Senior Ashley Frazier led the Kentucky attack with 12 kills over ETSU. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
In a match that saw the East Tennessee State volleyball program make its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, it also displayed an experienced bunch in the Kentucky Wildcats who were making their eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance under head coach Craig Skinner.
After the first two points of the match, ETSU seemed the more experienced unit as the Buccaneers held an early 2-0 lead. That two-point advantage was short-lived.
Kentucky delivered an early bounce-back blow, going on a 20-3 run in the first set, ultimately leading to a 25-9 victory.
It was evident that the nerves and excitement of playing their first NCAA Tournament played a part in ETSU's first set struggles. Kentucky took advantage.
"It is different," said Skinner of making an NCAA Tournament debut. "Our first time in the Tournament you see the logo, you see the media, you see the different people there, you see the crowd and the bands. It's a different deal.
"Thankfully we've been in the Tournament. Our players have been there before and understand that."
Senior outside hitter Ashley Frazier certainly looked like she's been there before. She pounced on the ETSU defense, leading the Wildcats with four kills in that first set. Kentucky combined for 10 kills in the set and a .409 hitting percentage. But the defensive was equally impressive. The Cats picked up 15 digs in the frame and despite tallying no blocks, held ETSU to a .032 hitting percentage.
The Buccaneers settled in, however, and wouldn't leave Memorial Coliseum without putting up a fight.
Each team took turns going back and forth scoring points with ETSU eventually grabbing a 9-7 lead. Frazier looked to thwart the ETSU attack with a kill, but the Bucs answered right back.
Buccaneer outside hitter Megan Divine took to the serving line and tried to break the Kentucky passers. And it look like she might do it. She recorded three straight aces, baffling the Wildcats and forcing Kentucky into a timeout. She pushed the Bucs out to a 13-9 lead and it appeared Kentucky was in for a tougher battle than it expected after the first-set result.
Looking to break the momentum, senior setter Christine Hartmann looked to her other outside hitter in sophomore Lauren O'Conner. O'Conner broke Devine's serve with a kill, then it was the sophomore from Taylor Mill, Ky., who helped pull the Cats back even with the Bucs at 14 with another kill. She had four kills in the set.
"We got quiet when they ran a couple points," said Skinner. "You have to expect good teams to make good plays. ETSU did in the middle of the second set. It's just about trusting what you're doing and enjoying the journey of each point."
Then Hartmann took matters into her own hands on the next point and threw down a one-handed dump at the net to give Kentucky a 15-14 lead. And the Cats were off. They also picked up their defensive intensity, picking up three blocks in the set after recording no stuffs in the first.
Frazier tacked on two more kills in the frame, bumping up her total to eight on the night. It was another impressive run for the Wildcats after going down 13-9, UK went on to outscore ETSU 12-3 and took the second set 25-17.
Though Frazier was on her way to having a big night with 12 kills on 22 swings with just one error, she was quick to acknowledge that it was a total team effort Friday night.
"I don't think it was anyone individually who felt they needed to step up," Frazier said. "It was a total team effort. Going into the tournament, everybody's good at this point. You're going to have to play your best game in order to win."
East Tennessee still wasn't ready to let Kentucky walk away so easily. With a very impressive traveling party who made the trip from the Volunteer State, the crowd implored the Bucs to hang in and fight back. The Bucs did just that, staying with Kentucky early on in the third as they traded points to a 5-5 deadlock. But as Kentucky did all night, the Cats ran out to another long scoring stretch.
ETSU picked up two points to tie things at five, but a quick 6-0 run by Kentucky gave the Wildcats a lead they wouldn't look back on at 11-6. Frazier not only did it with her attack, but she also did it with her serve tonight, picking up an ace and serving tough to get the ETSU offense out of system. Her ace made it 18-7 and the route was on.
Kentucky finished with five aces and just one error. The Cats earned seven blocks after not recording one in the first set. And they tallied 43 digs including a match high 10 from senior libero Stephanie Klefot. Those statistics were the keys to the Wildcats' success.
"Our serving, our blocking defense and digging were the difference in the match," said Skinner. "That needs to be a mainstay for tomorrow night."
Kentucky went on to finish off the Bucs, 25-15, and take the sweep of their first round opponent to earn the right to face Ohio State in Saturday's second round. The Buckeyes put on an impressive offensive display against Notre Dame, also sweeping the Irish while hitting at a .512 clip.
Outside hitter Kaitlyn Leary had a monster night, picking up 16 kills on 19 swings, hitting .842 for the night. Kentucky will have the opportunity to try and stop Leary and the rest of the OSU offensive attack tomorrow night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum where fans can expect to see the game played at the highest level.
"(Ohio State has) made plays all year, and had a really good season within the Big Ten and beat a lot of good teams," said Skinner. "It's going to be a good volleyball match. It's going to be as good of volleyball as you're going to see in the country."
A'dia Mathies scored 20 points on just seven shots in UK's 74-54 win over Louisville last season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Any mention of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry invokes memories of heated, closely contested games, regardless of the sport.
At least in sports other than women's basketball.
Over the last five seasons, the annual Bluegrass battle has been decided by an average of 22.2 points. The home team has won the game each of the past four years and just once by fewer than 20 points.
"I don't really have an explanation for that; it's been surprising to me," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said.
What makes the recent stretch of lopsidedness so perplexing is the strength of the two programs. Since the 2008-09 season, UK and U of L have each missed out on March Madness just once. They have combined for 15 wins in the NCAA Tournament and four trips to the Sweet 16 or beyond.
Women's basketball has never been stronger in the Commonwealth, yet its two best teams keep beating up on each other. And the strangest thing is they do it while trading wins. The Wildcats and Cardinals each have a pair of blowout wins over their archrivals over the last four years with the average score of the in-state showdown sitting at 71.5-68.5 in favor of Kentucky.
"There really is no explanation for that," Mitchell said. "I certainly hope it's not that way this year if we are on the losing end."
If recent history holds true, the Cats will be. It's been the team playing on its home floor that has come away with the victory each of the last four games. Louisville may well defend its home floor come Sunday at 6 p.m. in the KFC Yum! Center, but Mitchell envisions the blowout trend will end.
"I would suspect that this is going to be a real tough game, a real competitive game and we will certainly be trying to prepare today and tomorrow for Louisville to play their best and I'm sure they are doing the same thing," Mitchell said.
In fact, that's the strength of Jeff Walz's U of L teams that sticks out above all others.
"They really do a great job of identifying what your weaknesses are and they put a lot of pressure on you in those areas," Mitchell said. "They really do a fantastic job of preparing for games."
To combat that, Mitchell will be looking for his team to focus on the things they do well.
"What we will really have to get over there and do is be tremendously focused and try to stick to what we want to do and try to stay as close to our identity as what we do well and can't get rattled," Mitchell said. "I thought we really got rattled over there two years ago."
The game to which Mitchell is referring is UK's 78-52 loss in Louisville in Dec. 2010. UK shot just 28.2 percent and committed 22 turnovers. Six current Wildcats saw the floor in that game, including leading scorer and Louisville native A'dia Mathies.
"That loss we don't want to suffer ever again and we don't really want to lose any games," Mathies said. "We look at that game as motivation but we also look at we don't want to lose any more games. It being a rivalry game, stakes are going to be high so we just want to go out and play the best we can."
Mathies is among the most decorated players in school history, but she hasn't won a game in her hometown since she was a senior at Iroquois High School.
"I'm very excited to play," Mathies said. "It's just another game we are trying to go out there and win and being able to play in front of my home crowd its very excited to go back home and know all the people there supporting me that couldn't make it here."
Mathies, like her coach, is more concerned with turning in a better performance than the Cats' road game of two weeks ago than two years ago. UK has won four straight at home since losing 85-51 at Baylor and Mitchell is happy with his team's progression over that time.
"I think we will be better a month from now than we are but we have an opportunity to show where we have progressed over the last few weeks, they have worked real hard," Mitchell said. "That's what I like about this. I like the opportunity we have."
Mitchell views it as nothing other than an opportunity because he knows the game, in spite of the fact it's the first top-10 matchup between the two rivals and will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU, is not a be-all, end-all.
"This does not determine where we will end up in the season but it is a great measuring stick for how far we have come since that game," Mitchell said. "Clearly we needed to improve from that night and we have. I just really want the players to put everything they can into this preparation. I know Louisville will be well-prepared, I want Kentucky to be well-prepared and go out and give a great effort and I think that gives us a chance to win if we do those things."
Nerlens Noel had 10 points and seven rebounds in UK's 64-50 loss at Notre Dame on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari may have gotten ahead of himself.
After Kentucky returned to Rupp Arena and picked up three double-digit wins in a row, Coach Cal found himself thinking through how the Wildcats would win their next close game. With two games in three days against Notre Dame and Baylor coming up, it was logical to think that UK would be in a position of needing to know what to do in a very specific set of circumstances.
"I probably last week started working on situations too soon," Calipari said. "See, there's not a situation when you're down 15. There is no situation. There's no you're going to go five-point plays three times in a row."
At the cost of a constant emphasis on effort and energy, the Cats began working on what they would need to do on a possession-by-possession basis in a close game.
"We worked on situations and got away from the competitive spirit," Calipari said. "It just shows we're not ready to move forward yet."
As Coach Cal suggests, UK never even had the opportunity to put their work into practice against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame grabbed control of the game midway through the first half and didn't let go en route to a 64-50 victory that touched off a court-storming celebration.
Sixteen hours removed from his postgame press conference, Calipari's appraisal of the performance did not change.
"We're a November basketball team," Calipari said. "That's all I can tell you. We watched the tape. Stopped playing and didn't compete, didn't come up with 50-50 balls. Didn't play for one another; kind of separated a little bit. But it's the first road game. I knew we'd struggle but I thought we'd compete, and that's the surprising thing. We just didn't battle and it was obvious they wanted the game more than we wanted the game."
The unfortunate thing is Calipari won't have much time to hone in on the issue. Preparations for the game against Baylor at 12:30 p.m. ET in Rupp must begin immediately with the rest of the work pushed back for later.
"I wish we had nine days but we don't," Calipari said. "We have to play (Saturday) afternoon, so we're going to watch film and walk through and that's it. We can't practice. We've got a couple of days in between the Tuesday game and then we've got some time to take to really get this thing right."
What that means is it's impossible for Calipari to predict what he will see out of his team when the Cats take the floor in yet another nationally televised marquee matchup.
"It's probably not fair for these young guys, but I would rather learn right now what we have to do and get a clearer picture, and you don't get those clear pictures against bad teams," Calipari said.
