ways, the alumni game itself would prove just like in most families, brothers tend to be very competitive.
After each team was introduced to a crowd that sounded as loud as any typical Rupp Arena turnout, it was game time. While the defense left a lot to be desired, neither team held back offensively.
The White Team - coached by hip-hop sensation Drake - was led offensively by two former All-Americans in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Now NBAers, they showed off their many talents by torching the Blue Team coached by Wall. Cousins was hot right from the start, taking his game to the perimeter knocking down several 3-point shots consecutively. Meanwhile, Davis was putting up a big game of his own.
As each team went back and forth, trading 3 after 3 and dunk after dunk, the White Team built a sizable lead and cruised to a comfortable lead.
When the game - attended by 10,173 fans - reached the halfway point, Calipari took to the floor for the main focus of the entire event: charity.
Calipari's efforts raised upwards of $350,000, which was divided between the West Liberty recovery effort, 4 Paws For Ability, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, Everfi Financial Literacy, Samaritan's Feet and the Urban League of Lexington, among other causes. While the event was a huge success in that respect, Calipari in his typical up-the-ante way, announced to the crowd that he hopes to raise at least $1 million from next season's event.
He also took to the microphone to commend the 1996 championship for all of their help in making the event what it was and their participation. But he made sure to poll, more like prod, the crowd to see which championship team was their favorite, the '96 team, or the Calipari-led 2012 champions. Each squad received huge ovations, as the Big Blue Nation certainly appreciated each team's efforts.
As the event reached its final minutes with the game way out of hand, the competitive spirits remained. Darius Miller could be heard on the sideline telling his teammates to not allow Davis to reach 40 points. At the time, he sat at 36 for the game.
Chances at 40-point effort looked bleak until Davis drove left as the clock ticked down, drawing a foul on a 3-pointer as time expired. As many players and guests crowded the floor and stood around Davis at the foul line, Davis knocked down his final two shots to reach his final tally of 40 points. He joined Cousins as the other 40-point performer who had 42 points of his own.
While the 1996 and 2012 teams shared the glory of the event and debated the greatness of their respective teams, as these competitive "family members" often do, each player put in their two cents. For Wall, a member of the 2010 Elite Eight squad, he feels like his team could compete with any of the others that came before and after.
"They got to beat the 2010 team first," said Wall of the '96 versus '12 debate. "Yeah, we can take 'em. We'll take on any challenge."
As the event came and went, as will these former Wildcats who seemed to genuinely love their time back in the Bluegrass. But as they go their separate ways once again, they know they always have a place that they can call home with their family waiting to welcome them.
"It's like a big family," said Miller. "We're all having a good time with each other. We had a blast. I hope everyone else did too."
Behind Jack Van Arsdale's shutout and a free-kick goal by Matt Lodge, UK defeated Louisville 1-0 on Friday night at Cardinal Park. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- Dropping one-goal decisions to Dayton, Northwestern, St. John's and Charlotte in the first five games of the season would deflate a lot of team's confidence going forward through the season. Going into Louisville to play the No. 18 Cardinals in front of 5,583 fans in attendance could've spelled disaster to start the season.
Instead, the men's soccer Wildcats put the past behind them, went into Cardinal Park and shocked nationally ranked Louisville, 1-0. It was a much-needed win for the Wildcats after opening up the 2012 season with a 1-4 record.
Kentucky's record was deceiving coming into the game though. The Cats had played three ranked foes through their first five games and competed to the last whistle in every one of them. Louisville showed off its talent and firepower, but in the end it was the team with the heart, belief, confidence and desire to win that came out on top - the Kentucky Wildcats.
UK head coach Johan Cedergren was quoted as saying this was a chance for his team to make a statement. Entering a house that was packed with thousands of U of L screaming fans and in-state pride on the line, the Wildcats played toe to toe with one of the top teams in the country.
"I couldn't be any more excited for the guys, this is a huge game for us," Cedergren said. "I think for Louisville, maybe it's just one game because they have been there and done that. For us we are trying to make little steps every game. We were really good in training this week and overall I thought it was a good defensive performance. We have talked about the back four before and it was good to see them come up and save us. The back four and (goalkeeper) Jack Van Arsdale had a fantastic game."
Senior Matt Lodge got the Cats on the board in the 38th minute on a free kick from about 20 yards out. It gave UK a huge boost going into halftime with a lead and it was extra special coming from a senior who has fought his whole career trying to beat the rivals.
Lodge's kick bent right around the wall formed by U of L defenders and snuck right inside the left post. That feeling basketball players get when the ball leaves their hand and they know it's going in; that's exactly what Lodge felt as he attempted the free kick.
"It felt amazing," Lodge said. "Best feeling I've ever had. The stadium was full and give credit to Louisville and UK fans as they turned out in full force. As soon as I kicked it I knew it was going in and I just wanted to go over to my teammates and celebrate."
Van Arsdale stepped up huge for UK and made sure the lead held up. All game, especially in the second half, the Cardinals kept attacking and wouldn't go away. It seemed like every possession they had in the second half they had a shot at equalizing the match.
Van Arsdale thought differently. He recorded six saves on the night and it seemed like 20. Louisville created multiple, crafty set pieces that probably should have found the back of the net numerous times, but Van Arsdale came up with a big-time save every time.
"It's easy when you are engaged the entire game and that's what I was," Van Arsdale said. "Saves right from the beginning, saves at the end, my teammates helped me out a lot by blocking a lot of shots and winning a lot of headers for me. All around it was a great team effort."
The Wildcats led Northwestern 1-0 going into halftime at the Gamecock Classic before surrendering two goals in the second half to the 25th-ranked Wildcats. At times it looked as though Louisville would eventually tie the game and maybe deja vu would strike.
Kentucky grinded down and stuck together throughout the second half to hold off the Cards. This may have been what the Cats needed to get over the hump and give them that extra boost of confidence heading towards conference play.
It's hard not to think about the previous hiccups in the season and had Cedergren even scoreboard watching at the time.
"For the last 25 minutes, I kept looking back over at the clock and it seemed like it was going so slow," Cedergren said. "It's good and I think it shows what kind of team spirit we have that the guys will not stop fighting. We were 0-3 and 1-4 and its easy for the seniors to say it's not going to happen this year. We were really sharp in training this week and you could just see how much it mattered to them today in the game. They were diving around and doing everything they could to protect the goal. It was a huge effort and huge credit to our team."
Going on the road and defeating a nationally ranked opponent is always a huge boost to a team. Beating your rival puts icing on the cake. The Wildcats can take the momentum from this game and use it towards the rest of the season. The Cats were waiting for a moment like this and this may be the game puts Cedergren's squad on the path to turning the corner for good.
Next up, the Wildcats take on East Tennessee on Wednesday, Sept. 19. UK has to build on this and stay humble. The focus will quickly return to what it has been all season: improving daily.
"Every game and every training we want to become better and we did that tonight," Cedergren said. "But we can't become big-headed because we have a game again in a couple of days. We are training tomorrow and I think tomorrow will be good to maybe knock them down to get them ready again. In general, to be able to play in front of a crowd like this, in front of this quality of a team like Louisville, to be able to come away with a win will serve really big for our confidence moving forward."
Courtney Raetzman scored her first career goal in a 2-1 victory over No. 13 Florida on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
If you've seen the picture, you know Courtney Raetzman had every reason to be a little hesitant in her return to the field. In practice last week, the freshman took an errant elbow to the face going up for a header, leaving her with a nasty black eye.
The photo of her injury - which looked like the work of a movie makeup department - made rounds among coaches, teammates and fans and the swelling forced her to miss a pair of games last weekend.
On Friday night, the diminutive midfielder made her return in Kentucky's first match of Southeastern Conference. If there were any lingering psychological effects, Raetzman certainly didn't show them.
"Being out for a week and a half, I was just so eager to get back and I think all my adrenaline just came out and I really wanted to show that I could come back and not be soft," Raetzman said.
Raetzman - the shortest player on the team - scored the first goal of her short UK career as the Wildcats got a big 2-1 victory over No. 13 Florida. Her goal just 1:46 into the second half proved to be the game winner, completing the comeback from a 1-0 deficit. Sophomore Arin Gilliland scored the Wildcats' first goal on a penalty kick in the 30th minute.
Raetzman's fingerprints were all over the win, which moved Kentucky to 6-1 on the season, a perfect 1-0 in SEC play, and it was about much more than the goal she scored.
"She's a tough kid," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "She got really upset last week when I told her she couldn't play. To have her back on the field meant a huge amount to this team, both because of her toughness but also because, technically, she helps us to really keep the ball."
From the opening kick, keeping the ball was what this game was all about. Florida is among the nation's best teams because of their ability to maintain possession.
"One of the things that we talked about before the game at halftime is the best way to play against a great possession team is to possess the ball," Lipsitz said. "I think we needed to stay calm, we needed to possess the ball."
In Raetzman's absence, the Cats experienced uneven results. They picked up their biggest win of the season on the road against Louisville last Friday before faltering against Samford on Sunday in a 3-1 defeat, their first of 2012.
"We can do it without her, but when we have her, we're better," Lipsitz said.
Raetzman has stepped into a starting role from the moment she arrived, serving as a key cog in the UK midfield. She had a pair of assists in her first two games, but the goal on Friday was her first.
"It feels amazing, that's for sure, but it's just like any other game in the SEC," Raetzman said. "It's going to be tough no matter what game, so any goal's going to feel great."
Raetzman's perspective is a mature one for someone playing her first conference game, but it's exactly what Lipsitz is looking for. UK found out the hard way last weekend that a great performance on a Friday guarantees nothing on Saturday and now finds itself in a similar set of circumstances just a week later. The Cats scored their first goal against Florida since 2009 on Friday and picked up their first win over the Gators since the 2006 SEC Tournament Championship.
"It says three points and that's all," Lipsitz said. "One of the things that I think we learned last week is we had a big win on Friday. A huge win over Louisville and we laid an egg on Sunday. We came out flat."
UK will turn around and host Mississippi State on Sunday with less than 48 hours rest looking for a much different result than the last time it came off an emotional victory."
"I think mental strength is a huge part of it," Lipsitz said. "We do everything we can to physically recover, but we all know the Friday-Sunday is not easy. It's not going to be an easier for Mississippi State."
One player pretty much guaranteed to deliver maximum effort on Sunday at 1 p.m. is Raetzman. She's had enough of that whole rest thing.
"That was the worst thing ever just to see with one eye and have to watch everything," Raetzman said. "I'm so happy to be back."
Sophomore Will Bishop led all UK players in qualifying with a score of -14.
Brian Craig and his men's golf team open up their fall slate with a trip to Zionsville, Ind., Saturday with a clear goal in mind: Improvement. But that goal is just one of many goals in Craig's greater scheme.
With Kentucky going up against some very talented golfers from Indiana University, the University of Illinois and Ohio State, among other opponents, UK will get its first early test and an opportunity measure where its game is.
"This is a good (way) to start the season off because it's a good blend," said Craig. "But you will get a gauge because there are some teams that are really good."
In order for Craig's players to be where they need to be, and that's preferably in the top-five when this weekend is all said and done, his players have to focus on themselves rather than the competition. If they do that, Kentucky should be in contention near the end.
"The only thing we can control is the decisions we make, the attitude we have, how we think about ourselves, so my goal would be that we do that well," said Craig.
The object of the fall for the men's golf team this fall is to continue to master its game with an eye toward next spring, when the competition matters most. The spring brings some of the most competitive fields in the country due to UK's affiliation with the Southeastern Conference. The SEC boasts arguably the best golf conference in the nation.
Craig believes that a NCAA championship is attainable at UK, and that the road to that title is via a different title: the SEC championship.
"As a team, our goal is always to be a in a position to win the SEC championship at the end of the year," said Craig. "If we can do that, then we're going to be in a position to win the NCAA championship because the SEC is as good as it gets."
This weekend will give the Wildcats an opportunity to see just how much they have to improve to get to that level. After qualifying, Craig likes what he's seen from his golfers, especially sophomore Will Bishop who ran away with the top spot.
Bishop won the five-round qualifier by eight shots, including a 10-under par round of 62 to post a team-best 14 under for the qualifying rounds. As surprising as that score appears, Craig was hardly surprised by the success of his sophomore.
"No, it wasn't a surprise at all," said Craig. "About March of last year, he became a new player and has been maturing since then and getting better."
Craig described Bishop's transformation as a player as going "from a boy to a man." A good portion of that improvement can be credited to former golfer Mads Kristensen who pulled Bishop to the side last season. Kristensen's message to Bishop made an immediate impact, because since that moment, Bishop hasn't turned back.
"When one of your peers does that, sometimes it sticks, and (Bishop) will tell you it stuck," Craig said. "And ever since that point he's been a different guy and a different player."
But Bishop isn't the only one that has his coach excited. Those who qualified, other than Bishop, senior Chase Parker, juniors Cody Martin and Stephen Powers, and sophomore David Snyder each played well, save for one round during qualifying.
Craig came away from qualifying encouraged, but is looking for more consistency out of his team this weekend.
"It seemed like everybody had one really bad round except from Will," said Craig. "But then we had some really good stuff too, though. We had some good shots as well as some very low scores to go in there with that. We just need to be more consistent overall. You just have to be in men's golf."
The Wolf Run Invitational will present Kentucky with a tough task, as the course itself is one of the most challenging courses they will play on all season. It requires a high golf IQ and the ability to execute in order to find success.
Craig is looking for the Cats to bring both a high IQ and execution out on the course, but he wants them to play with some attitude. While the spring portion of their schedule is the one that counts, they can't reach their goals without first taking care of business in the fall. That's where things went wrong last year.
Last season, UK lacked the consistency necessary to string an entire year together. They struggled mightily in the fall, and despite a strong spring, there failures in autumn held them back. He hopes a more experienced group of players will help them this time around to achieve more consistent results. If they are capable of that, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to achieve their goals.
"This year is all about consistency, because last year we didn't have a good year, but we had a solid spring," said Craig. "The fall killed us. We have no excuses not to be more consistent; these guys are not green behind the ears anymore. We need to get to the point when we have our 'C' games we are still a competitive team in that field, and if we do that, we are going to go a long ways in the post season."
Coaches Corner is a brand new feature for UKAthletics.com where we go one-on-one with members of Kentucky's coaching staff. I, Ryan Suckow, will be your host and hope to ask the questions you'd like to have answered about our varsity teams here at the University of Kentucky. Make sure to check in frequently for the latest editions of Coaches Corner, which you can always find right here on Cat Scratches.
Last season, Kentucky ranked near the bottom nationally in plays of 20 or more yards. Through two games, the Cats have moved up to 58th in the nation but if you move the "big play" defining line from 20 yards to 15, the stats look even better. Through two games, Maxwell Smith has completed 14 passes for a gain of at least 15 yards. That's only two short of UK's total for ALL of last season in that category.
Western Kentucky, by the way, is in the top 25 this season in plays going for 20 or more yards Power running game still a WKU staple
WKU coach Willie Taggart comes from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree and that means a commitment to a power running game. Last season, the Toppers ranked 35th in the nation in rushing offense at just over 181 yards per game. That running game will provide a stern test to a UK linebacker corps still very light on experience.
Against Alabama, Western managed only 46 net yards on 28 attempts after piling up 244 yards on the ground in the opener against Austin Peay. In a loss to LSU last fall, WKU ran it 45 times for 129 yards. Against Kentucky, WKU ran for 141 yards last season.
Comparing new no-huddle attack to Air Raid offense
Think UK's up-tempo, pass-oriented attack is akin to the Air Raid offense of the late 1990s here. Not so fast my friend, as ESPN's Lee Corso would say.
On "The Leach Report" radio show this week, former UK signal-caller Dusty Bonner said this scheme is "quite different" than the one he directed to a Music City Bowl bid in 1999.
Bonner says this is "more of a pro-style offense" and that there's "not as much of a learning curve to the NFL as our offense was." One difference Bonner noted was that the tight end always lined up on the right side of the formation in Hal Mumme's system but that in this offense, you see the tight end on either side. He says UK is probably looking for a 60-40 pass-to-run balance while the Air Raid was "probably 85-15."
Joker Phillips has said it was important to him to keep the elements of multiple tight end and fullback formations in the playbook when UK made this switch. That enables the Cats to be less of a finesse team in short yardage and red-zone situations. Recalling Abney on day of Hall of Fame induction
UK's latest Hall of Fame class includes one of the all-time great kickoff and punt returners in college football history in Derek Abney.
He tied a national record during his senior season in 2003 with his eighth career return of a kick for a touchdown.
Abney is alone atop the UK record book for career punt return touchdowns with six and he had four of them in one season, 2002. Can you name the only other former Wildcats to have more than one punt return for touchdown in a single season?
Larry Carter (1978), Dicky Lyons, Sr., (1966) and Calvin Bird (1959) each had two.
Don't be surprised if Demarco Robinson gets his first one sometime this season.
On Friday, ESPN commentator Dick Vitale made the trip to Lexington to speak to campers at the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience. While at Kentucky, he accepted a $25,000 donation to the V Foundation.
Afterward, Vitale spoke with a few local media members about Coach Cal ("a master recruiter") and compared UK's facilities to a Rolls-Royce. Watch video of his comments above.
Junior middle blocker leads the SEC with 47 blocks. (Berry Westerman, UK Athletics)
After Kentucky's impressive run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament in which the Wildcats battled tooth and nail with the No. 1 team in the nation in the Sweet 16, UK not only lost the match, but lost three important pieces. The end of the 2011 season marked the end of the careers for three middle blockers on the UK roster, including two starters in Becky Pavan and Ann Armes. Add to that, a former starter in Gretchen Giesler, and the cupboard was left fairly bare for 2012.
One holdover at the position, however, was Alexandra Morgan, better known as "Zan" to her teammates and family members. Morgan, a redshirt junior coming into this season, had played in only four matches in 2011 after seeing action in 12 matches her freshman year. But with the mass exodus, Morgan was the lone middle blocker on the roster with any experience going into this season.
Whether or not she was ready to play, she was going to be pressed into action. There just weren't many other options. Kentucky had Kayla Tronick, a redshirt freshman, returning, and two newcomers in freshman Sara Schwarzwalder and Desirre Wilkerson coming into the fold.
As spring workouts came and went, the summer open gyms passed on, and the promise of a fresh start in the preseason came to fruition, Morgan not only took advantage of her opportunity, she took it and ran.
"I think she realized in January that she had a really good opportunity to make an impact for us," said Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. "I think she's taken that to heart and worked."
Morgan was a coveted piece of Skinner's recruiting class in 2009. She was a dynamic athlete who played volleyball and basketball while competing in track and field with gobs of raw talent. With a few middle blockers already on the roster, Skinner decided to redshirt Morgan as well as fellow freshman Whitney Billings to allow them to develop themselves as athletes and volleyball players.
In 2010, their redshirt freshman seasons, each were thrust into action. Billings, an outside attacker, got her feet wet and proved to be a valuable piece on a team in need of offense. Morgan, however, saw her time dwindle as the speed of the game proved to be too much for her too soon.
Billings continued to play throughout the season and into 2011. She's asserted herself as one of the best talents on the team, capable of playing all around on the floor. Morgan was left trying to find her niche, cheering on her team and watching her best friends find success on the floor while she watched from the sidelines.
"It was very hard to watch her," said Billings of her good friend Morgan. "We're talking about us playing and getting ready for games, and she wasn't playing. But she took it very well, though. She didn't separate herself from us."
This year, while Morgan has tried to fit in, she's been a standout at the middle blocker position. And her teammates couldn't be happier.
"It's been fun to watch Zan, from not playing for the first few years to stepping on the court for the first time and showing her talents. And she's been doing pretty well," Billings said.
If by "pretty well" Billings means a .343 hitting percentage and 47 total blocks, then yes, that's playing pretty well. Morgan's .343 hitting percentage is good for 12th overall in the conference, but the 47 blocks and 1.27 blocks per set put her first in the Southeastern Conference. She even earned honors as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for her huge performance in Athens, Ohio in the Baymont Invitational Tournament.
Those numbers and accolades can be attributed to Morgan's new commitment to putting in the extra time and effort necessary to become an elite performer in the SEC. But she hasn't done it on her own. She made sure to hang on every word from her coaches during her development.
"I've been trying to come in extra as much as I can; just taking everything the coaches tell me and breaking it down," said Morgan. "Trying to improve at the small stuff so that it will eventually all just come together and the big stuff will start happening."
Morgan's relentless pursuit of perfecting her techniques have put her over the top when it comes to being ready to play in the SEC, but it's been her freakish athletic ability that got her to Kentucky in the first place. Now, her entire game is coming together beautifully.
The time of her development was impeccable.
"She knew we needed her, and we told her that," said Skinner. "She's taken advantage of that opportunity. I think she also knows that there's a lot more for her to do and I don't think she's going to stop working to improve."
But there were times were both Skinner and Morgan wondered if those abilities and potential would ever manifest themselves on the court.
"It was kind of discouraging working hard every day in practice and then not getting to show it on the court," said Morgan. "I know that my urgency probably wasn't as all there as it should have been the last couple of years."
Skinner was waiting for things to click for Morgan as well. The potential for something special was evident every day in practice. She had unbelievable ability to attack off of one foot, and her natural ability to block raised the coaches' eye brows, but the consistency and the overall skill necessary to play the position was still behind where it need to be.