Baylor may have lost two games already this season, including at home last Saturday to College of Charleston, but Calipari knows what the visiting Bears are capable of. Three players from last year's Elite Eight team were drafted, but Baylor returns Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip in the backcourt and adds a recruiting class that ranks fifth nationally according to ESPN.com, headlined by 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin, who is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds.
"They're big," Calipari said. "Their guard play, Jackson, he's tremendous. They run pick-and-rolls and get up and down the court and isolations."
UK will devote some limited time to preparations specific to Baylor, but the focus leading up to Saturday's game will be demonstrating clearly the ways in which the intensity was lacking at Notre Dame and documenting the effect. Calipari, meanwhile, knows he has as much work ahead of him as his players.
"This is as much me figuring it out as it is them," Calipari said. "The one thing that they have to bring is a competitive spirit and a will to win. I'll help them with all the other stuff."
For now, a lot of the "other stuff" will have to wait.
"You gotta go a step at a time," Calipari said. "I wanted us farther and we're not ready for that. This is where we are right now. The love of learning and practice, they get that and we'll be fine."
John Calipari often talks about his team getting "empowered" to understand what needs to be done in a given situation rather than having to be coached through it. That comes with time but as has been the case with Cal's first three teams at UK, this one does not have any issues with chemistry.
"What stands out is once again they are all really hard workers and we are all really close off the court and that is key." Kyle Wiltjer said, "Last year, I thought we were so close, and this year, we are just as close and maybe closer at this point, so just continuing to move ahead and keep working hard. It's great because last summer we weren't able to practice and this summer we were so that is an advantage we had."
DeCourcy likes Oklahoma State freshman
Early returns on Coach Cal's latest class of freshmen at UK are overwhelming positive but Sporting News college basketball writer thinks the country's best rookie may be playing in Stillwater, Okla.
"They (Oklahoma State) have a guy who is challenging to be the best freshman in college basketball in Marcus Smart," DeCourcy said on "The Leach Report" radio show. "He is just tremendous. An all-around winner. He just has a quality, in the way that Anthony Davis was a pure winner. He's 6-4, 6-5, can run a team, can play on the wing, struggles a little with his three-point shot but he understands the game so well." Hall, Host make worthy Hall of Famers
Two Kentucky sports legends - Coach Joe B. Hall and Jim Host - were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City earlier this month and I can't think of two more deserving honorees.
Success in sports requires toughness and both men demonstrated this trait as their careers with UK sports intersected in the early 70s. Host started his company in 1972 and soon thereafter, he landed the University of Kentucky broadcast rights at a time when the program was in transition from coaching legend Adolph Rupp to Cats' first new coach in almost four decades - Hall.
And after Hall's first season opened with a win at Michigan State in December '72, the Cats proceeded to drop their next three games. (You can bet Hall is grateful the Internet and talk show-age had not arrived).
Come early February, the Cats were a mediocre 5-4 in SEC play, but Hall then rallied his troops to a nine-game winning streak, culminating with an 86-81 win over Tennessee that clinched the SEC title - at a time when only the league champion made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Men of weaker spirit might have wilted under the intense pressure of those times but Hall and Host are cut from a special cloth. Kudos to both on this latest honor.
The UK Ticket Office fielded nearly 400 calls seeking information on football season tickets on Wednesday alone. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Joe Sharpe has worked in the UK Athletics Ticket Office for a decade, but he has never seen anything quite like this.
Since Mitch Barnhart announced the hiring of Mark Stoops as head football coach, fans have been calling to either renew, upgrade add or buy season tickets in Commonwealth Stadium in unprecedented numbers.
"Since Tuesday and all day Wednesday, the phones were nonstop," said Sharpe, UK's Associate Athletics Director for Tickets.
For UK's six-member full-time ticket office staff and student workers, Sharpe said it has been "all hands on deck" since the Stoops news broke late Tuesday afternoon.
"We answered Wednesday alone close to 400 phone calls with an average talk time of about five minutes," Sharpe said. "You can do the math on that."
Figuring the arithmetic, 400 calls lasting an average of five minutes works out to 2000 minutes, or more than 33 hours. Phone lines at the ticket office are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, which means there was an average of more than four live calls at all times during the seven hours the ticket office was open. Sharpe reported that one ticket office employee spent five-and-a-half hours on the phone.
This week has been about a lot more than just answering phones though. In a matter of days, UK has revamped its offseason ticketing procedure on the fly.
In years past, renewal applications haven't been sent to current season ticket holders until February. This year, the staff is putting that process on the fast track to get renewals out as quickly as possible.
In years past, fans calling about season tickets in late November would have been placed on a waiting list. This year, the staff has developed a plan that allows fans to reserve seats by putting down a deposit.
"That was a big transition because it's not something you can do at the drop of a hat," Sharpe said. "It takes some time and effort on everybody's part to get that done. Tuesday night, staff was here until about 11 o'clock at night getting that new season set up in the system so we could be ready on Wednesday when the phones opened up at 9 o'clock and we'd have a plan in place to start taking orders."
Come February, fans who have called for season tickets this week will be able to choose their seats for 2013. For the first time, they will be able to do it using an interactive seat map that UK is developing in conjunction with software provider TicketMaster.
"The most important thing people want to do when they buy tickets is they want to know where the seats are," Sharpe said. "With an interactive seat map, they'll be able to go on there and pick and choose and see what seats are available and actually know what they're getting at the time of the purchase."
Between all that has gone into giving fans an outlet for their football excitement and regular work for men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball hosting in the NCAA Tournament, this week has been somewhat of a "perfect storm" for the ticket office. This, however, has been a good kind of busy.
"All calls the past two days were all positive and truly enthusiastic about the new hire and excited about Kentucky football," Sharpe said.
Sharpe and his fellow ticket office staffers are hoping the phone calls keep rolling in.
For more information on football season tickets, visit UKathletics.com/tickets or call 1-800-928-2287 or (859) 257-1818. The UK Athletics Ticket Office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Julius Mays scored 16 points in UK's 64-50 loss to Notre Dame on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Heading into Kentucky's first road game of the 2012-13 season, unknowns were inevitable.
John Calipari didn't know how his three freshman starters would react in a hostile road atmosphere at Notre Dame. In fact, he had accepted the Wildcats wouldn't be playing their best game of the young season in such an unfamiliar setting, and that might just end in defeat.
Coach Cal had certainly not accepted the Cats would be beaten in terms of effort though.
"I kind of expected that we wouldn't play," Calipari said. "This is the first time out of the gate. What I'm disappointed with is we didn't compete. They beat us to balls, they beat us around the basket. We just didn't compete."
The result was a court-storming celebration that has become somewhat of a ritual anytime the Cats lose on the road. The Fighting Irish came away with a 64-50 victory, handing Calipari just the second double-digit defeat of his UK tenure.
"We just got outcompeted from start to finish," Julius Mays said. "We didn't play hard. They competed harder than we did and they came out and wanted it more than we did."
The game's beginning wasn't quite as bad as Mays remembers as the Cats led by as many as six points in the early going. After Alex Poythress left the game with two fouls and his team leading 12-6 with 14:32 on the clock in the first half, the Fighting Irish would go on an 11-2 run to take a lead they would never relinquish.
"We came out a little shell-shocked when they came out like they did," Mays said. "We started playing their game which was slow down in the half court and I think we're more of an up-tempo team. Once we got in their game, obviously they're better at it."
The result was the lowest scoring output among Calipari's four Kentucky teams, due in large part to Poythress and Archie Goodwin - UK's leading scorers - being limited to six points combined.
"Archie I think, he was playing out of control for the first time," Calipari said. "I think the one shot hit the shot clock...And he hadn't played like that all year. He may have early in practice but he just was out of control."
Mays did his best to pick up the slack, hitting three second-half 3-pointers to cut a once 20-point Notre Dame lead to 10 at one point. He finished with 16 points, but seemingly each time he drilled a shot from deep, the Irish had an answer.
"You've got to give Notre Dame credit," Calipari said. "What a great crowd. The student body, and then the way they played. They ground us out. That's how we usually play when we get up."
The Cats won't have much time to sulk about the Irish giving them a dose of their own medicine. When they touched down in Lexington at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night, the countdown to UK's Saturday tilt with Baylor was officially on. A 37-hour turnaround can be tough, particularly with a plane flight and a late night in between, but Calipari is just fine with how the schedule turned out.
"The good news is we play in 36 hours," Calipari said. "It's back to back. We didn't play well. They played extremely well. They made shots. We didn't defend the way we have to defend."
Now, the Cats will go about the business of trying to rectify some of those things in a very short amount of time. UK will have the luxury of playing in front of its home fans for Saturday's national television rematch of last year's Elite Eight, but the Cats have 10 road games last season, which means they better figure out how to keep their wits about them in a raucous road venue if they want to avoid having to wade through students reveling in a victory.
"We all better get used to it because it's going to be a night-in, night-out basis," Mays said. "Crowds are going to be like this everywhere we go."
Kentucky hosts the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend at Memorial Coliseum. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The University of Kentucky volleyball team welcomes in three strong opponents this weekend to Memorial Coliseum for the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State, Notre Dame and East Tennessee State each have made their way to Lexington, Ky., for their first practices of the tournament as they prepare for their first-round matchups Friday evening.
Here is a team-by-team guide of what you can expect from Kentucky's potential competition this weekend as Lexington will be host to some of the best volleyball in the nation.
East Tennessee State Buccaneers (23-12, 11-7 A-Sun)
2012 Atlantic Sun Champions
Head coach: Lindsey Devine
- Kentucky's first-round opponent (Lexington, Ky.) - Earned first trip to the NCAA Tournament in program history by defeating North Florida in championship match - Averaging 12.90 kills per set with a .227 hitting percentage offensively - Averaging 2.67 blocks per set and 13.3 digs per set defensively
Common opponents with UK: South Carolina (L, 3-2), Alabama (L, 3-0), Lipsomb (L, 3-1; W, 3-0)
Offensive leaders: Megan Devine - JR OH - 539 kills (3.96 K/Set), .225 Pct, 36 aces Meredith Hardy - SO MB - 388 kills (2.85 K/Set), .296 Pct Bethany Gesell - SO RS - 312 kills (2.31 K/Set), .241 Pct
"As far as the matchup goes, I'm very pleased with the pairing. I feel the selection committee valued our overall potential. It helps with the location being close so our fans can make the trip to Lexington, and as far as playing Kentucky, I think it's a great opportunity for our program to play a team of their caliber in our first trip to the NCAA Tournament."
"Craig Skinner has done a fantastic job during his time at Kentucky and his teams are really well-coached," added Devine. "They have dominant outside hitters and three talented senior leaders, and we know they are going to put up a fight - especially being on their home court."