"We've had several heart-to-hearts with Zan, wondering if she would ever reach her potential," said Skinner. "A year ago, she made the decision that she wanted to make an impact in this program. That's not an easy thing because physical talent is one thing, but working every day to make your talent into something that helps on the court is a different thing. I think she's done that."
Morgan's presence on the floor this season gives UK a versatility that it hasn't had in many years. The combination of her strengths compliment the team's overall philosophies and her ability on both offense and defense make her a player that opposing coaches have to account for.
She's mastered the slide attack, and Morgan has become a physical presence at the net, altering the shots of any attacker who makes the unwise decision to challenge her.
"She can play really high above the net off one foot and really high above the net blocking," said Skinner. "She's someone that opponents have to game plan for."
Morgan hasn't just improved her game, but her presence within her own lineup has made the team itself a more formidable unit. Her attitude and unselfishness has made each one of her teammates better.
"I think she's someone that is a giver and wants to make her teammates better around her," said Skinner. "She's playing for the people next to her. I don't think she's someone who players for herself. She's playing for the people around her and the jersey on her back. She plays with that type of mentality and the intensity to make her teammates better."
Even though Morgan is enjoying the most success she's experienced so far in her career, she knows that there's still a lot to learn. As her game progresses, she is still often surprising herself. She's helped fill a huge void and held up her end of the bargain, but for her, the job is far from finished and there's still plenty of room to grow.
"I'm not as good in the front as I am off of one foot, so sometimes I'll go up and get a kill off of an (middle attack), and I'm like 'Whoa,'" Morgan said. "I surprise myself, so that's always exciting and a lot of fun. So I'm trying to get better because there's always room for improvement."
Albrecht led UK in the Old Wavery Bulldog Invitational with a three-day score of 217 (1-over-par).
The Kentucky women's golf team believed this could happen. Heading to West Point, Miss., for the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational earlier this week, the Wildcats set out to win.
That's exactly what happened.
"We know we're good," said senior Ashleigh Albrecht. "The coaches believed in us, and we're now starting to believe it. We're showing what we should be and where we need to get better. But I don't think a lot of people thought we would have opened with a win."
Albrecht is one of two seniors of the five-player team along with Heather Lott. Kentucky was led by Albrecht (1-over-par) through the three-day tournament. She's become something of a model of consistency for this team, especially one boasting two freshmen in its top five. Her steady approach has helped lead the way for her team, especially the impact freshmen.
Head coach Golda Borst says Albrecht is the exact type of player she's looking for out on the recruiting trail.
"It's very important because for the rest of the girls, they know Ashleigh always has their back," said Borst. "That's why we need more players like Ashleigh. That's what I recruit and what I look for."
What Borst has found so far had her excited about her team heading into the 2012-13 season. After what she witnessed this week, the excitement has only grown.
Her veterans stepped up and showed the way, while her talented freshmen held their own. But it didn't start out that way.
Cylia Damerau struggled mightily in her first collegiate action on Day 1 of the Old Waverly Bulldog Invitational, shooting a 79. Borst didn't worry, but she did make sure to pay extra attention to her rookie after her tough first round.
"I really didn't get into Cylia's head that first day and I just wanted to see what kind of grinder she was," said Borst. "I spent some time with her after the round. We did some chipping, we hit balls, just to kind of get her refocused and tell her it's fine. She's a great player. She needs to believe she's a great player."
The extra attention must have worked.
The second day , Borst walked around with Damerau for most of her round in an effort to comfort her and keep her loose. Borst's presence was exactly what the doctor ordered.
"The second day, just for comfort to keep her loose and have fun, I walked with her for about 11 holes," said Borst. "After her sixth hole she was like, 'Coach, if you want to go help the other girls you can.' And I told her, 'I'm enjoying myself right here, Cylia. How about you?' And she goes, 'Yeah, it's good.'"
And so was Damerau. Really good.
In Damerau's second and third rounds, she led the team in scoring, shooting team-bests 71 and 70 to give her a final three-day score of 220 (4-over-par) for the tournament, and ninth overall.
Meghan McDougall also made an impact as a freshman, finishing 34th overall with a final score of 231 (15-over-par). McDougall didn't have her best performance in this tournament, but she's another rookie who has Borst very excited about the future. Even as a freshman, McDougall possesses some of the intangibles that Borst is looking for her top players.
"Megan McDougall I have a lot of promise in," said Borst. "She's a fantastic leader and I think she's going to step up into that role. She's only going to be a sophomore next year, but I see a lot of leadership skills in her. She's got a great attitude, even though she struggled this week."
But as excited as the staff is about the future, after this weekend, everyone is excited about the present.
"As a whole, I'm really excited about this freshman class," said Borst. "I think we're going to see great things. And really the team as a whole. It's going to be a fun year because all eight players can play at any given time this year."
One player who stepped up in a huge way down the stretch was junior Liz Breed. She struggled Wednesday in her final round, but down the stretch, she came up huge with four straight birdies to help carry the Cats to victory. Her final round score of 72 helped Kentucky clinch the tournament title after trailing for most of the day.
As the Wildcats sit as tournament champions in their first competition of the fall, where do they go from there? Borst thinks this team can keep improving, though they took a huge step in the right direction. After a big few days in Mississippi, the next challenge for this team will be to see just how far the Wildcats can raise the bar.
"For me it's a great win, and now we just have to take it one tournament at a time, one round at a time," said Borst. "Just to not get ahead ourselves and stay in the present, which is extremely important in golf. Just because we did something great last week doesn't mean we can't get refocused for what's coming up."
Perinovic was named to the Kentucky Invitational All-Tournament team. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A shutout on Friday against St. Joseph's, allowing one shot on goal to No. 4 ranked Charlotte on Sunday, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team looks like a completely different defensive unit from the opening game of the season when they surrendered four goals against Dayton.
The Wildcats dominated St. Joe's with a 20-2 shot advantage and freshman goal keeper Callum Irving posted the first shutout of his young career in a 2-0 victory, giving UK and first-year head coach Johan Cedergren their first win of the season.
Although Kentucky came up short in a 1-0 defeat against Charlotte, the defense looked very sharp in the match. The Wildcats limited the offensive attack of the 49ers to just one shot on goal, which happened to find the back of the net.
After allowing eight goals through the first three games, Cedergren is pleased with the strides the defense is making and feels the team is ready to breakout.
"This week in training we have focused again on how to defend better and how to work on the back four as a unit," Cedergren said. "Every training and game we want to get better, that's my number one goal. I think so far we are. It's unfortunate we are 1-4 but I think we are going in the right direction and I think we are going to pop real soon. They are working hard and that's all we can ask for."
UK has had a tough schedule to open the season to say the least. Through the first five games, the squad has faced three ranked foes and has a huge test on Friday against rival No. 22 Louisville.
The Wildcats allowed four goals against Dayton, and two to both Northwestern and St. John's, who are very good teams with good offenses. The Cats may have allowed a few goals this season that could have been prevented but the defense is not letting it get to them and they are working hard to get better every day.
"You can see the emphasis we put on that unit and how they are gelling and are really growing together," Cedergren said. "You have to give them some credit as well because it's easy for your head to go down when you are not having success and things are not going your way. They know that they have been at fault for some of the goals. They come and are very motivated in training and work really hard and don't shy away from knowing they have caused some goals."
Junior defender Steven Perinovic was named to the Kentucky Invitational All-Tournament team after an impressive display last weekend. The Delafield, Wisc., native was a big contributor to the shutout effort against St. Joe's and gave Charlotte all kinds of problems on their attacks. Perinovic's athleticism makes him a valuable asset to the team and Cedergren expects to see more out of him than just on defense.
Freshman Jacob Speed is another defender that has shown improvement over the last couple of weeks and he and Perinovic are starting to click.
"I think they are both very good center backs and they play well together," Cedergren said. "Steven is a fantastic player in the air, there aren't a lot of headers he will lose and he loves to tackle. Jacob is really tall and I think he is still growing into his frame as a freshman. Together I think it's a very good pairing. Steven had two good games this weekend and we are hoping we can get some offensive production from him on set pieces because he is so good in the air. They are great kids, great leaders and want the team to do well."
UK plays with four defenders on the backline, which means two other Wildcats have had to step up this season on defense. Seniors Jacob Kemper and Charley Pettys have filled the roles and are getting better every time they see action, whether it be on the practice field or in games.
While Kemper and Pettys are primarily defenders, Cedergren brings an offense style that encourages outside backs to become attacking midfielders at times. This gives the offense another dynamic and allows Kemper and Pettys to play both sides of the ball.
Like the rest of the team, Cedergren sees positive signs they are making the turn and will play a vital role in the team's success the rest of the year.
"I think they are doing great, because in our system, the way we play, the fullbacks are our midfielders and we want to play out through them," Cedergren said. "The player with the most completed passes on Friday was Jacob Kemper. That shows you when you take an attack-minded player and you convert them to a defender and you can use his positive attributes to help you play out.
"I think Charlie is the same, where he is a good passer, he's good at dribbling so when we need to play through those two guys they are doing really well. They are seniors and they are both committed to Kentucky and really want to have one good year before they leave. Every day in practice they try to get better and they try to get the rest of the guys to get better as well."
Friday marks a huge game for the Cats as they travel to Louisville to face the nationally ranked Cardinals. U of L is one of seven teams on the Wildcats' grueling schedule ranked in the top 25.
Rivalry games always give players and coaches that extra motivation to get pumped up. A game like this might be just what Kentucky needs to turn the corner. If the Cats can pull off the upset, it would give the team a major boost and an extra sense of confidence. Cedergren likes the opportunity to go to Louisville and see what his team is made of. This is a chance for his team to play in a big moment, in front of a large crowd and could help the Cats heading into conference play.
"With us being 1-4, them being in the top 25 and in front of 6,000 fans is a wonderful opportunity to make a statement," Cedergren said. "I think that's what we ask for. I don't see us at all being outmatched, or out powered or out fought. I think we are ready, we are organized and we have abilities on the ball so I think it's going to be a great game tomorrow."
There are always a handful of weekends each year in UK Athletics that stick out above the rest. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, but others you can see coming. This upcoming weekend falls in the latter category.
With the Alumni Charity Game, Hall of Fame Induction, football taking on Western Kentucky, women's soccer and volleyball opening Southeastern Conference play and men's soccer off to face Louisville, the next three days should be pretty memorable.
A couple weeks ago, John Calipari announced that hip hop superstar Drake will serve as one celebrity coach. The self-professed Kentucky fan loves basketball, but his counterpart does it for a living. The other celebrity coach will be John Wall, as tweeted by Coach Cal on Friday morning. Maybe you've heard of him.
-The Alumni Game isn't the time this weekend when former UK greats will be recognized. Six new members of the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame are being inducted in a ceremony Friday night at 6 p.m. UK Athletics would like to thank Derek Abney (football), Leroy Edwards (men's basketball), J.B. Holmes (men's golf), Jeff Keener (baseball), Clayton Moss(swimming and diving) and Nancy Scranton (women's golf) for their contributions to the program.
Also, for those fans attending Saturday night's game against Western Kentucky University, make sure to stay in your seats during halftime. The six Hall of Famers will be introduced to the crowd.
-Another pair of former Wildcats were in the national spotlight Thursday night as the Green Bay Packers took on the Chicago Bears. Randall Cobb had a couple big plays early with a 28-yard run and a 20-yard catch, but it was Tim Masthay that was involved in the play that propelled Green Bay to a 23-10 victory.
On a fourth-and-long, the Packers lined up for a field goal with Masthay as the holder. Catching the Bears completely off-guard, Masthay flipped a pass in the backfield to Tom Crabtree who raced 27 yards for the touchdown. In a game many believed would be a shootout, Masthay had as many touchdown passes as quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler combined. Take a look at the video below.
Former star UK point guard Wayne Turner is participating in Alumni Game festivities this weekend. (UK Athletics)
With John Calipari at the helm, the Joe Craft Center is crawling with professional-level talent on a normal day, but this was no normal day.
Thursday was the opening day of the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience and Kentucky's practice facility was overrun with some of the best players in the history of the program. In the men's practice gym, there was Wayne Turner with Nerlens Noel practicing over his shoulder. Over on the women's court, Derek Anderson was coaching up some of the campers that had paid to be a part of it all. On the Memorial Coliseum floor, Walter McCarty was getting reacquainted with the local media.
Listening to Calipari and all the former players in attendance, there was a common theme.
"Only at Kentucky," Calipari said.
"There's no place like Kentucky," McCarty said.
Other schools at other big-time programs host events similar to this one where a lucky few get to experience what life is like for an elite college basketball player. Other schools don't quite do it the way it's being done this weekend.
The culmination of it all will be on Saturday at 2 p.m. when two teams of current and former pros go toe-to-toe in front of thousands in Rupp Arena at the first-ever Alumni Charity Game. But before that, a team made up of members of UK's 1996 national championship team will play campers from the Fantasy Experience in a four-quarter game. Some of those players from 1996 will even be playing a doubleheader, suiting up in the Charity Game as well.
Of course, it will be fun for the Big Blue Nation to see Tony Delk shooting 3s again and Jeff Sheppard running up and down the Rupp floor, but that's not what it's about. It's about the simple fact that they are together again and the simple fact that the man leading the program wants so badly for them to be involved.
"This is a neat thing," Calipari said. "They're going to have a ball and for us and the state and what we're doing and bringing back our former players, it's really a good thing."
And it doesn't stop with '96. Mike Pratt, Jimmy Dan Connor, Sam Bowie and Joe B. Hall are just a few of the legends who will be in attendance and part of the festivities. Coach Cal is even trying to bring Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones - a member of the 1948 and 1949 national title teams - back to the building named after his coach.
"It's the right thing to do," Calipari said. "When you're sitting in the seat I'm in, you're the keeper of the tradition. Being part of that means you reach out like I do with Coach Hall, like I do with Herky Rupp and (Adolph Rupp's) family. You reach back and you bring people back in and you make them understand and let them know this is about them, this is their program."
It's one thing that Calipari led the Wildcats to the eighth championship in program history, but it's events like this that make him exactly the man to coach the Commonwealth's team.
"I think hiring Coach Cal was probably the best thing the University of Kentucky could do after Tubby Smith leaving," Turner said. "I think Cal is just the perfect coach for the job."
Like all of the UK legends walking around Lexington this weekend, Turner is ecstatic to be back. No matter what happens in the games on Saturday, Turner will remember the experience. That doesn't mean he's not out to play some good basketball.
The 1996 team had a chance on Thursday to play four-on-four with one another. There was plenty of friendly trash talk going around, particularly between Walker and Turner, the point guard with the corkscrew shooting release.
" 'Toine' was yapping about back in '96, so I told him, 'It's not '96 anymore,' " Turner said. "It's a different ball game. I'm making shots, they're all backing up. I'm like, 'This is not '96, I'm making shots these days.' "
Come Saturday, the Cats will be playing together again, with a different set of campers taking them on each quarter.
"They already told me, 'You tell everybody to get to this game because we are not losing. We will not lose a quarter,' " Calipari said.
Those teams of campers aren't the 1996 team's biggest competition right now. Instead, comparisons between their squad and the 2012 Wildcats that just brought home No. 8 are dominating conversations. Coach Cal made sure to point out the 1996 edition would not have been together in modern-day basketball with how many more players turn pro early, but he did say the two teams belong in an elite group.
"Both teams were good in different ways," Calipari said. "You could say those are maybe two of the better teams in the last 25 years."
Turner was willing to speculate a bit more. He believes the matchup would be a good one, but he thinks his team would win by wearing down their more recent counterparts.
"Where I think we may have had a little bit of an advantage is we had a bench," Turner said. "We had a bench and could go one through 10. We could sub out Anthony Epps and put me in, sub out Derek Anderson, put Ron Mercer in."
All of that is purely conjecture, but many of the players that would have decided that hypothetical matchup will be playing come Saturday. Tickets to the event aren't yet sold out, but Coach Cal can guarantee that everyone who does come is in for a good time.
"If 4,000 people had showed up, 10,000 come, 15,000 come, whatever comes they're going to have a ball," Calipari said. "They're going to say, 'I'm so happy.' "
All seats for the Alumni Game are reserved and priced at $100 (premium lower level), $40 (lower level) and $20 (upper level). Tickets can be purchased only at the Rupp Arena box office, online at Ticketmaster.com, at any Ticketmaster Outlet or by phone at 1-800-745-3000. There is a four-ticket limit per person. Online orders and phone orders will have additional fees attached. All proceeds from the game will go to charity.
Senior safety Mikie Benton makes a tackle in UK's 14-3 win over WKU to open the 2011 season. (Joey Wilkinson, UK Athletics)
In a normal year, the final non-conference game before a two-month stretch of facing exclusively Southeastern Conference opponents would be termed a trap game for Kentucky. With opponents like Florida and South Carolina looming in the coming weeks, keeping the focus on the here and now would usually be difficult.
The Wildcats aren't having trouble with that this week.
Western Kentucky University is coming to town and the Hilltoppers are adamant in their belief that they are capable of competing and more. UK recognizes that and will have to respond.
"It's going to be a physical game, a game that they and we think, 'We can win,' " Phillips said. "When you have that type of attitude on both sides, you're in for a really good game."
When the Cats and Toppers kick off Saturday at 7 p.m. in Commonwealth Stadium, WKU will be facing its second SEC opponent in as many weeks after falling 35-0 to Alabama. Following an 0-4 start to 2011, which included a 14-3 loss to Kentucky in Nashville, WKU has won eight of its last 10 games. The only two losses have come to LSU and Alabama. WKU was similarly confident heading into that defeat at Alabama and actually ran more offensive plays than the Tide in spite of the final tally.
"They thought that last week," Phillips said. "It showed by the way they played. The score is not even close to the way those guys played. We got to get our guys prepared."
So far this season, the UK offensive line has allowed just three sacks of quarterback Maxwell Smith. WKU doubled that total against a Crimson Tide offensive line billed by most as the best in the country. Andrew Jackson, the linebacker who topped 100 tackles in 2011, had 1.5 tackles for loss in Tuscaloosa, Ala., while defensive end Quanterus Smith had three sacks.
"I would think it has (the offensive line's) attention pretty good," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "They're good pass rushers. They've got a very experienced group up front and they've got guys that have played a lot of football. It's a lot of the same names that we played two years ago up here and beat 'em pretty good when they were young. Now they've grown up and matured and it's a challenge."
UK rolled up 482 yards of offense and 63 points against WKU in that aforementioned 2010 matchup, but a season ago, was limited to just 190 in a season-opening 14-3 win. Following that narrow victory, there was talk in the WKU locker room about the Wildcats not living up to their SEC billing. The remarks grabbed headlines a year ago and again received attention in the buildup for the rematch, but not from the Cats.
"We don't get into that," Phillips said. "I respect this game way too much. There's really nothing anybody can say to get me ready to play this game. I mean, shoot, just give us an opportunity. We're only guaranteed 12 opportunities. That should be enough."
As good as WKU's defense was in the last matchup with UK, the Cats are a completely different offensive team from this time a year ago, both in terms of scheme and production, as Maxwell Smith has been running Kentucky's new no-huddle attack with remarkable efficiency. The Hilltoppers, however, are one of the few teams nationally to show improvement in the passing game comparable to UK's through two games of 2012.
Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes' biggest responsibility for most of his first three seasons was handing the ball to running back Bobby Rainey, but Rainey graduated and now is pursuing a professional career. In his final season, Jakes has taken a leap forward as a passer. He threw for barely 150 yards a game and more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (10) in 2011, but his completion percentage has jumped by 15 to 70.4 in 2012.
When WKU drops back to pass, Jakes will more often than not be looking to either All-Sun Belt tight end Jack Doyle or one of his running backs. Doyle has 12 catches through his first two games and has led WKU in receptions nine of his last 14 games.
"I think now, with the Rainey kid gone, they want to get the ball to one of their better players a little bit more, which is the Doyle kid," Phillips said. "You're seeing them throw the ball a lot more in their offense. They're trying to get the ball to guys they think can make plays."
With Rainey gone, most carries have been split between backs Leon Allen and Antonio Andrews, who are each averaging at least five yards per carry. Make no mistake though: the offense starts with Jakes.
"The one thing is you're looking at a senior, a guy who's been in this system for (WKU head coach) Willie (Taggart) for four years," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "It's always tough to play veteran quarterbacks as we all know here. Look at our 2010: we lost a great quarterback (Mike Hartline), had to break in a new quarterback (Morgan Newton). You remember those years when you had senior quarterbacks and how well your offense has a chance to function."
The styles may be different, but with two matchups between UK and WKU in recent years, there will be familiar faces on both sides. For the Cats, they remember how a lackluster effort against the Hilltoppers set the stage for a disappointing season. A better performance this time around could be another step toward turning the page.
"There's still a lot of hype from last year," offensive lineman Zach West said. "We didn't feel like we played our best game. This week, we're going to try to go back and prove ourselves that we still can play very good football against this team."
Morgan Newton is transitioning into a new backup quarterback/H-back role two games into the 2012 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There are lots of places Morgan Newton would rather be right now than facing the media.
Less than a month ago, Newton lost out on the starting quarterback job that was supposed to be his. Maxwell Smith won the top spot on the depth chart, relegating Newton to a backup role for his final season as a Kentucky Wildcat.
But there the television reporters and writers are, asking questions that only serve to remind him of the situation in which he finds himself. It would be difficult to blame Newton if he expressed discontent about being the most experienced second-string signal caller in the Southeastern Conference. Instead, Newton acknowledges that the job is rightfully Smith's.