Ohio State Buckeyes (22-10, 13-7 BIG TEN)
4th Place BIG TEN
Head coach: Geoff Carlston
- Faces Notre Dame in first round (Lexington, Ky.) - Finished No. 25 in the final RPI and No. 14 in the final AVCA Coaches Poll (Nov. 19) - Fourth straight selection to the NCAA Tournament (28-18 all-time in NCAA Tournament play) - One of seven Big 10 schools selected to the field of 64 and has reached the Sweet 16 each of the last two seasons - Senior outside hitter Mari Hole was named to the All-BIG TEN team - Senior right side hitter Emily Danks was named All-BIG TEN honorable mention - Averaging 13.61 kills per set with a .254 hitting percentage offensively - Averaging 2.29 blocks per set and 14.34 digs per set defensively
Common opponents with UK: Oregon (L, 3-2), Nebraska (L, 3-1; W, 3-1)
Offensive leaders: Mari Hole - SR OH - 512 kills (4.20 K/Set), .239 Pct Kaitlyn Leary - JR OH - 329 kills (2.57 K/Set), .265 Pct Emily Danks - SR OH - 313 kills (2.57 K/Set), .231 Pct, 47 Aces
Defensive leaders: Emily Danks - SR OH - 90 blocks (14 Solo), 0.74 Blk/Set Dionna DiSalvatore - JR L - 483 digs (3.99 D/Set)
What Carlston is saying:
"I think they're pretty excited about a new season, seeing someone they haven't seen before and someone who doesn't know them," Carlston said.
"This team has really thrived on the road," Carlston said. "One of the best road teams in the country."
"We just got to stay healthy first of all, and then just being consistent and staying aggressive," Carlston said. "Notre Dame is a great team and so we got to really stay focused. Focus on one game at a time."
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-9, 13-2 BIG EAST)
2nd Place BIG EAST
Head coach: Debbie Brown
- Faces Ohio State in first round (Lexington, Ky.) - First NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009 - Sophomore right side hitter Jeni Houser was named All-BIG EAST First Team - Junior setter Maggie Brindock was named All-BIG EAST Second Team - Averaging 13.77 kills per set with a .255 hitting percentage offensively - Averaging 2.7 blocks per set and 14.5 digs per set defensively
Common opponents with UK: Nebraska (L, 3-1), Louisville (W, 3-2)
Offensive leaders: Toni Aluqbue - SO OH - 385 kills (3.50 K/Set), .267 Pct Jeni Houser - SO RS - 363 kills (3.27 K/Set), .322 Pct Hilary Eppink - SR MB - 211 kills (2.18 K/Set), .274 Pct
Defensive leaders: Andie Olsen - JR MB - 95 blocks (12 solo), 1.04 Blk/Set Jeni Houser - SO RS - 88 blocks (11 solo), 0.79 Blk/Set Taylor Morey - FR L - 464 digs (4.18 D/Set)
What Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner is saying about the teams in Lexington this weekend:
"They've been hot the last part of the season. They've been playing really well. They have three or four very good attackers that bring the heat and play great defense. We're going to have to be prepared."
"They made a great run in the Atlantic Sun tournament and won three straight matches against very good teams. We have to block well and serve tough to get them out of system to stop their middles from getting involved heavily. Their leading attacker Devine on the outside hits as hard as anyone we've faced in the SEC. We'll have a great game plan and we'll be preparing for it as we get closer to Friday, and it should be a great test for us."
On OSU and ND:
"Both of those teams have beaten some of the best teams in the country during the regular season and earned their right to be in the tournament. Ohio State coming from the BIG TEN, a lot of great wins in that conference. Notre Dame coming from the BIG EAST, great wins in conference and out of conference, so that's going to be a great matchup."
"Right here in Memorial we are going to see some of the best volleyball in the country and that will continue on into Saturday with the winners playing at seven o'clock then. It's going to be a great weekend. The NCAA Tournament starts right here in Lexington so let's get it started."
Andy Katz spent some time talking to John Calipari recently and the result is this Q&A that appears in the Dec. 10 issue of ESPN The Magazine. In it, he touches on a number of different topics, ranging from his general thoughts about the Kentucky job, social media to his family.
I encourage you to read the complete piece, but below are a couple of Coach Cal's more interesting answers.
KATZ: When the Kentucky job became open in 2007 after Tubby Smith resigned, how interested were you at that point? CALIPARI: I was waiting on a phone call that never came. But as my wife has said many times, it was the best thing that could have happened for me and for the kids in the program at Memphis. The players at that time needed me there at Memphis. It ended up working out well for the team and for me -- and I ended up at Kentucky anyway.
KATZ: Why was the timing right in 2009? CALIPARI: The timing was better because Tubby had won a national title [in 1998], and everybody in town still loved him. So following him would have made the job much harder for me. No disrespect to Billy Gillispie, but it didn't go well [during his two seasons at Kentucky]. If, following Tubby, we had a bunch of good players who left early, fans may have been up in arms. I tried to tell them that having five players taken in the first round of the NBA draft was the best thing to happen to our program, but there were people who fought me then, saying, "This isn't about the championship." Well, it is about championships. But the kids bring you championships, so at the end of the day, it's about the kids. The program is bigger than all of us. But you've gotta make this about the players, and that's what I do. They may not have accepted that in 2007.
KATZ: How long can you keep up this pace coaching at Kentucky? CALIPARI: Probably another six years, maybe seven. This is a 10-year run, then I'll pass it on to somebody else to keep this program going, because it's so important to this state. I'm not the kind of guy who could retire on the job, who'd just stay to get paid. I'm not doing it for numbers or to pass everyone's win record.
Ryan Harrow returned to practice this week after missing time due to illness and spending Thanksgiving with his family while tending to an issue. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Going weeks without practicing or playing a game, November was a trying month for Ryan Harrow.
Along the way, there was constant interest in his status on the part of fans and media, interest he couldn't help but be aware of as he missed time first due to illness, then to tend to an issue with his family. There were signs at his team's games, too many tweets to count - even though Harrow himself is no longer on Twitter - and a handful of personal encounters when he inevitably had to emerge from his room.
In the end, the only voices that really mattered - though he of course appreciated the support of the Big Blue Nation - were those of his teammates and coaches.
"They let me know that they wanted me to be back as soon as I could, but they understood what I was going through, being sick and having to handle my family thing," Harrow said. "I appreciated that and I keep telling them thank you."
For the first time since the day before UK's season opener, he was able to thank them in person at practice this weekend when he made his long-awaited return.
"It felt good," Harrow said. "All I could do was smile on Sunday when I was at practice."
His fellow Wildcats noticed.
"It was definitely a great practice with him back," Nerlens Noel said. "He couldn't stop smiling all day. I saw how much he enjoyed being back and it's just something that you've definitely got to feel good about, having him back with the team."
When UK (4-1) travels to Notre Dame (6-1) for its first true road game, Harrow will be with the team. Whether or not he sees the floor for the first time since starting and playing limited minutes against Maryland is another matter, though Harrow reports still being in shape despite the seven pounds he lost during his absence.
Coach Cal wouldn't rule out 7 p.m. ET Thursday against a big, veteran Notre Dame team that shoots well and figures to be playing in front of a raucous home crowd.
"We'll see," Calipari said. "I may throw him in that Notre Dame game just to see where he is. We're still learning. It's November. But we'll see."
The nice thing for the Cats is that they are long on options. Harrow entered the season as the heir apparent at point guard, but Archie Goodwin and Jarrod Polson combined to fill his void admirably over the last four games. Goodwin has been particularly impressive of late, averaging 25.0 points, 6.5 assists and 7.5 rebounds in a pair of wins last week over Morehead State and LIU-Brooklyn.
"He's our point guard," Calipari said. "He's earned the position and he's our point guard."
On its face, that may seem a suggestion that there is little room for Harrow to be much more than a backup. In reality, that's not what Calipari means at all.
"It doesn't mean he's our only point guard," Calipari said. "Now we have three point guards, which is even better really than having one point guard. And you can put two on the court at one time which is even better against zone, against pressing."
In fact, Calipari says that having two point guards a trait some of his best teams have had in common. In 2009-10, UK played the majority of its games with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe sharing the backcourt. The last two seasons, an argument can be made that Doron Lamb was a point guard playing alongside Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague. With Goodwin, Polson and a healthy Harrow, Calipari might be able to play multiple point guards together again.
How exactly that works is far from set in stone. Just like the team as a whole, the point guard position is a work in progress that has at times looked good and at times not. But the idea isn't to look good in November, it's to look great when March rolls around.
"This is about, when it's all said and done, were we the best version of what we could be as a team?" Calipari said. "Were individual players the best version of themselves? And were we having more fun than any team in the country? Now the answer to all those is no, no and no. We need that to be yes, yes and yes and then that's the team that keeps marching, doesn't want the season to end."
In all likelihood, the best version of this Kentucky team a few months in the future is one that features Harrow prominently. When he begins to play a role, however, remains to be seen. The good thing for Harrow is that he has more experience sitting on the bench and supporting his team than he cares to remember after redshirting last season.
"I've been doing well in the two practices that we've had since I've been back and if Coach feels like he needs to play me then he'll play me and I'll be ready," Harrow said. "I don't know when that's going to happen. All I know is I'll be on the side cheerleading like I was last year but dressed up and ready to go if need be."
It was a slow start for Matthew Mitchell's basketball team Wednesday morning as the Wildcats hosted the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks on Education Day at Memorial Coliseum. But it was a big day for junior guard Bernisha Pinkett who had a career day in front of thousands of cheering youngsters in the stands.
Pinkett's 21 points and 10 rebounds provided the spark Kentucky needed to fend off the RedHawks with a 92-53 victory. The marks were each career bests and helped her to her first career double-double.
Her big day, however, started off a little bit sluggish along with the rest of her teammates.
"I talked to her about her effort and she needed to turn it around and to her credit, she really turned it around," said Mitchell. "She did all of that in probably the last 30 minutes of the game. Just a really productive day."
Pinkett played tough for her team and provided a lift in the rebounding department as Kentucky struggled to come up with boards on a consistent basis. Pinkett was a high-energy performer, coming up with several loose balls and rebounds, but it wasn't until later in the second half that she was aware of the performance she was putting on.
"A little bit at the end of the second half," said Pinkett. "I tried to stay focus and not lose focus on what I was doing and keep playing hard. I kept going to the boards and doing whatever I needed to do to get points and help my team get points."
She shot the ball particularly well Wednesday, hitting eight of her 13 shots including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc as Miami gave her space to shoot all day. If Pinkett can continue to bring those types of efforts to the Kentucky offense, that will help take some of the pressure off of some of the usual offensive leaders.
"I guess they did not put much emphasis on her in the scouting report because they kept leaving her open," said senior guard A'dia Mathies. "But now when people see that and see that she can score 21 points, have five assists, zero turnovers, and 10 rebounds that they are going to have to guard her like they guard me, Bria (Goss), Samarie (Walker) or anyone else so that will open up driving lanes and make us an even better offensive threat."