"I think it'd be tough if you thought you were supposed to be playing quarterback," Newton said. "But Max is playing well."
Indeed he is.
Smith has completed 73-percent of his passes through two games, throwing for over 300 yards a game, six touchdowns and no turnovers. Even so, Newton could probably do real harm to his team if he wanted to. By grousing on the sideline, Newton might undermine his coaches and Smith's leadership. Newton, though, is choosing another path.
"That's the thing about him, he's always had a good attitude throughout this," head coach Joker Phillips said.
In addition to his duties as a backup quarterback, Newton is seeing the field at other positions for the first time since the time he was in grade school. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has praised him for his rare blend of size and athleticism, but Newton sees another reason why Sanders is finding ways to expand his role.
"He just feels sorry for me," Newton joked.
Not only is Newton displaying a good attitude, he's also going about his business with a self-deprecating sense of humor.
"I think you kind of just have to," Newton said. "I've seen a lot of good times and bad times and been a part of good things and seen a lot of success. I've kind of just been in the background so I've been able to watch some of the young guys do a lot of good things. I'm just enjoying being out here with everybody and trying to help contribute."
In reality, Newton knows sympathy is far from the reason why he's playing more.
"It's good that they think I can help," Newton said. "I think I can help too. I don't want to step on any toes. I want to make sure that the offense stays the offense. If I can help out here and there, it's what I'm here to do. Better than signaling."
In UK's opener, Newton saw the field for one play, coming on to take a shotgun snap in a fourth-and-short situation against Louisville. He picked up the first down. In UK's second game, Newton was on the field for "five or six" plays, one of which was at the Wildcat spot, the others as an H-back either split out in the slot or lined up where a tight end would customarily be. Most memorably, Newton laid a block for freshman DeMarcus Sweat that allowed him to turn a short catch into his first career touchdown, a 56-yarder.
The trend is obvious: Newton's role is getting bigger. With tight ends Anthony Kendrick and Gabe Correll unavailable due to academics and injury, respectively, Newton's 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame becomes that much more valuable.
"We're starting to expand on the things we feel like he can do," Phillips said. "We don't really have a package, it's just, 'Go Morgan.' We don't coach him up or teach him anything. He understands it. We have to teach some techniques as far as alignments and those types of things, assignments, we're going to have to teach him those."
This week in practice, Newton has gotten more work in his quickly evolving new position. The nice thing about Newton is that his learning curve is close to non-existent in terms of figuring out where he's supposed to be.
"Obviously if you play quarterback, you should know what to do," Sanders said. "For him, it's learning how to do it."
Catching the ball is coming pretty naturally too. Newton doesn't have a 2012 catch yet, but he did reel in a 41-yarder at Vanderbilt in 2009. Unfortunately, he fumbled at the end of the play. Newton had another funny take on that.
"The first couple seconds of that clip are good," Newton said. "The fumble at the end, that makes a good blooper."
Newton's mere presence on the field gives pause to opposing defenses, making them wonder if a trick play like the one at Vanderbilt could be in store. Most of the time, plays Newton is involved in will be more traditional, but there may come a time when Newton's big arm gets put to use again.
"(Wide receivers) Coach (Pat) Washington, Coach Sanders, those guys are creative," Newton said. "Maybe they can put something fun together."
With nearly two dozen players with opportunities to make opening NBA rosters, offseasons are always going to be busy for former Kentucky Wildcats now playing professionally.
The latest news on that front was the signing of DeAndre Liggins by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. Liggins just finished his rookie season with the Orlando Magic, averaging 1.9 point, 0.9 rebounds and 6.8 minutes in 17 games during 2011-12. Liggins joins former UK and Magic teammate Daniel Orton in Oklahoma City after the big man signed there earlier this offseason.
Liggins joins a team expected to contend for a championship this season and will be fighting for a roster spot. Oklahoma City has scorers like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the perimeter, so Liggins will be asked to focus on a defensive role, one in which he flourished during his final two seasons in Lexington.
With Liggins' new contract, the only player among the 17 Wildcats to play in the NBA last year and six new draftees without a deal is Josh Harrellson. After impressing as a rookie with the Knicks, Harrellson found himself in a big-man logjam after being traded to Houston. He was released and is looking for a team.
Senior Anthony Rossi has been named captain for the 2012-13 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The 2012 Southeastern Conference champions are in a transitional state.
Former Kentucky men's tennis head coach Dennis Emery stepped down from the position earlier this year to take on the role of assistant to the athletic director. After serving 30 seasons as the head coach at Kentucky, after building the entire men's program from the ground up to Southeastern Conference champions in his final season, and everything else in between, it was time for Emery to move on.
Emery wasn't the only piece of the 2012 team to depart. After numerous contributions to the program throughout their careers, SEC Player of the Year Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek graduated in May. Those men represented the top two spots in UK's rotation last season. They were also key parts of the top two doubles teams that Kentucky had to offer.
Kentucky has giant-like shoes to fill for the 2012-13 season.
Though the true NCAA competition doesn't start until next spring, the tennis team will be competing in two invitational tournaments over the upcoming weekend in efforts to begin life without Emery, Quigley and Musialek. Kauffmann will send a group of four players including Jomby to the Illinois Invitational Tournament, while Rossi and the rest of the team will travel east to Durham, N.C. to participate in the Duke Invitational.
For any team in any sport the adjustments in store for the UK tennis team would be tough to immediately overcome. But they do have a slight advantage.
Emery's right-hand man since 2005 and former Kentucky tennis player Cedric Kauffmann seemed to be a logical fit as Emery's successor. He had pre-existing relationships with the players on the roster and had been instrumental in reshaping the mentality and attitude of the UK tennis program. While Kauffmann made all the sense in the world on paper, he knew the decision was ultimately not his to make.
"When Coach (Emery) got that job, it was within a week; (the players) were like, 'Oh, are you going to be the new coach?'" said Kauffmann. "And I told them that it was not my decision. But I think they were very excited that it was me."
Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart made the decision with Emery's input to hire Emery's longtime assistant. With the hire, Kauffmann became the 12th men's tennis head coach in University of Kentucky history, but the first new hire in over 30 years. The hire, however, was not to find the next Dennis Emery, but rather to find the first Cedric Kauffmann.
Kauffmann understands the legacy that Emery has left behind. After all, he had been a part of it not only as a coach, but also as a player under Emery for four seasons in the last 1990s, earning multiple All-America and All-SEC honors. He understands the history and the tradition that have been built and that replacing an icon is not something that happens overnight. Instead, Kauffmann is concerned about just what he has been hired to do: focus on the task at hand and carry on the tradition.
"I don't look at Coach (Emery)'s 30 years and say what am I going to do against that?" said Kauffmann. "I don't even know if I'm going to coach 30 years. My job is to take care of this year. And when I'm done with this year, I'm going to take care of next year. I don't look too far ahead. I'm just going to get better today, get better tomorrow, and if I do a good job then my record will be pretty good."
The hire has gone over very well with the returning athletes. UK did all it could to make sure to maintain a stable environment for the UK men's tennis team. In fact, other than the loss of Emery from the staff, the change is barely noticeable.
"It looks like nothing has changed," said senior captain Anthony Rossi. "We're just missing Coach Emery, but it doesn't really look like much has changed. It's pretty much the same."
Rossi, who has soared to No. 12 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason singles rankings, has been saddled with the unenviable role of trying to fill the void left by Quigley and Musialek. The lone senior on this season's roster will be responsible for much more than either of those two had to shoulder. But that's why he was chosen. That's exactly why Kauffmann named Rossi his team captain for the upcoming season.
"I love my captain," said Kauffmann. "Anthony Rossi has sacrificed a lot. What I mean by this is that he was always a good player, and he's gotten better every year. He's been a very good listener since he came in and just waited for his time."
Rossi's time has come, and his role will be as crucial as any captain in recent UK history. Luckily, he won't have to do it all on his own.
"We have a big junior class that I expect to push a little bit to get the freshmen coming along because Anthony, the lone senior, can't do it alone," said Kauffmann.
That junior class is highlighted by Tom Jomby (No. 45) and Panav Jha (No. 64), who played major roles in the 2012 SEC Championship campaign. But they, along with the four other juniors, will have to take the next leap as upperclassmen in their play and as leaders to assist Rossi with those duties.
The goal for Kentucky is to build on last season's success, even with the exodus of their top two players. Last season, despite the SEC regular season championship, UK fell in the SEC Tournament and experienced an early exit in the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16.
But how do they replace those kinds of talents? How do they take the next step with that many holes?
"I don't think I can replace Eric," said Kauffmann. "Nobody will replace Eric. But I think they need to come into their own a little bit. Rossi needs to become Anthony Rossi. Jomby can become Tom Jomby."
No one individual is expected to singlehandedly fill those voids. For the Wildcats to replace the missing pieces, each returner is just going to have to improve. If that happens, Kentucky could collectively be in a position to repeat as SEC Champions and perhaps beyond, even if no one outside the UK tennis offices believes that to be a possibility.
"I'm pretty sure no one believes we can do it, but I'm pretty sure we can," said Rossi. "We've had some talks with the team and how we can do it. It's going to be tough, it's not going to be easy, but I'm really sure we can do."
That's the exact type of mentality you want your brand new team captain to have. While Rossi isn't trying to be the next Quigley or Musialek, those guys certainly made their impact. That's what makes Rossi the prototypical leader.
Kauffmann says one of Rossi's strengths has been observation since he came to UK. He's learned from former captain Brad Cox for two seasons, and he's watched how last year's seniors handled themselves as players and leaders. After spending a great deal of time with Quigley and Musialek over the years, Rossi has become himself by adopting bits and pieces from each of them.
"He's a little bit in between both," said Kauffmann. "Eric was very consistent with his emotions. I think he became more outspoken a little bit towards the end of his career. (Musialek) was more of the voice in the locker room. He had some higher highs and maybe some smaller lows compared to Eric, but he was the voice. Rossi is a little bit of both. He's got the 'joie de vivre' from France, but he's got some toughness in him and attitude in matches."
That "joie de vivre" is a French term meaning "a cheerful enjoyment of life." But Rossi would enjoy nothing more than atoning for last season's anti-climactic finish in his last go-around as Wildcat. As the undoubted leader of this team, whether or not that happens is largely up to him to rally the troops and take one last shot at greatness.
"I think we had a good season last year, but ended pretty bad, we think," said Rossi. "We knew we could lose, but not that way. As a senior, especially, it's my last year and I'm just ready for everything. I hope we win the the SEC again, the tournament, and I really think we can do something in the NCAA Tournament."
Pieces of the floor on which Kentucky won the 2012 national champion were delivered to Rupp Arena on Wednesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Most of the players who led Kentucky to its eighth national championship this past April have moved on to the NBA, but their successors are going to have a constant reminder of their accomplishments.
More than 3,000 square feet of the floor on which the Wildcats won the 2012 national title in New Orleans will be installed in UK's new locker room currently under construction at Rupp Arena. Most prominently, the logo featured at mid-court at the Final Four will fit perfectly in the main circular locker room area.
On Wednesday, those parts of the floor destined to grace the locker room were delivered to Rupp by Northwestern Mutual, the company that partnered with Coach Cal to make it all possible.
"I'm not sure I've heard of any other locker room doing anything like this," Calipari said. "But then again, it seems like here at Kentucky we do a lot of things that have never been done."
The official corporate financial planning partner for the NCAA, Northwestern Mutual was offered the opportunity to buy the Final Four floor. The company's corporate office jumped at the chance and set out to use the floor to raise money for its primary charitable cause: pediatric cancer. Dan Rivers, the managing partner for Northwestern Mutual in Kentucky and Southern Indiana, knew just the man to call.
Rivers contacted Coach Cal and the two immediately began conversations about what to do with the floor. They devised a way to both raise money and commemorate No. 8.
"We're just happy we could cut out a little piece of this iconic floor and really create a memorial to what was a very special season last year," Rivers said.
The floor will be a part of almost an "interactive" experience in the locker room, in the words of Calipari. Pieces of the floor will be surrounded by images from the 67-59 victory over Kansas in the championship game.
"When you walk on the floor, this is it; this is the floor we won the national title (on) in 2012 and that was the free throw that Doron Lamb made to ice the game, and this is the free-throw line he shot it on," Calipari said. "So it'll be neat."
Even with all the pieces in the back of a truck in Rupp Arena, there is still a large chunk of the floor unaccounted for. That's where charity comes in. In a few weeks, details of an online auction will be announced in which the remainder of the floor will be sold to the public. According to Rivers, the floor is set to be cut in several hundred pieces. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the auction will go to fight pediatric cancer in Kentucky.
With the Big Blue Nation involved, it's impossible to know just how much money will be raised, but Rivers expects it to be in the range of several hundred thousand dollars, potentially even into the millions.
"It's going to be beneficial for our state, that's the greatest thing," Calipari said. "Dan stepped up to say I want to use this for charity, I want to use it for you guys and I want this thing to, what we paid for it, I'd like to get 100 times out of it."
Northwestern Mutual will reveal further details about the auction with the next month or so, during which time construction crews will be hard at work making sure the new locker room is finished for the start of the 2012-13 season. Coach Cal can already imagine what it's going to be like when visitors set foot in the facility - styled after NBA locker rooms - for the first time.
"It does motivate when we're bringing families in there and recruits in there and all of a sudden they're like, 'Wait a minute,' " Calipari said. "So yes, it's going to be a motivating factor in us continuing to get the best and the brightest players here."
As for the next batch of Wildcats who will play 18 regular-season games in Rupp this year, Calipari wants them worrying about themselves, not the team that helped put the floor in their new locker room.
"Last year is done," Calipari said. "This is about each team being their best, and that's all I worry about - how do we make this team the best team we can be?"
The Kentucky football team is in the midst of its first normal game week after a short turnaround following a game against Louisville. Wednesday marked the midpoint of UK's preparation for a game against in-state rival Western Kentucky University and Joker Phillips liked what he saw.
"Good practice today, a lot of energy. Guys are in tune to our plan and we're excited to go play again," Phillips said.
The Wildcats have remained as healthy as they could hope through two weeks of the season and will actually get starting running back CoShik Williams back after he missed his team's win over Kent State with back spasms. He has been full-speed at Tuesday and Wednesday practices, but the Cats will still use a rotation at running back.
Phillips talks about those topics and more in the video below:
The theme of this year's season in Kentucky women's basketball is "40 Minutes." To the team, it means 40 minutes of focus, energy, hustle and fast-paced basketball. What does 40 minutes of UK Hoops mean to you?
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 9:
Volleyball: Morgan Bergren
Freshman Morgan Bergren made a splash in her first career action at the Ameritas Players Challenge in Nebraska this week. She was inserted into the lineup in the second set of the Duquesne win and passed out 22 assists, had two kills, six digs and a trio of blocks in leading UK to a .413 hitting percentage. The progression continued in her first career start against Oklahoma, a team receiving votes in the poll, where she earned her first 40+ assist game with 42 assists, four kills, an ace, seven digs and four blocks. She really shined against No. 1 Nebraska and a packed house of 4,163 fans where she contributed her first career double-double effort with a UK season-high 47 assists and 10 digs. She also had a career-high four kills and five blocks in leading UK to a .266 hitting percentage against the top-ranked Huskers. She found senior Ashley Frazier for a career-high and match-high 20 kills on a blistering .459 hitting percentage while also finding five players for four or more kills on the night.
Women's soccer: Kelli Hubly
Freshman Kelli Hubly scored her first career goal in Kentucky's 2-0 win over No. 12 Louisville Friday night. The goal was scored in the 80th minute, and provided the insurance for the Cats to secure the upset win on the road. The goal was a one-touch goal that was put home to the near post after beautiful cross-field service from sophomore Arin Gilliland.
Women's soccer: Kayla King
Louisville native Kayla King stepped up in a big way Friday night, tallying the clean sheet in a monumental upset of No. 12 Louisville in the Wildcats first road game of the season. After an injury to Kayla Price in the third minute, King came in off the bench, and tallied a season-high six saves, including a PK that would have tied the game at 1-1 late in the game. In addition, King was selected to the Cardinal Classic All-Tournament Team.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Junior Alexandra Morgan had a terrific week for the Wildcats in Nebraska. She posted a team-high 19 blocks for an average of 1.73 per set. She's logged nearly 50 blocks in the first 10 games of action that leads the conference. Furthermore, she tallied season-high numbers with seven blocks in the opening two matches of the weekend and posted five or more in all three matches. She also contributed six digs on the weekend, including a career-high four against Oklahoma. Morgan also contributed to the offensive side of things. She had a career-high 10 kills on a UK-season best .833 hitting percentage against Duquesne in which she did not commit an error. She matched her career-high with 10 kills in the loss to Oklahoma before putting together a .300 hitting clip performance against the top-ranked Huskers.
Kentucky is one of three schools to rank in the top five nationally in both Facebook "likes" and Twitter followers. UK is fifth in both categories, coming in with 657,772 fans on Facebook and 47,166 Twitter followers at last count. UK is also 21st in YouTube channel subscriptions even though the Sports Video department only recently began using it as a primary means to distribute content.
Of course, we have you, the fans to thank for this. We try to be on the forefront of social media technology, but we know all those efforts would be in vain if not for you.
We're not settling for being near the top of the rankings though. If you don't already, make sure you like, follow and subscribe to us at the links below.
Aaron Boyd has 14 catches for 146 yards through the first two games of his senior season. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Up and down the Kentucky roster, youth is being served. There's a sophomore starting at quarterback, a sophomore and a freshman anchoring the left side of the offensive line, dynamic true freshmen demanding touches at wide receiver and running back and a defense that had six different first-year players make tackles last weekend.
In previous years, UK coaches have been reticent to so heavily rely on youth. Concerns over knowledge of the system and readiness to play so quickly at this level have historically kept talented newcomers off the field.
Joker Phillips has a new attitude about that.
"To heck with that," Phillips said.
Even with all those new faces, there are a few veterans rising up the depth chart. One, in particular, is demanding attention.
Aaron Boyd was once a highly touted recruit like many of the players seeing the field for the first time. Early in his career, fans clamored for the big wide receiver to play early. He made one start during his freshman season, but Boyd never made the impact so many expected of him.
Boyd had made six catches for 51 yards entering his redshirt senior season, and just one since he was a freshman. He watched as his classmate, Randall Cobb, developed into a star and is now playing for the Green Bay Packers. He watched as players like Chris Matthews and La'Rod King came in after him and evolved into featured receivers. He watched and watched from the sideline, but never once questioned whether Kentucky was the place for him.
"I never want to run away from things," Boyd said. "I never want to take the easy way out of anything. I wanted to do this the hard way and show my perseverance and show that I'm a tough kid and that I can actually get through this."
Two games into his final season as a Wildcat, Boyd's patience and persistence are paying off. In the opener, Boyd caught three passes for 36 yards. His coaches liked his contributions so much that they rewarded him with his second start against Kent State. He responded with a career game.
Capitalizing on the opportunities afforded him in UK's pass-happy no-huddle offense and the holes in the Golden Flashes' zone defense, he caught 11 passes for 100 yards and his first career touchdown.
"This offense is fun for everyone who's playing receiver," Boyd said. "There's plays to be out there for everyone. The biggest thing is, when your name is called, you got to make the play."
After four years of fielding questions about why he wasn't making plays, the days after his break-out performance have been a well-deserved moment in the sun. To make things even better, Boyd's brother and best friend, Shane, booked a last-minute plane ticket to Lexington when he learned Aaron would be getting his first start.
"This is one of those things I can't miss," the former UK quarterback said. "I made sure I got here and he showed out."
Shane can relate to his brother's journey as a Wildcat. Playing at UK from 2001-04, he threw for 2,484 yards, rushed for 845 yards and accounted for 26 total touchdowns, but fell short of his own expectations as a collegian before eventually going on to play professionally in the NFL and now the Arena Football League.
"I went through some adversity here, but I loved every second I was a University of Kentucky Wildcat," Shane said. "That's what I told him even before the season started. I said, 'Whatever happens, enjoy every day being a Kentucky Wildcat because it is an honor to put on this jersey whether you're playing or not.' "
Aaron took his brother's advice about enjoying his time at UK no matter what, but he followed another piece of Shane's advice this offseason and rededicated himself to his craft. Aaron also got a fresh start of sorts when Pat Washington took over as receivers coach in the spring.
"He's believing in me," Aaron said. "It makes it a lot easier to play when someone believes in you. I couldn't thank him much more."
Boyd's confidence has been rejuvenated under Washington, and it extends beyond catching the football. UK's new passing game calls on receivers to instantly transition from route runners to blockers when one of their teammates makes a catch. Boyd's 6-foot-4, 214-pound frame and his willingness to lay his body on the line have made him a major player even when the ball's not in his hands.
Boyd may not be a downfield burner capable of picking up huge chunks of yardage, but his blocking is opening the possibility for his teammates to do just that.
"The thing you have to be, if you're not real fast, is a physical guy," Phillips said. "You have to be a physical guy. And that's the thing that Aaron's bought into."
In the film, coaches cite Boyd's blocking as a model for his younger teammates, but that's not the only way Boyd is serving as a powerful example. Particularly with so many young players seeing the field so quickly, it's natural for players not cracking the lineup to feel left out. Boyd has been there before.