It's been quite a day for Kentucky football. Without a leader less than 24 hours ago, the program has been injected with a sense of excitement after Tuesday afternoon's news that Mark Stoops has been named head coach.
I'm sure you have been frantically reading anything you can find on Stoops since the news - and hopefully you already follow @UKCoachStoops on Twitter - but you can't possibly have found everything written about him already. With that in mind, here are some of the best stories about Stoops coming to Lexington.
In his two stops as a defensive coordinator at Arizona and Florida State, he's taken over teams ranked 108th and 109th in total defense, respectively. By the end of his defensive coordinator tenures in Tucson and Tallahassee, both defenses were in the top 25 in total defense, including FSU's second-ranked 2012 unit.
He has done with a base 4-3 defense very multiple in nature. Stoops is best known for zone coverage, but uses plenty of man looks too. As for pressuring the quarterback, Stoops' defenses haven't historically relied on exotic blitzes to get the job done.
"We'll attack, but an interesting point that I talk about is - and we don't worry a whole lot about stats or things - coming from the Pac-10 at Arizona, we led the conference in sacks and I wouldn't say we're an overly aggressive blitzing, out-of-control defense," Stoops said when he was introduced at Florida State. "I think we're very precise. We try to be very accurate in what we try to do and how we get it taught."
Talking specifics about philosophy is better left to Stoops at his introductory press conference on Sunday and beyond, but since he doesn't think much about statistics, I'm more than willing to pick up the slack in an effort to quantify just how much the FSU defense improved during his three-year tenure.
With his background as a defensive back and secondary coach, Stoops is identified first for the way his teams cover the pass. Taking a look at FSU's pass defense numbers since Stoops arrived at the conclusion of the 2009 season, you can see why.
In yards allowed per game, yards allowed per pass and passing touchdowns allowed, the Seminoles have improved every season since his arrival. In 2012, FSU is fifth nationally in passing yards allowed per game and first in yards per attempt.
Passing defense may be his calling card, but the Seminoles have shown even more improvement since 2009.
Statistically speaking, comparing FSU's defense in 2009 vs. what it's become in 2011 and 2012, you wouldn't even know you were looking at the same team. The Seminoles have allowed half as many yards per game, yards per carry and touchdowns each of the past two seasons compared to 2009. In 2012, FSU is fourth nationally in total rushing defense.
Based on the way FSU has defended the run and the pass - and the fact that I've already mentioned it - you don't need to be told the Seminoles showed incredible improvement overall on defense. Here's exactly how much better they've gotten.
Pretty incredible stuff really. In all five categories about, FSU has improved every season since Stoops arrived, save for points, where the 'Noles have stayed at 15.1 points per game each of the past two years. As for national rankings, FSU is seventh in scoring defense, second in total defense, first in yards allowed per play, second in first downs allowed per game and second in third down defense.
If UK's defensive trajectory under Stoops looks anything like Florida State's, it could be a fun ride.
Mitch Barnhart got his man on Tuesday afternoon, as he named Mark Stoops Kentucky football's newest head coach.
"New beginnings always provide a sense of excitement," Barnhart said in a release announcing the news. "That's why today I'm excited for Mark Stoops and his family as they provide a new beginning for our football program, fans and players. I also want to thank FSU coach Jimbo Fisher for his help in the hiring process.
"Mark's passion has been evident in the way he coaches and in his love for the game of football. That passion carried over into our process and his desire to wear the Blue and White. Our desire to get better defensively and continue to expand our recruiting base helped guide us to Mark. He comes from a coaching family and has been in big games and big atmospheres throughout his career. That has prepared him for this opportunity to become head coach at Kentucky. We welcome Mark, Chantel, Will and Zack to the Big Blue Nation."
He is known as one of the brightest defensive minds in football and is a member of one of the best known coaching families in the game. As happy as fans are to welcome their coach, Stoops is even more excited to be the Big Blue Nation's newest member.
"I am thrilled to be named the head football coach at the University of Kentucky," Stoops said. "My family and I are excited and looking forward to becoming a part of the Big Blue Nation.
"I want to thank President (Eli) Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart for this opportunity. I promise the faithful of the Big Blue Nation I will be focused and driven to create a positive, winning atmosphere for the program and an environment that all of Kentucky can be proud of."
Stoops, though, will have to wait a few days to set foot in the Bluegrass. He is currently the defensive coordinator for No. 13 Florida State and the Seminoles are playing in the ACC Championship game on Saturday against Georgia Tech. As such, his introductory press conference won't be held until later.
However, Cat Scratches will be doing its best to help you learn everything you can about Stoops as a person and a football coach, beginning with this post detailing his background:
Stoops was born on July 9, 1967 in Youngstown, Ohio as the son of Ron and Evelyn Stoops. His father was the defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney High School in Stoops' hometown, where he began his football career. Interestingly, Mark Stoops went to high school and played with both Bo and Carl Pelini. Bo is the head coach at Nebraska and Carl is his defensive coordinator.
He is one of six children and the youngest of four brothers who all coach football at the collegiate level. Bob is the head coach at Oklahoma, where he won a national championship in 2000. Mike is the defensive coordinator for the Sooners and the former head coach at Arizona, where Mark served as his defensive coordinator. The oldest of the Stoops brothers - Ron, Jr. - is an assistant at Youngstown State.
After high school, Stoops followed his brothers to Iowa, where he played for Hall of Famer Hayden Fry as a defensive back. He would then go on to a coaching career detailed below.
Stoops is married to his wife Chantel and has two sons, Will and Zack.
Stoops has been around football his entire life, but his first experience on the coaching side of things came as a graduate assistant at his alma mater. He served two years under Fry, reaching a pair of bowl games including the 1990 Rose Bowl as Big Ten champion. He would then follow in his father's footsteps, spending four years as an assistant coach and athletics director at Nordonia Hills High School in Ohio before returning to the college ranks.
For the last 17 seasons, Stoops has been a defensive backs coach or defensive coordinator at the collegiate level, where he has been associated with numerous impressive building or rebuilding jobs. The first was at South Florida, where Jim Leavitt hired Stoops to be his defensive backs coach at South Florida in 1996 as the program prepared for its first varsity game the following year.
Stoops would then head west to Wyoming, where he was defensive backs coach from 1997-99. The Cowboys had a winning record each season. There, Stoops coached safety Brian Lee during his senior season when Lee led the NCAA in interceptions and becoming Wyoming's only First Team All American. In 1997, Wyoming ranked No. 6 nationally in pass defense.
He then spent a year as co-defensive coordinator at Houston before taking a job at Miami as defensive backs coach. The next three seasons, he coached in BCS bowls and two national championship games, winning a title in the 2001-02 season. Each year, his secondary was one of the strengths of the team. The Hurricanes led the nation in pass defense both 2002 and 2003 and pass efficiency defense in 2001.
In 2004, his brother Mike was named head coach at Arizona and Mark followed him as defensive coordinator to help turn around a program that had gone 4-18 the previous two seasons. Progress was slow as the Wildcats went 3-8 his first two seasons before winning 11 combined games in 2006-07. In 2008, Arizona reached a bowl game for the first time in a decade, going 8-5 and reaching the Las Vegas Bowl. A trip to the Holiday Bowl another 8-5 record awaited in 2009. That season, which would be his last at Arizona, the Wildcats ranked 25th nationally in total defense.
Before the 2010 season, Stoops was tasked with a different sort of rebuilding job at Florida State as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. The Seminoles gave up 30.0 points per game and 434.6 yards per game in 2009. Within one season, Florida State cut those per-game averages to 19.6 and 353.7. Under Stoops, the improvement would only continue the next two years, culminating in 2012. This season, the Seminoles are second nationally in total defense, yielding just 249.4 yards per game. Astoundingly, FSU has allowed just 3.8 yards per play and 13.9 first downs per game and opponents have converted just 27.3 percent of their third downs, second lowest in the nation.
With his background as a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, Stoops has a well-established reputation for zone defenses that excel in defending the pass and forcing turnovers. For a little more, here is Stoops' answer from his introductory press conference at Florida State when he was asked about his coaching philosophy.
"We're going to base out of a 4-3, 4-3 personnel. We'll be very multiple. I think the biggest change that you'll see is there will be a difference in some zone coverages. We'll be more multiple in the back end and we'll play some man and some zone. But we'll mix it up and just be much more multiple as far as our zone coverages are concerned. We'll attack, but an interesting point that I talk about is - and we don't worry a whole lot about stats or things - coming from the Pac-10 at Arizona, we led the conference in sacks and I wouldn't say we're an overly aggressive blitzing, out-of-control defense. I think we're very precise. We try to be very accurate in what we try to do and how we get it taught. But I think we get sacks and things like that from covering people and making the quarterback eat it a little bit as opposed to all-out blitzing and getting some pressure that way. So we want to cover people and be very sound and very precise in our run fits and we want to take our shots and get after the quarterback when we can and obviously we want to be very multiple in our coverages."
As for Stoops' offensive philosophy, it's not worthwhile to speculate until he announces his coaching staff.
During his coaching career, Stoops has coached some remarkably talented players. Counting defensive backs at Miami and all defenders at Florida State and Arizona, Stoops has coached the following 20 players who went on to be drafted. Florida State (defensive coordinator, 2010-12)
Arizona (defensive coordinator, 2004-09)
Miami (defensive backs coach, 2001-03)
During the season, Florida State assistant coaches are not made available to the media. Because of that, there has been less written about Stoops than there otherwise would be, but here are a few links to satisfy your curiosity. Over the coming days, there are sure to be many more stories to pass along.
Between 1960 and 1981, Kentucky and Notre Dame staged an annual New Year's Eve week matchup at Freedom Hall. To this day, many Big Blue fans fondly recall those games.
It wasn't surprising that coach Digger Phelps pulled the plug on that series, given the less-than-neutral setting. And with the annual rivalries UK has with Louisville and North Carolina (and hopefully Indiana again at some point), it's understandable why UK and ND don't play regularly. But as we prepare for the 61st all-time meeting between the Wildcats and the Fighting Irish on Thursday night in South Bend, it's a good time to reflect on the 10 most memorable games between them in my humble opinion.
1990: Notre Dame was looking for its third straight win over UK, something that had not happened since the early 1940s. In the final edition of the Big Four Classic, Kentucky put six players in double figures as Rick Pitino's second team rallied from two points down at halftime to win 98-90 at the Hooiser Dome. Richie Farmer's 19 points, including four 3s, led the way, offsetting the 21-point performance of ND's LaPhonso Ellis.