"It's a great teaching tool," Phillips said. "I have guys that walk on here in their second year actually, the first year. Come into my office and say, Coach, I don't know if I'm going to get an opportunity, or I just don't know if I'm going to be able to cut it."
Boyd is happy to provide an example of the virtues of hard work and patience, but he doesn't want to be a one-hit wonder.
"I'm not trying to settle on this game," Boyd said. "I'm trying to move forward and get ready for Western (Kentucky). I want to build on this."
Kentucky freshman setter was named SEC Freshman of the Week Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky volleyball team traveled to Nebraska over the weekend, displaying a brand new look. It had nothing to do with attire or a change in strategy. It had everything to do with freshman Morgan Bergren and her debut as the Wildcats' setter.
Bergren's first action of the season came in a 3-0 rout of Duquesne in Kentucky's opening round match of the Ameritas Players Challenge in Lincoln, Neb., over the weekend. She then earned her first start of her young career against the Oklahoma Sooners and followed that up with another start against the No. 1-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers on their home floor, considered arguably the best atmosphere the sport has to offer.
Both starts came with mixed results. Bergren played well enough for her team to win, but a change at the setter position is one of the toughest transitions to make for any volleyball team. The Cats lost 3-1 to Oklahoma in their second match, her first start, of the tournament in a game that they felt they could have played much better.
Start No. 2 for Bergren saw the team come together much better than they had in the previous match. Going up against the top team in the country, Bergren and her teammates competed with the Huskers every step of the way, taking one set, and fighting tooth and nail in the other three. In fact, if it weren't for self-inflicted wounds, UK may have shocked the world and pulled the upset with a freshman setter at the helm.
It was not to be, however, as UK fell to Nebraska, 3-1. While that's not usually something to hang your hat on, UK is one of the just two teams this season to take a set off of Nebraska all year. The other? UCLA, who at the time was ranked No. 1 in the country before the Huskers defeated them in five sets.
While it's a team game and each player has much to improve on as this season progresses, Bergren acclimated just fine and had her team in a position to win.
Her performance over the weekend, despite two losses, was enough to earn Bergren her first Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honor. For the weekend, Bergren averaged 11.1 assists, 2.3 digs and 1.2 blocks per set. She showed an all-around game that, if she pushes through the expected growing pains of a freshman setter, could make it very difficult to keep her off of the floor.
Bergren is the first Wildcat to earn the honor this season.
Her performance in the Nebraska match was an eye-opener, as many had inquired about the switch at the position after Thursday's match, but Bergren showed the she is more than capable of holding her own despite a lack of experience at the collegiate level.
However, if the growing pains do manifest themselves, senior setter Christine Hartmann has the rapport and experience to pull this team through the conference schedule, as she's shown over her career. She's been through the gauntlet that is the SEC and has shown time and time again that she is capable of picking up the slack in a reserve role while rallying the troops to lead them to a Sweet-16 run last season.
Regardless of the setter, UK is in a great position of having two athletes that are well-equipped to help this team reach their goals this season. Bergren and Hartmann each possess unique qualities in their game that are crucial when it comes to winning matches, and it won't be surprising if each player has their fingerprints on this potent Kentucky offense down the stretch.
Last season, it was Hartmann that Skinner had turned to after a slow start to the season. Skinner has had plenty of experience with changes at the position. Last year's decision paid off as UK went to a second Sweet 16 in three seasons. Skinner also opted to go with a true freshman way back at the beginning of his tenure with Sarah Rumely. Rumely grew to become one of the best players in UK volleyball history, becoming 2006 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and in her junior campaign became the first Wildcat to win Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors.
The 2012 season and the 2006 season bear little resemblance, however. In 2006, Skinner was looking to start building the program it has become today. In 2012, expectations, both internally and externally, have risen. Coming off of a Sweet 16 appearance, UK hoped to build on that run, take the momentum into the season, and hit the ground running.
Well, the Cats haven't gotten out of the starting blocks as well as they had hoped, and it appears Skinner felt a shakeup was necessary. Though Bergren has played well in her first action of the season only time will dictate the payoff. With the ever-dangerous Florida Gators waiting in the wings for Kentucky's 2012 SEC opener on Sunday, a total team effort will be necessary to get off on the right foot, including both setters.
Kentucky continues to drop in the polls, falling out of the top-20 for the first time this season. They still slide in at No. 24 in the latest AVCA Divison I Poll. It's been a tough road for Kentucky in the early goings, as UK has went toe-to-toe with three different teams in the top-12 of the AVCA Poll (No. 1 Nebraska, No. 9 Oregon, No. 12 Louisville). They also have played against two other teams who receiving votes.
The road gets no easier as UK still has two dates apiece with No. 15 Florida and No. 17 Tennessee. Kentucky meets the No. 15-ranked Gators this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum to start the SEC portion of their schedule.
Kentucky will take on Western Kentucky at 7 p.m. on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Heading into week two of the 2012 season, Kentucky had plenty to work on defensively.
Particularly since Joker Phillips laid out plans to involve more young players in the rotation, the Wildcats had to simplify things and simplify them quickly. After an abbreviated practice week, UK got a chance to see the results against Kent State, and they were mostly positive.
"We got the chance to get lined up," Phillips said. "We got a chance to come off the ball, come out of your hips, get your hands on people, get them off of you. There wasn't a lot of movement side to side. There was a lot of movement going forward."
By making things a little less exotic, UK made things more about the Jim's and Joe's than X's and O's, as goes the old coaching cliche.
"When you simplify, you give guys a chance to win one-on-one battles," Phillips said. "You can't stop everything. There's not a defense out there that stop every play every down. Sometimes guys got to win one-on-one battles. don't think we gave our kids a chance in the first game to win one-on-one battles."
Hybrid safety/linebacker Miles Simpson won his share of those such battles, tying for the team lead with seven tackles, tallying one sack and recovering a fumble forced by a highlight-reel hit by Martavius Neloms.
"I feel like I improved a lot," Simpson said. "The whole defense did. Communication, getting to the spots we need tackling, we did a whole lot better."
The Flashes topped 400 yards of total offense in UK's 47-14 victory, but just 139 of those came in the final six drives of the game, during which time the Cats pitched a shutout. Kentucky incorporated more and more youngsters into the action as the game wore on and, by the time the final whistle sounded, six true freshmen had made a tackle.
The youth movement certainly bodes well for the future, but Phillips and defensive coordinator Rick Minter are concerned about fixing things in the present. Kent State had four big gains UK terms "X plays" - passes of 25 yards or more and rushes of 15 or more - and those must be cut out immediately. All four such plays came on Kent State's two touchdown drives and two directly resulted in scores, which only underscores their importance.
On the other side of the ball, the Cats have a similar concern. Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George each had long touchdown runs and DeMarcus Sweat an electrifying 56-yard catch and run, but the deep ball has been conspicuously absent from UK's otherwise effective offensive attack.
With Maxwell Smith completing 73 percent of his throws for over 300 yards a game and six touchdowns, it's difficult to quibble with his performance, but Phillips wants to see his quarterback make a calculated gamble or two.
"I like that he's taking what he likes and what he sees, but sometimes on our all go routes, we've got to give our receivers a chance," Phillips said. "That's the thing, give our receivers a chance, go up, and let those guys make a play for you."
Smith really only threw the ball vertically one time this past weekend and he missed La'Rod King narrowly when the senior wide receiver had a step on his defender. In a new no-huddle offense, UK faces a unique problem with deep passes: It's hard to practice them.
"The way we practice trying to play fast, we run our receivers to death anyway," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said after the Kent State game. "Sometimes it's hard to throw a lot of deep balls in practice because you're truly killing them."
Even though the Cats have a deep corps of receivers featuring seven players who have already made a catch, practice is incredibly demanding. To combat that, Phillips mentioned the possibility of practicing deep passes by having receivers 30 yards downfield and begin running when the quarterback hits his back foot on drop backs.
Whatever the solution, it's an issue that needs to be addressed. If Smith continues to complete pass after pass within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, defenses will begin to sit on those shorter routes.
Weekly depth chart watch
With the season now two weeks old, players are beginning to settle into roles more and more, but UK's newly released depth chart is not without a tweak here or there.
On offense, the only change is at one wide receiver spot, where Gene McCaskill has overtaken Daryl Collins as the starter. McCaskill had three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown against Kent State. The switch, though, is mostly cosmetic, as all of UK's wide outs are getting ample opportunities.
Defensively, the changes are more significant. Reflecting the way UK played this past weekend, Bud Dupree is now listed as the starter at weakside linebacker. Previously, Dupree was the starter at the defensive end/linebacker spot with Malcolm McDuffen and Tyler Brause at weakside linebacker. Freshman Khalid Henderson is now the backup on the weakside with Malcolm McDuffen as the third stringer. Pancho Thomas is now Avery Williamson's backup at middle linebacker with Tyler Brause behind him. Kory Brown has been added as a third stringer at hybrid safety/linebacker behind Simpson and Josh Forrest. Finally, senior Taylor Wyndam is the new starter at hybrid defensive end/linebacker with Dupree backing him up.
The Dupree-Wyndham shifting was all done in an effort to get the defense's best 11 players on the field at the same time. Previously, Wyndham had been the odd man out in the defensive scheme installed last year.
"It's a shame that a guy that's been around four or five years, played a lot of football, because we moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, he doesn't get to play as much," Phillips said. "He's got to rotate with another senior. So it was just an opportunity to get Taylor Wyndham on the field along with Bud." Injury list still pleasantly brief
Inevitably, UK's remarkably short preseason injury report was going to get longer as the season wore on. But two weeks in, the Cats are still relatively healthy.
Running back CoShik Williams (back) and Josh Forrest (hip flexor) are termed probable for Saturday's game against Western Kentucky after missing this past weekend's game. Offensive lineman Trevino Woods (high ankle sprain) and tight end Gabe Correll (hip flexor) are both doubtful for Saturday's game against Western Kentucky. Josh Clemons (knee) and Glenn Faulkner (ankle), the only two Wildcats with long-term injuries, will be out this weekend. Florida game selected by SEC Network
It's still 12 days away, but UK learned the television assignment for its first Southeastern Conference game against Florida on Sept. 22. The game will kick off at 12:21 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
As a reminder, Saturday's game against the Hilltoppers will be broadcast on ESPNU at 7 p.m. ET.