2003: For the first time in 11 meetings since 1988, Kentucky and Notre Dame entered this matchup at Rupp Arena with both of them ranked in the national polls. And the 16th-ranked Cats handily defeated the 10th-ranked Irish 88-73. Marquis Estill's 18 points paced four UK players in double figures, to counter the 29-point day for ND's Matt Carroll.
2010: Freedom Hall was the setting for this matchup for the first time since '88 and 17th-ranked UK handled the 23rd-ranked Irish with ease, 72-58, in the SEC-Big East Invitational. Terrence Jones poured in 27 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to help UK pull away from a 40-40 halftime tie.
1968: For the first time since 1958, both teams came into the game ranked in the nation's top 10 and the Cats won a shootout, 110-90. Dan Issel's 31 point, 14-round performance paced UK and Phil Argento added 27.
1981: A year after Notre Dame had upset the second-ranked Cats, coach Phelps drew the ire of the UK fans and coaches by holding the ball, to give his unranked Irish a chance to upset the number two Wildcats. Kentucky led 18-12 at halftime and the game went to overtime tied at 23. Kentucky finally pulled it out in overtime, 34-28, with Melvin Turpin being the only Wildcat in double figures with 11 points. ND's John Paxson led all scorers with 12.
1977: Kentucky's top-ranked team put its perfect record on the line against a fourth-ranked Notre Dame squad that would eventually join the Cats at the Final Four in St. Louis come March.The '78 champs were one of the best shooting teams ever at UK but they struggled with 42-percent field-goal shooting this night. Still, led by the 18 points apiece from Jack Givens and Kyle Macy, Kentucky prevailed, 73-68, thanks to 25-of-28 shooting at the free throw line.
1969: Until Jodie Meeks' 46 point-day against Appalachian State in 2008, the record for most points by a Wildcat in a game at Freedom Hall came out of this 1969 matchup. Mike Pratt made 16 of 26 from the field and was 10-10 at the line en route to a career-best 42 points. Issel added 35 in the 102-100 UK win. Austin Carr had 43 in a losing effort for the Irish.
1976: Some will tell you that Joe Hall's '77 team was as good as the one that would win the national title the next season and those Cats flashed that kind of quality in a 102-78 rout of the second-ranked Irish. Givens poured in 30 points on 15 of 19 shooting as UK raced to a 53-32 halftime lead and never looked back. This game came on the eve of Kentucky's first bowl game in 25 years and thousands of Cat fans gathered in a hotel room ballroom in Atlanta to cheer their Cats to this unexpectedly lopsided victory.
1978: NBC's Al McGuire proclaimed "a star is born" as freshman Dwight Anderson almost single-handedly rallied No. 13 UK to an 81-76 win over the second-ranked Irish in a top 10 matchup at Freedom Hall. Notre Dame's 2-3 zone had stymied the Cats in the second half until Hall put Anderson at the high post and let him use his quickness to break down the defense. "The Blur" scored 17 points as UK defeated an ND team that featured several future NBA players.
1970: In the rematch of that entertaining shootout from December, Issel out-gunned Carr as Kentucky scored a 109-99 win in the NCAA Tournament. Issel hit 17-of-28 shots on the way to a 44-point, 11-rebound performance while Carr poured in 52 points in defeat.
In recent years, UK Athletics has made unprecedented strides in fielding a comprehensive athletic program. Twice in the past three years, the department has finished 29th in the final Director's Cup standings, a impressive mark, but not yet reaching the top-15 level Mitch Barnhart set as a goal as part of his 15 by 15 by 15 plan.
Historically, the fall sports season has put UK Athletics in a position of having to play catch-up in the winter and spring. Volleyball, men's soccer, women's soccer and cross country all complete the championship portions of their schedule in November or December. Each team has had its moments, but those moments have rarely coincided.
In 2012-13, it's been a different story.
UK is one of just six schools nationally to reach the NCAA Tournament in men's soccer, women's soccer and volleyball, joining Washington, UCLA, North Carolina, Marquette and Notre Dame. Moreover, UK is one of just three programs to host a first-round game in all three sports along with Washington and UCLA.
Volleyball has been a mainstay in the tournament, receiving bids in each of the last eight seasons, but the success of the two soccer teams is new. Women's soccer has now reached back-to-back NCAA Tournaments under Jon Lipsitz, including this season when the Wildcats won a game for the first time in school history. Meanwhile, Johan Cedergren's team was ahead of schedule in his first season, hosting a tournament game for the second time in school history.
The lone fall Olympic program at UK not to reach the team portion of the NCAA Championships was cross country, but individuals from both the men's and women's teams were represented in the individual portion. Cally Macumber and Chelsea Oswald each earned All-America recognition with top-40 finishes, while Luis Orta finished 114th, impressive for a runner participating in the race for the first time. All in all, the early returns in Edrick Floreal's first season leading UK track and field and cross country were very good.
Of course, the final piece of the fall puzzle is football, and UK recognizes just how important that program is to the department as a whole and, just as importantly, the Big Blue Nation. The 2012 season may not have gone as planned, but the coming weeks could lay the foundation for a bright future with a new coach set to be named soon.
Skinner had led Kentucky to eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Sunday afternoon brought forth a great surprise as the Kentucky volleyball team was selected to host the first and second Rounds of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. It was a joyous scene as the team and support staff gathered around head coach Craig Skinner's living room and kitchen to see where the Wildcats would be headed for their eighth straight NCAA Tournament.
ESPNU didn't make anyone in the Skinner household wait long as Kentucky showed up on the first bracket. It took a brief second for it to set in, but as the team realized not only was it in the in the field but they were staying home for the first two rounds, the girls let out their emotion and excitement in the form of echoing screams, cheering, dancing and hugging.
Less than 24 hours later, the good news continued to roll in with the announcement of the Southeastern Conference's weekly and seasonal awards with a great deal of blue in the mix.
"It feels good to be hosting the tournament," said Skinner. "It feels good we were recognized for playing a challenging schedule and earning enough respect to be seeded and be hosting. Any individual award, as long as I've been around the program, has been a reflection of the team's success."
Senior libero Stephanie Klefot, for the third straight season, was named SEC Libero of the Year and to the All-SEC Second Team. Junior right side hitter Whitney Billings was named to the All-SEC First Team. And freshman middle blocker Sara Schwarzwalder earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors.
Shortly thereafter, the weekly awards were announced, and yet again Stephanie Klefot was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. It is her fifth such honor of her career and the first for her this season.
It's been an impressive run for Klefot, who will leave Kentucky as the program's second-leading digger. Her 1,885 digs have her currently ranked fourth in SEC history.
But Klefot made history Monday morning when she was named SEC Libero of the Year, becoming the first player in conference history to ever win the award three straight seasons. That's an impressive personal achievement, but it's also a credit to the Kentucky volleyball program.
"We've always emphasized defense in this program," said Skinner. "She's spearheaded our defense over the last few years and made a huge impression on the teams we play. Teams specifically game plan not to serve to her and not to attack to her. I think she has earned that respect along with our team and how we play defense and we're very proud of that honor."
Though the awards and the honor of hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are great accomplishments for Skinner's players and his program, Skinner was one of the few who weren't surprised by any of it.
In fact, Skinner felt there was a good chance based on the fact that they simply deserved it.
"We felt like there was a chance to host," said Skinner. "I think the reason why the committee selected us to host was because the number of opponents we played that are in the top 50 in the RPI and then also the number of teams we beat within the top 25 of the RPI gave us the opportunity to host over some of the other teams."
Skinner has built something at Kentucky that is becoming a program that doesn't just stumble into accomplishments. They don't get lucky. Kentucky is earning everything that the Cats get. They are earning more than just awards, but also respect on the national volleyball landscape over the eight seasons that Skinner has been at the helm.
"Of course it's a sign of respect of what we've accomplished as a team this year," said Skinner. "The combination of those things, the teams coming in here will recognize it's a great venue, it's a great event, and obviously in conjunction with the NCAA Tournament, it's a heck of an experience for a student-athlete."
Skinner hopes that experience for his team will be a long one as the Cats take their journey in the NCAA Tournament, but that journey can't start unless they focus on the task at hand this Friday against their first-round opponent in East Tennessee State.
"I can't wait. There's three seasons within each program," said Skinner. "The preseason, the conference season and the postseason. We're fortunate enough to continue to play in the postseason and have a chance to represent Kentucky the right way. We can't wait for first serve on Friday night."
Football - The Kentucky football team dropped its final game of the 2012 season on Saturday, falling 37-17 to border state rival Tennessee in Knoxville. - Junior tailback Jonathan George led the team in rushing with 59 yards on eight carries, including a career-long 45-yard touchdown rush. George also had three receptions for 54 yards, while senior La'Rod King led the team in receiving with 10 receptions for 78 yards. Sophomore fullback D.J. Warren had his first career touchdown reception in the game. - Defensively, sophomore linebacker Alvin "Bud" Dupree led the team with 10 tackles, including three tackles for loss and a sack. Junior linebacker Avery Williamson had seven tackles and a pass breakup in the game. Freshman defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin made his first career start in the game, blocking a PAT and recording two quarterback hurries.
Men's basketball - The Kentucky men's basketball team charted a pair of victories over instate foe Morehead State and LIU Brooklyn this week at home in Rupp Arena to extend the nation's longest home winning streak to 55 games. - The freshman trio of Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel led the way for the Cats. Goodwin had a career-high 28 points against Morehead State and then nearly had the second triple-double in school history against LIU with a team-high 22 points, and career-highs of nine points and nine rebounds. - Poythress had two 20-point efforts to run his consecutive 20-point outings to four to become the first UK freshman to achieve the feat since Dwight Anderson in the 1978-79 season. - Noel averaged 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, dished out nine assists, and had 11 blocks in two victories for the Wildcats.
Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team concluded the regular season with a pair of sweeps on the road at Missouri and Auburn this week. - Senior Whitney Billings led the way with more than four kills per set including notching her 16th double-double of the season with 12 kills and 12 digs at Auburn. Senior Stephanie Klefot had 28 digs and added nine assists in the two wins, while freshman Kayla Tronick had six or more kills in both wins. - Kentucky finishes the season with 20 victories and has logged 20 or more wins in five of the last six seasons under Craig Skinner. - UK has advanced to the NCAA Tournament for an unprecedented eighth-consecutive season making Skinner the only coach in school history to lead his team to the field of 64 in each of his seasons at the helm. - UK is hosting the first and second round games of the NCAA Tournament at Memorial Colieseum on Friday and Saturday. Women's basketball - No. 9/8 Kentucky improved to 4-1 with commanding wins over Morehead State and USC Upstate last week. The Wildcats defeated the Eagles on Friday 73-37 and took a 100-34 win over the Spartans on Sunday. - UK has extended its home winning streak to 24, the third-longest winning streak in school history, and its winning streak over nonconference opponents at home improved to 34. - Four players scored in double figures vs. Morehead led by junior Samarie Walker, who was named the MVP of the second annual "Terry Hall Memorial Classic" after posting her fourth career double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. - Senior All-America candidate A'dia Mathies followed with 11 points, while sophomores Azia Bishop and Bria Goss added 10 points each. Bishop and junior DeNesha Stallworth grabbed 10 rebounds apiece as UK outrebounded the Eagles 63-21. The 63 rebounds were just three shy of the school record. - Against USC Upstate, Mathies led all scorers in the 100-34 rout of the Spartans by scoring a game-high 17 points. She climbed to No. 7 on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,508 career points and is No. 6 on the steals list with 264. Walker again had an impressive outing as she posted 13 points, four blocks, three steals, three rebounds and two assists in just 23 minutes of action. - All 13 players scored at least two points as UK improved to 37-0 when scoring 100 points or more.