Football - The Kentucky football team won its third consecutive home opener, defeating Kent State 47-14 on Saturday. - Kentucky had a strong all-around performance in the game, racking up 539 yards of total offense, including 354 passing yards - which was the most for a UK offense since a 430-yard outburst against Tennessee in 2007. - Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith threw for all 354 yards, including finding senior wide receiver Aaron Boyd 11 times for 100 yards - both career highs for Boyd. Junior tailback Raymond Sanders had a career night with 13 rushes for 115 yards and touchdown, including a 67-yard burst to the end zone. - Defensively, Kentucky recorded its first safety since the 2009 season while also stopping Kent State from scoring all three times they entered the redzone. The UK defense, which forced and recovered a fumble in the game, ended the contest with three sacks, six tackles for loss and six pass breakups. Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team capped off non-conference action against its toughest competition of the season at the Ameritas Players Challenge on the campus of the University of Nebraska. UK earned a win over Duquesne, before suffering heart-wrenching four-set losses to Oklahoma, a team receiving votes in the latest poll, and No. 1 Nebraska on its home floor. - Senior Ashley Frazier was simply sensational against the Huskers with a career-high tying and match-high 20 kill performance on a sizzling .459 hitting percentage. - Freshman setter Morgan Bergren had a coming-out party of sorts against the Huskers in front of 4,163 fans as she recorded her first career double-double effort with a UK single-match high 47 assists and 10 digs. She also added career-high marks with four kills and five blocks. - In the victory over Duquesne it was the middle blockers who shined as the duo of junior Alexandra Morgan and freshman Sara Schwarzwalder combined for 20 kills with no errors. Morgan's defensive presence continues to aid the Wildcat cause as the junior turned back 19 opponent attacks in 11 sets for a blistering 1.73 rejections per frame.
Women's soccer - Kentucky opened its road portion of the schedule with a dramatic 2-0 upset of No. 12 Louisville on the road at Cardinal Park Friday night. - Junior Kayla King was inserted into the game in the opening minutes, and recorded six saves, keeping a clean sheet and saving a penalty kick late in the game which would have tied the score at 1-1. - Freshman Cailin Harris scored UK's lone goal in a 3-1 loss to Samford. Harris, Arin Gilliland and Kayla King were named to the Cardinal Classic All-Tournament Team. - UK returns home Friday night for its Southeastern Conference opener against No. 24 Florida Friday night, with a Sunday matchup vs. undefeated Mississippi State.
Men's soccer - The Kentucky men's soccer team finished second at its invitational tournament over the weekend, picking up a 2-0 win over St. Joe's and falling to No. 4 Charlotte on Sunday, 1-0. - Kentucky has played an extremely grueling schedule to open the 2012 season, as the Wildcats have played three top-25 foes in their first five matches. UK entered the matchup with Charlotte, the 2011 NCAA runners-up, fresh off a dominating 2-0 win over St. Joseph's in its home opener on Friday night. - UK finished second in the 2012 UKIT with the loss, as the high-octane 49ers claimed the championship, Stony Brook third place and St. Joe's fourth. - UK freshman midfielder Bryan Celis - who scored his first career goal on Friday - junior defender Steven Perinovic and junior forward Tyler Riggs were selected to the UKIT All-Tournament team by the UK coaching staff. Upcoming schedule Monday, Sept. 10 Men's tennis at Southern Intercollegiate (Athens, Ga.) Women's golf at Old Waverly Bulldog Invite (West Point, Miss.) Tuesday, Sept. 11 Women's golf at Old Waverly Bulldog Invite (West Point, Miss.)
Wednesday, Sept. 12 Women's golf at Old Waverly Bulldog Invite (West Point, Miss.)
Friday, Sept. 14 Men's soccer at Louisville - 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer hosts Florida - 7:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Duke Invitational (Cary, N.C.)/ Illinois Invitational (Chicago) Women's tennis at Muirfield Village Invitational (Muirfield, Ohio)
Saturday, Sept. 15 Football hosts Western Kentucky - 7:00 p.m. Men's golf at Wolf Run Invite (Zionsville, Ind.) Men's tennis at Duke Invitational (Cary, N.C.)/ Illinois Invitational (Chicago) Women's tennis at Muirfield Village Invitational (Muirfield, Ohio) Sunday, Sept. 16 Volleyball hosts Florida - 1:00 p.m. Women's soccer hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m. Men's golf at Wolf Run Invite (Zionsville, Ind.) Men's tennis at Duke Invitational (Cary, N.C.)/ Illinois Invitational (Chicago) Women's tennis at Muirfield Village Invitational (Muirfield, Ohio)
After the opening game was played last Wednesday, the NFL got started in earnest on Sunday with a full slate of games. Ten former Kentucky Wildcats were on active week one rosters, and a few made big plays for there teams on the season's first weekend.
As was the case for most of his three years in Lexington, Randall Cobb was the headliner. Undertaking an expanded role in the Green Bay Packers' offense, Cobb caught nine passes from Aaron Rodgers for 77 yards. Even more impressively, his nine catches came on just nine targets in a 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Cobb is being asked to do more as a receiver, but his kick and punt returning aren't suffering. He averaged over 25 yards on his six returns, including a 75-yard touchdown on a punt that you can watch here.
Jacob Tamme may not have had as a big a statistical day as Cobb, but his production came in a 31-19 win for his Denver Broncos. He had five catches for 43 yards, including a go-ahead touchdown from one yard out that proved to be the game winner. Tamme came to Denver with Peyton Manning and could be poised for the best season of his career.
Wesley Woodyard was also a big part of that winning effort for the Broncos. Starting for the suspended D.J. Williams at linebacker, the special-teams ace tallied 12 tackles and the sack of Ben Roethlisberger that ended the Pittsburgh Steelers' final possession. New teammate Danny Trevathan did not record any statistics for the Broncos. Stevie Johnson did though. The Buffalo Bills were playing catchup for most of a 48-28 loss to the New York Jets, but Johnson caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in his first game with a lucrative new contract.
In the Jets' win, John Conner left with a knee injury. After the game, he reported he only "tweaked" it and expected to be available for his next game. Conner did not record any statistics before his injury.
Conner's former teammate Tim Masthay had plenty of chances to show off his leg in the Packers' aforementioned loss. He punted six times, averaging 48.2 yards per punt. His net average was 41.5 yards and only one of his punts was returned. Four of his six kicks landed inside the 20-yard line. Winston Guy (Seattle Seahawks), Garry Williams (Carolina Panthers) and Myron Pryor (New England Patriots) are also on active rosters, but did not show up in the box score.
Aaron Boyd set career highs with 11 catches and 100 receiving yards in UK's 47-14 win over Kent State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky's offense - more specifically, its passing attack - showed signs of life in a season-opening loss to Louisville. Using a no-huddle attack led by a new full-time starter at quarterback, UK moved the ball as consistently as it had at any point during a forgettable offensive 2011 season. Smith threw for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns, spreading the ball to 11 different receivers.
Following a 47-point, 539-yard explosion against Kent State in UK's home opener, the revamped offense has gone from having a faint pulse to an unmistakable heartbeat. Maxwell Smith completed 30-of-39 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns, racking up more yards through the air than any UK signal-caller since 2007.
"I thought he played really well tonight," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "He's seeing things well. Usually when a quarterback sees well and is able to play fast, he's prepared. He's obviously working hard in practice. He's taking what I'm trying to teach him and taking it to heart."
Smith led the Cats to a 47-14 victory in front of 48,346 fans in Commonwealth Stadium, moving them to 1-1 on the season. After the Golden Flashes grabbed a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, UK stormed back to score 47 of the game's final 54 points. Before Smith was lifted with the outcome well in hand, Kentucky scored points on seven of nine drives - including six touchdowns - following three fruitless possessions to start the game.
"It speaks to the system," Smith said. "We're throwing it a lot and it's fun to play in this system and I think we're doing a pretty job. We just have to keep improving."
Through two games, Smith has 65 completions and well over 600 yards. Kentucky had 171 completions as a team in 12 games during 2011. He completed passes to 11 receivers against Louisville and 10 vs. Kent State. Just 17 different receivers had receptions all of last season.
For head coach Joker Phillips, Saturday night was proof positive that the determination he and his fellow coaches made after watching Smith practice just a few times in December 2011 to transition to the new offense was spot on.
"We said that this guy would be great in this type of offense," Phillips said. "We really started to try to transition to it then, and we were right. He's comfortable; he sees the field. He's very accurate."
The primary beneficiary of Smith's accuracy on this night was wide receiver Aaron Boyd. The senior made his second start of his Kentucky career after impressing last Sunday with three catches and solid downfield blocking, delivering the kind of performance UK fans envisioned for the formerly highly touted recruit.
"It was a lot of fun out there making plays again," Boyd said.
Not only did Boyd set career highs with his 11 catches, 100 yards and a touchdown, he exceeded his production in all three categories from his first 19 games of his time as a Wildcat.
"Really proud of Aaron Boyd," Phillips said. "Aaron Boyd continues to get himself better, continues to understand how you are supposed to go about your business and being a big-time wide receiver."
Boyd is member of a receiving corps with a diverse set of weapons and won't match his output against Kent State in every game this season, but he took advantage of his opportunities in a big way. The Golden Flashes were playing zone most of the night, the kind of defense Boyd is best suited to attack.
"He's had a great fall," Sanders said. "He came out this spring and was rejuvenated. He's obviously worked hard at it. I think Coach Washington has been really good for him and this was his kind of game."
At least for a while, it didn't look like it would be DeMarcus Sweat's kind of game. As promised this week by Phillips, plenty of youngsters were making plays on defense, but the dynamic freshman wide receiver was without a catch into the fourth quarter. He had one kick return he took out of the end zone and was met with a big hit well inside the 20-yard line. He also had a drop on a screen pass early.
"I remember I threw one earlier in the game and it hit him in the chest and he dropped it," Smith said. "I went up to him and I was like, 'Stop looking so sad. You're going to do something. Keep your head up.' "
It turned out to be a poorly thrown pass that proved him right. On Smith's final pass of the night, he threw a quick screen to Sweat on the right side. The ball sailed high, but Sweat leaped and, in seemingly one motion, made a defender miss and was off to the races for a 56-yard touchdown that put Smith over the 300-yard mark. It was the kind of first career reception that might just set the tone for a memorable career.
"I've told you guys that the kid, he's talented," Smith said. "He just put one move on a guy and you were able to see his speed. The kid's very talented and the kid's going to be a very good receiver here."
Smith's pass got the ball in Sweat's hands and it was the backup quarterback's block that sprung him.
"Did you guys see who made the block?" Phillips said. "Morgan Newton."
Morgan Newton, playing an evolving H-back/Wildcat quarterback role, lined up wide and laid the block that helped turn a short gain into a very long one.
Sanders and Phillips are putting their heads together to see how to best utilize the senior who lost out on the starting role to Smith. Seeing a player like Newton who can both pass and run at different spots across the field is a terrifying thought for opposing defenses, and could make UK's improved offense that much more lively.
"We've only got so many guys on the team that are 6(-foot-)3, 240 pounds and run like he does and has his athletic ability," Sanders said. "I told him last spring if he wasn't our starting quarterback, he wasn't going to stand over on the sideline with me. We're trying to find the way he can help us. Morgan's been phenomenal. He's all about Kentucky and Kentucky winning."