The Kentucky volleyball team celebrates making the program's eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance. (Alyx Ayer, UK Athletics)
Selection Sunday is always one of the more exciting days in collegiate sports that have national championship tournaments. It's also stressful. In most cases, teams don't know where they will be heading, and sometimes they aren't even sure whether they will get invited to participate.
With a strong RPI heading into the final weekend of the regular season and picking up two wins on the road this week, Kentucky liked its chances of being selected to its eighth straight NCAA Tournament.
What the Wildcats weren't prepared for was their First and Second Round destination.
In a thrilling turn of events, based on the screams of the girls on the team upon learning the news, the Wildcats not only were selected to the field of 64, but they also earned the No. 16 seed and were chosen to host the first and second rounds of the 2012 NCAA Tournament in Memorial Coliseum.
"I think we were shocked because no one was expecting to host this year, and relieved at the same time," said senior libero Stephanie Klefot. "It's great to play at home and have your crowd and support from them. I think we're ready."
Last season, Kentucky received an overwhelming amount of support from their fan base as its hosted a regional for the first time during head coach Craig Skinner's tenure. Memorial Coliseum was transformed into a volleyball haven for some of the best talent in the country as UK advanced through the first two rounds to face No. 1 seed Texas in the Sweet 16.
Though the Wildcats fell short of upsetting the tournament's top seed, it was a major step for the program advancing to their second Sweet 16 in three seasons.
"That was a big game for us," said junior right side hitter Whitney Billings. "Texas was pretty good and we played well against them. So we're going to remember what we did against Texas for this year."
This season, as Kentucky becomes one of 14 programs nationally to be selected to the NCAA Tournament eight seasons in a row, UK has its sights set on a similar run. Only this year, they are looking to break through to the round of eight and beyond.
"We were so close (to beating Texas) and we want to make it past the Sweet 16 and that's our goal," Klefot said.
Last year, the Wildcats never faced that type of competition before getting into the NCAA Tournament. This season, Skinner made sure that his team would have those types of experiences so that if that were in a similar situation again, they would have that experience to lean on in addition to last season's match against the Longhorns.
Kentucky had one of the toughest non-conference slates in the country this season, facing then No. 1 Nebraska, eventual No. 1 Oregon, and Louisville (ranked No. 4 in the final RPI). They Cats found themselves in almost every situation imaginable. After scheduling tough and having a successful run in the Southeastern Conference, UK worked itself up to No. 19 in the final RPI. That's likely the reason Kentucky will be staying at home this weekend to face East Tennessee State on Friday in its home gym.
"We felt like our schedule would prepare us for anything," said Skinner. "There's not a situation we haven't been in this year, and there's no question our schedule gave us those opportunities. We scheduled the right way.
"It was definitely a challenge for us, but I think ultimately we want to be prepared heading into this tournament and I think we've done that."
This weekend will mark the second straight year Kentucky as hosted a portion of the NCAA Tournament and fourth in the last five. The manner in which Skinner has built this program and the volleyball culture in the state of Kentucky is likely a contributing factor to why they are chosen to host with such regularity. After a strong showing of support from the fan base last season during the regional, UK will not only host the first and second rounds this season, but will once again have the privilege of hosting another regional in 2013.
Skinner and his team, however, are only worried about this year, specifically Friday night and first-round opponent East Tennessee State. And he's happy that his team fought to earn the respect to once again host three more matches of the NCAA Tournament.
But even Skinner was excited and surprised by the opportunity.
"Literally every year I've been coaching you never really know exactly what you're going to get and this is no exception," said Skinner. "Of course our team is excited and we're looking forward to playing Friday night. We're certainly glad we earned enough respect to get seeded and have the opportunity to host."
With Eastern Tennessee State up first the Wildcats, Notre Dame and Ohio State will play in Friday's first match of the doubleheader at 5 p.m. Kentucky and ETSU will play in the night's second match, tentatively scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Just like last year, Kentucky is hoping to draw the Big Blue Nation to Memorial Coliseum this weekend as they have the opportunity to display the game of volleyball on the greatest stage. For this team, a group that love playing on the big stage in front of a huge crowd, the homecourt advantage could go a long way into helping propel the Wildcats into another Sweet 16.
"We like playing in our gym," said Skinner. "We have great fans and a great environment for volleyball. We love the opportunity to play at home."
You would not have known it looking at the 73-37 final score, but Matthew Mitchell wasn't particularly happy with the way his team played against Morehead State.
The Wildcats shot poorly, hitting less than 40 percent from the field, but that wasn't what had him wanting more.
"The team we played Friday in Morehead State really made us play a very physical game as far as being in-tune physically for the entire possession and I just thought that after looking at our film on Friday didn't have a great effort there," Mitchell said.
Less than 48 hours later, his team turned it around in a dominant 100-34 victory over USC Upstate on Sunday in Memorial Coliseum.
"I really wanted a better effort today, and I will have to look at the film to see, but I felt like we gave a more energetic performance today," Mitchell said. "I felt like it was a lot closer to where we are trying to get."
Riding that energy, the Cats led by double digits within six minutes and only added to the margin from there. All 13 players on the roster played at least six minutes and every one of them scored. UK forced 38 turnovers and scored 52 points off Spartan miscues.
"I think we just did a great job of playing defense and going out there and hustling and giving great effort," said A'dia Mathies, who led all scorers with 17 points. "I think that's what made the game so lopsided."
UK's hot shooting didn't hurt either. The Cats shot 50 percent from the field, hit a season-high 12 3s and proved their confidence was unshaken following Friday's effort.
"We do a lot of shooting and we know we all can make shots," Mathies said. "We see it in practice every day, everybody's knocking down baskets. So coming off a game like last game, we just had a bad shooting night so we got in the gym and put up extra shots and I think it showed today that we're capable of knocking down open shots."
With all those made shots creating a big lead, the Cats even got a chance to do some experimenting on defense, spending extended time in an attacking 2-3 zone.
"We gave up a ton of open shots and we didn't look as good as I hope we will at some point in time," Mitchell said. "I thought that they hustled in it today and we had a couple of groups out there that really looked good in it. When you have long, athletic, quick players, it can be very effective if you can hustle in the zone. You don't want a zone where you are resting and standing."
During Mitchell's tenure, the Cats have established an identity based on high-pressure man-to-man defense. But with difficult opponents like Louisville and Middle Tennessee State and a West Coast road trip awaiting the team in the coming weeks, the zone could prove useful.
The Big Blue Nation got some welcome news on Sunday when head men's basketball coach John Calipari tweeted that point guard Ryan Harrow returned to practice with Kentucky after spending Thanksgiving with his family to tend to an issue:
Going twice today. Loved our 1st practice, guys went hard. Ryan went the whole way & looked good. Best part was seeing the smile on his face
Minutes later, UK issued the following statement from Harrow:
"I would like to thank my teammates, the UK coaching staff and administration along with the Big Blue Nation for their support over the last couple of weeks while I was out. I'm feeling much better and it felt really good to get back on the practice court with the guys today. Unfortunately, when I started feeling better, I had an issue to tend to with my family over the holiday break. Everything is good with that now and I'm excited about playing with my brothers again."
On Saturday afternoon, the 2012 Kentucky football season and the Joker Phillips era came to an end in Knoxville, Tenn.
A Craig McIntosh field goal on the first drive of the second half cut Tennessee's lead to 20-17, but the Volunteers scored the game's final 17 points for a 37-17 victory. The Wildcats finished the season 2-10 (0-8 Southeastern Conference, but attention immediately shifted to the search for UK's new coach.
Minutes after the season-ending loss, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart spoke with the media for the first time since making the decision to replace Phillips at season's end. Since the process is still very much ongoing he didn't discuss specifics, but Barnhart did confirm that there is interest in the position.
"It's a good job," Barnhart said. "People are excited about the opportunity to coach in our league, coach at the University of Kentucky."
This is the first time in nearly a decade that UK has conducted an outside search for a football coach. According to Barnhart, there has been a noticeable change in the perception of the job.
"People have been responsive to talking about the job," Barnhart said. "It's much different. Last time we were on probation, looking at losing 19 scholarships and there weren't a lot of folks who thought it was a really great opportunity."
Of course, Barnhart would tab Rich Brooks as head coach before the 2003 season. Brooks would go on to a successful run, starting a school-record streak of five consecutive bowl trips. Phillips was named coach-in-waiting in 2008 before taking over two years later. His tenure didn't turn out as he or Barnhart hoped, but Phillips has conducted himself with remarkable class through the final weeks of his more than two decades as a player and coach at UK. His players have followed suit.
"Joker has been as classy as classy can be," Barnhart said. "He's an amazing guy, which hasn't changed at all. It's exactly what you'd expect. You'd expect our players to conduct themselves in a certain way and he's made an absolute example of how to do that."
On his way out, Phillips has encouraged players to immediately buy into the whoever ends up succeeding him. The Wildcats were among the youngest teams in the NCAA in 2012 and Barnhart believes their development makes the future bright and the position he's looking to fill that much more attractive.
"The person who walks in will have an opportunity to inherit that young talent," Barnhart said. "There are obviously some things that we have to get better at and we all know that. That's why we're in this position. We do have some young players in this locker room who care about the program and have a chance to move it forward and we'll just continue to work through it."
As for the finding the man who will lead those players next season and beyond, Barnhart is keeping his mind open. He believes a successful coach can come from a variety of different backgrounds.
"There's no blueprint for these things," Barnhart said. "I've seen them work a lot of different ways and a lot of different places. Places that have a lot more tradition and places that have a lot less tradition. Mid-majors, big-time places. We're looking for the right fit and we'll continue to work our way through that."
Barnhart understands that the widespread interest on the part of fans stems from their passion for the university. He wants to keep the wait for the new coach as short as possible, but won't rush at the cost of compromising the process.
"I appreciate that everybody has been patient. Misinformation flies around and I get all that," Barnhart said. "I won't respond to that noise and we'll just keep working away as we always have here in the last 10 or so years. I appreciate the way you all have respected our team and our coaches and we hope to get to this sooner rather than later."
Archie Goodwin had 22 points, nine assists and nine rebounds in UK's 101-75 win over LIU-Brooklyn on Friday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Last year with Anthony Davis and this season with Nerlens Noel, it's become a rarity for 40 minutes of a Kentucky game to go by without mention of a potential triple-double.
Fans and media scour box scores every game, keeping close watch on whether a player will collect the right combination of statistics to do something that hasn't been done in almost 24 years in a UK uniform. Per usual, it was Noel triggering the speculation with his 12 points, four rebounds, four blocks and three rebounds at halftime on Friday night.
As the minutes passed and achieving the feat became more and more unlikely for Noel, Archie Goodwin came out of nowhere. With more than four minutes left, Goodwin had 20 points, eight assists and eight rebounds and he know about it. In hindsight, he wishes he didn't.
"I wish they wouldn't have told me because then I started thinking about it too much and I was trying to get it," Goodwin said.
His coach, however, was unaware, but definitely had a sense of humor about it after the fact.
"If I thought that, I would have thought 10 turnovers, too," John Calipari said. "So it's a quadruple double."
Goodwin would add a layup, an assist and a rebound in the final minutes, leaving his final stat line at 22 points, nine assists and nine rebounds with two steals and a block to boot as the Wildcats topped the century mark in a 104-75 victory over LIU-Brooklyn. As for the quadruple-double watch, Goodwin had only three turnovers.
"It was still a good night for me, so I can live with it," Goodwin said.
But he'd be lying if he said he didn't want it. He knows Chris Mills is the last and only Wildcat with a triple-double and joining him in the record books would have been nice.
"There's only been one person to get the triple-double," Goodwin said. "Just to be another part of history would have been a good thing but we got the win. That's all that matters."
He was certainly a big part of the Cats winning their third straight.
With Ryan Harrow still out of town tending to an issuewith his family and missing his fourth game in a row, Goodwin once again shouldered the load at point guard. Jarrod Polson was steady in his 19 minutes, but Goodwin's attacking mentality was the driving force behind UK's 64-point outburst over the game's final 24 minutes, during which time the Cats went from trailing by three to leading by as many as 31.
"I'm learning when to attack and when to probably back it off and set up the offense," Goodwin said. "It's coming a lot easier to me now than it was a few games ago."
Calipari said after Friday night's win that he expects Harrow to return to Lexington Saturday and resume practicing on Sunday.
He has made significant progress, but the transformation is still very much in progress. Anytime Goodwin begins to think otherwise, Coach Cal is there to remind him, sometimes quite loudly.
"Still there's four or five plays he made where he tried to make the hardest play he could make," Calipari said. "Those all led to turnovers...I told him at the time, 'Why would you do that? Just make an easy play. But he's learning. I'm saying that when he goes 22-9-9."
Another player with another coach might react differently to being asked to improve following a nearly historic performance, but Goodwin gets it.
"I know that he expects a lot from the point-guard position and so I understand where he's coming from," Goodwin said. "I know he's one me for the right reasons. He's not trying to do it to put me down or anything because he wants the best for all of us, so I just look at it like that and I just get better from what he says and try to listen to what he says and execute."
Even as Calipari asks his freshman guard to calm down at times, neither Goodwin nor UK can afford to have him abandon the aggressiveness that makes him what he is.
Just 48 hours after he scored 28 points and shot 17 free throws against Morehead State, Goodwin upped his two-game totals to 50 points and 24 free-throw attempts.
"He's a tough guard," LIU-Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri said. "He gets all the way to the rim to his left and to his right...He gets fouled a ton."
According to kenpom.com, Goodwin ranked in the top 30 nationally in both free-throw rate and fouls drawn per 40 minutes coming into Friday's game. That's a testament to his ability and, perhaps even more importantly, willingness to seek out contact and play through it. Through the first five games of his college career, he has attempted 46 free throws, accounting for more than a third of his team's total.
"That just came from growing up in the rough part of Little Rock," Goodwin said. "When you play street ball, there's really no fouls called. If you don't make it, you don't make it. That's really what helped me out."
It's that attitude that led Goodwin to scoring an and-one layup with 1:14 left. Even when he knew he needed just an assist and a rebound for his triple-double, he couldn't turn off his attacking switch.
"It was still a good night for me, so I can live with it," Goodwin said.
Senior guard A'dia Mathies may see an expanded role at the point guard position. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It's been four days since Matthew Mitchell's Kentucky women's basketball team took the court in a game, but they certainly have been looking to make strides in the gym during practice. The Wildcats are in the midst of a six-day layoff in between games before they take on Morehead State Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.
The No. 8 Wildcats are hoping to use this break to refine the most important position on the floor: point guard.
"We are trying to make some progress at our point guard position," said Mitchell. "That is something that needs some work, so we have been looking at some different people in practice. I'd like to see us run a little more efficiently on offense."
Turnovers have been a concern for Kentucky. Then-No. 1 Baylor handled Kentucky and forced the Cats into 22 turnovers and Kentucky is averaging 21.7 turnovers per game.
Kentucky's fast-paced offense will ultimately lead to a higher number of turnovers. The Cats fly up and down the floor as much as they can and try to score quickly.
Mitchell, however, is still looking to bring that number down significantly. And he's looking specifically at the point guard position to help stabilize the offense.
Junior Maegan Conwright has started at the point guard position for UK this season, but Mitchell is looking at all his options options. And he has a few.
Redshirt sophomore Jennifer O'Neill provides some depth at the position, but she's inexperienced in the offense and hasn't played big minutes yet this season. Freshman Janee Thompson is likely the future at the position, but she's in a similar boat as O'Neill as far as minutes and comfort in Mitchell's up-tempo scheme.
The most obvious choice to help Conwright with the ball-handling duties is likely Kentucky's best scoring option. Senior guard A'dia Mathies is averaging 15.0 points per game so far this season, but there's a chance that her role on the team may be transforming in the not so distant future.
"I think it's too soon for that, but it's a possibility," said Mitchell of Mathies seeing more time at point guard.
And if things don't improve in terms of taking care of the basketball, Mitchell's patience may wear thin if his current crop of players can't give him what he's looking for.
"Trying to get some young players in the mix there with Janee Thompson being a freshman," said Mitchell. "Jen O'Neill coming off a redshirt year, Maegan (Conwright) has not played the position full time, she's played in spurts here. Just trying to have some patience but at some point you can't have an infinite supply of patience, so A'dia is always a real good option for us."
Part of Mitchell's concern has to do with a greater focus this season on UK's offensive attack. In seasons past, Mitchell has harped on UK's defense almost exclusively early in the season. The Cats did that last season, and it worked out pretty well as they came away with the SEC championship.
However, Kentucky isn't just trying to win conference championships anymore. The Cats have their sights set on a much larger trophy and finally breaking through to the Final Four after multiple trips to the Elite Eight. Mitchell thinks it's been their lack of offense late in the season that has kept them from reaching those goals. With several players still in the fold from those teams of the past, Mitchell feels his veterans can pick up the slack on defense while he puts his energy into improving the offensive side of the ball.
"We have a veteran team in a lot of areas that I think is familiar with what we like to do defensively," said Mitchell. "We've just noticed it when we won the SEC championship last year, and that was a great accomplishment for us, we've been in some big games late in the season where our offense has been not what we wanted."
With that in mind, the offense-first philosophy this season has definitely taken some getting used to. That may be why they haven't quite seen the returns on their offensive product that they hope to have later in the season. It's just going to take some time.
"This preseason I would say that we definitely have tried to emphasize our offense," said Mitchell. "Like I said, it's a work in progress and one of these games pretty soon you are going to see us reap some of the benefits of all of the hard work."
While UK's emphasis has been on offense more so than in the past, the focus hasn't been on a particular offense that Mitchell is trying to install. Rather, they are looking to help their players become better play makers within the flow of their up-and-down offense.
"We have placed a greater emphasis on trying to help the players make more plays instead of teaching them how to run a certain play," said Mitchell.
After the team spends Thanksgiving with an early-morning practice followed by a team meal, the team will have a chance to get some rest in the afternoon before they hit the floor for this first time since last Saturday. There, Mitchell will get to see just how far his team has come in those six days of work.
"It's been a real good week for us preparation-wise," said Mitchell. "We needed to take some steps forward and I think that we have. The game against Morehead State will be very interesting to see how much progress we have made."
Archie Goodwin hit 12-of-17 free throws en route to a career-high 28 points against Morehead State on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Not able to travel home for the holiday and not wanting to risk their health, the Kentucky Wildcats likely won't be participating in any backyard football games after a Thanksgiving meal at John Calipari's house.
Instead, they played the closest thing to football you're likely to see on a basketball court on Wednesday night.
Visiting Morehead State challenged Kentucky from the opening tip, playing high-pressure man-to-man defense that felt at times more like bump-and-run coverage. The young Cats' response - at least initially - was not good.
"We started the game shooting all jump shots, because it was the easiest thing to do," Calipari said. "You gotta give Morehead credit they just came after us, got up under us, got body to body, hand checking."
Former Wildcat Sean Woods figured his more veteran team - rated 21st nationally in experience by kenpom.com - would be able to throw UK off its game with the approach. He was proven right.
"They came out with a lot more intensity that we anticipated they were going to come out with and that was the reason we played the way we did," freshman guard Archie Goodwin said.
After Kentucky took an early 6-0 lead, Morehead State surged, scoring 16 points in a row. After trading baskets, the Eagles eventually took a 23-12 lead on a Milton Chavis 3-point, prompting Calipari to call a timeout. He had seen his team settle for one too many fade-away jumpers.
"You're either a man or you're sitting down, because they're coming after your face, so go at the rim or sit," Calipari said.
His other message was to get the ball to the two players he knew would be unafraid and able to heed his demands: Goodwin and Alex Poythress.
"We said, 'We're posting Alex and we're posting Archie,' " Calipari said. " 'The rest of you dudes get out of the way.' "
Goodwin and Poythress would combine to score all but four points in a 16-4 UK run that turned an 11-point deficit into a one-point lead, and it wasn't just during that 4:10 stretch that the two freshmen dominated. Goodwin had a career-high 28 points to go with six rebounds while Poythress had 20 points and eight boards as the Cats came away with an 81-70 victory.
"They were punching us in the mouth and we were trying to punch them in the mouth," Poythress said. "All in all we won the game so that's all that matters. Not literally (punching), but yeah."
It never came to blows, but that was about the only physical contact that didn't take place in Rupp Arena. Morehead State committed 32 fouls leading to 41 free throws - UK would make 31 of them. Two players - Devon Atkinson and Kahlil Owens - fouled out as Goodwin and Poythress tirelessly attacked the rim.
"It was a very physical game," Goodwin said. "Probably the most physical game we've had. They did a lot of fouling as you can see. I shot 17 free throws, so a lot of fouling went on. It was just something that we needed. It was a good test for us and we passed it."
The fact that Goodwin passed a physical test should come as no surprised. Even before he scored 12 of his points from the foul line on Wednesday night, he had shown himself willing to not only absorb contact, but seek it out. He had attempted 22 free throws entering the Morehead State game and is now averaging 9.8 free-throw attempts per game. At his current rate, he would need just 29 games to eclipse Kenny Walker's single-season school record of 284 free throws attempted.
"I'm not afraid of contact at all," Goodwin said. "Drawing contact is a big part of my game so I can get to the foul line a lot or maybe get and-ones. That's something that, being an attacker, you have to want. You have to want contact."
Outside of Poythress, adopting that mentality is a work in progress for this team.
Early in UK's national championship season - particularly after Old Dominion hung tough with the Cats in a hard-fought game - the book on the Cats was to body them up and not let them overwhelm you with talent and athleticism. If Morehead State's game plan is any indication, history is about to repeat itself.
"How did people play us last year?" Calipari said. "They played us exactly the same way. Now what I see is that's how everybody is going to play us. You've got to mush and hope it's a day that they're not getting low and they're not getting through bumps and we bail out on shots."
For that reason, the challenge the Eagles presented on this night is exactly what Calipari wanted for his team.
"You have to understand, I'm learning about my team and they've got to be thrown in situations like this," Calipari said. "We need another team to play a zone the whole game. We need another team to do what this team does, foul you and get up into and grab you."
At this point in the season, Coach Cal will take a win by 11 - or on this night, a touchdown, a two-point conversion and a field goal - over a blowout.
"It's good for us," Calipari said. "It's what this team needs. There are games you may be up 25, but what do you learn other than okay we got stats and nice stats and all? This is how you learn. Let a team come in and bang you around and do their thing."
Avery Williamson, the SEC's leading tackler, will return to his home state to face Tennessee on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
On Nov. 26, 2011, the streak ended. For the first time in more than quarter century, Kentucky defeated Tennessee.
Having spent more than two decades as a player and coach at Tennessee, Randy Sanders has an idea what the last year has been like in Knoxville, Tenn. Based on that knowledge, UK's offensive coordinator has a pretty good idea the Volunteers will be highly motivated when the two teams match up for the first time since Matt Roark led the Wildcats to an improbable victory.
"I'm sure they've heard a lot about it from the time when that game ended all the way up to game time Saturday," Sanders said. "I'm sure we'll get their best effort. I have no question they'll be focused and ready to play."
That's not to say, however, that the Cats won't be just as ready come Saturday at 12:21 p.m. ET in Neyland Stadium.
Heading into the season's final game, motivation isn't the only thing these two teams have in common.
Both have been eliminated from bowl contention. Both have had their head coaches' dismissal announced in the last three weeks. Both teams will see Saturday's game as one last chance to play a game before offseasons of transition.
"I'm sure they'll be as hungry as we are and hungry to get a win to get us back for last year," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "We beat them in our house so it's going to be a big rival game. They got nothing to lose, we got nothing to lose so it's going to be a big battle."
Williamson is a native of Milan, Tenn., and is looking forward to having numerous family members in attendance. He believes they are in for a slightly more intense game than the ones they'll play in the backyard on Thanksgiving just two days before.
"It's going to be nasty," Williamson said.
Williamson and the UK defense are in for one of their sterner tests of the season.
Tennessee trails only Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference's total offense rankings, rolling up nearly 480 yards of total offense per game. Junior quarterback Tyler Bray leads the conference in passing yardage throwing to three receivers that rank among the SEC's top 15 in yards per game: Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Mychal Rivera.
"They have playmakers in the right places," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "Quarterback has played great most of the year. The receivers are big time guys, they set the tone for this team."
"We beat those guys with an immature sophomore last year; that's what he was," head coach Joker Phillips said. "He was an immature sophomore that has grown up."
Bray and the Volunteers are coming off one of their worst performances of the season - a 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt - and will be looking to return to form in the season's final game. UK's defense, meanwhile, just played its best game of the season in holding Samford to three points, but the secondary remains inexperienced.
"We've shown people all kinds of reasons why there will be a lot of things there," Minter said. "Last game our guys played hard, played extremely well. Hopefully our guys gain some confidence down to the 12th game."
The Cats are also hoping the confidence they built last week will translate on offense against a Tennessee defense that ranks last in the SEC in points allowed. Big plays have been an issue for the Volunteer defense and UK knows it could be in for a long day if it doesn't take advantage of opportunities to hit some of those.
"My biggest fear is not capitalizing if they make mistakes," Sanders said. "If they don't make mistakes, they're a pretty solid defense. When they do make mistakes, you have to be able to capitalize on it. That obviously hasn't been our strength this year."
Freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will once again split time at quarterback, as the Cats are expected to employ a more traditional approach than the one they used to beat the Volunteers last year. However, trickery should not be ruled out.
Last week against Samford, for example, UK ran a play for left tackle Darrian Miller that resulted in a four-yard gain. On different plays, right guard Larry Warford lined up twice in the backfield to serve as a lead blocker. Also, Morgan Newton's role as a hybrid back expanded in his last home game. In his last game, things could get even crazier.
"There are a lot of possibilities there," Sanders said. "I can't get into too much detail. If we don't run them, I'll tell you about them after the game. He's a guy that is pretty versatile in what he can do."
Last year, Sanders and Phillips had to muster every ounce of creativity they could just to devise a game plan that gave the Cats a chance to end the streak. This year, they are breaking out unseen pages of the playbook looking for an edge as they look to start a streak of UK's own.
"Two in a row would be a great way to leave," Sanders said. "Sure would."
Through three games of the 2012-13 season, Archie Goodwin and the Wildcats have committed just 11.7 turnovers per game. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has crafted Kentucky's non-conference schedule with an eye on preparing his young team for almost every conceivable style of play.
Through three games, the Wildcats have faced Maryland's bruising frontcourt. They've taken on a perimeter-oriented Duke team. They've seen a Lafayette team that tried multiple zone defenses.
In the season opener, the Terrapins threw some full-court pressure at the Cats, but that was nothing more than a teaser of what is to come against Morehead State. There is no mystery about what the visiting Eagles are going to try to do and Coach Cal has done his best to get his team ready for it.
"Ever since the Maryland game we've been working on press attack, but each day we work on it a lot more, a lot more," UK guard Julius Mays said. "And then leading up to this game, we know they like to press and get after it. That's their style of play so we spent a lot of time on it the last few days."
So, how does Calipari feel about his team's ability to cope with the press barely 24 hours before the matchup?
"We're not prepared," Calipari said. "We don't scramble and if the game is allowed to be physical they'll turn us over a bunch. But it's what we need."
The way the Eagles (3-1) have been getting after it defensively, they'll be happy to hear of UK's in-progress press attack when the Wildcats (2-1) hosts them on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Rupp Arena. Morehead State is forcing an average of 22.0 turnovers per game, a number that has climbed after each of the Eagles' four outing this season.
"We need to be pressed and played physical and let's see what we're about, if we'll be strong with the ball, if we're going to come to jump stops, if we'll come back and meet passes, if we'll make the extra pass," Calipari said. "We'll find out. This is all learning."
In their first season with new head coach Sean Woods, the Eagles are doing plenty of learning too.
Under the former Kentucky Wildcat's guidance, Mississippi Valley State forced turnovers on at least one of every five defensive possessions. Woods built the Delta Devils from a seven-win Southwestern Conference also-ran in 2008-09 to a 21-win NCAA Tournament team in 2011-12.
His turnaround job at MVSU helped earn him the chance to replace Donnie Tyndall at Morehead State this offseason. With more resources at his disposal and a richer hoops history to sell, Woods hasn't changed his philosophy.
Taking over a team accustomed to a deliberate style of play, Woods has ratcheted up both the pressure and the tempo. Not only is Morehead 12th nationally in defensive turnover percentage according to kenpom.com, the Eagles are racing up and down the floor to the tune of 74.8 possessions per game. That total is up more than 13 possessions from Morehead's average last season and would have ranked tied for second nationally in 2011-12.
"We could have 30 turnovers and they beat our brains in," Calipari said. "It could happen. We're a young team. We don't even know how we're going to respond to stuff."
Even with all the unknowns surrounding the matchup and of the Unforgettable's return to Rupp, another topic is dominating the conversation on the eve of UK-Morehead.
In a media teleconference on Monday, Woods made the statement that he did not like the "vibe" of the UK players he interacted with earlier this month at the "Rebounding from Sandy" telethon. Later in the day, he sent tweets clarifying his comments, saying they reflected his opinion of modern-day young people in general, not these Wildcats specifically.
Nonetheless, Coach Cal and his players faced questions on the subject. Kyle Wiltjer said he had not heard the comments, while Mays respectfully disagreed with Woods.
"My thought is they've been really humble," Mays said of his younger teammates. "They've worked for everything they got. They worked to get here and I feel like they still have chips on their shoulder to show people in the world that they can play. I don't think there's any cockiness or sense of entitlement."
Calipari feels the same way.
"I love what our kids are about and what they've done academically, what they do in the community," Calipari said. "Being here is a big deal and it's hard to deal with all the stuff that goes around. But these guys seem to do it pretty well."
Both Coach Cal and his players are ready to shift the focus back to basketball, because there's a lot of work to be done.
Perhaps no one has more work ahead of him than Ryan Harrow, who has missed each of UK's last three games due to illness. For the first time since Nov. 8, Harrow was on the floor with his team as the Cats practiced at the Joe Craft Center on Monday, though he was only working out on the side. Calipari expected Harrow to practice with the team on Tuesday, but plans for his return are up in the air.
"He's obviously the low man on the totem pole," Calipari said. "You gotta start from behind. And that isn't all bad for him either because he's going to have to battle for time. He's behind everybody which means you gotta earn it in practice."
According to Calipari, Harrow lost seven pounds during the time he missed from his already narrow frame. Fans are more likely to notice his freshly shorn hair.
"I think he's lost seven pounds because he cut the flat top," Wiltjer said.
Jokes aside, the Cats are anxious to get their point guard back on the floor, whenever that ends up happening.
"He's a very talented player and with him back it just gives us a little bit extra depth," Wiltjer said. "Hopefully he can just continue to get up to speed and get where we need him."
Harrow's ball handling would certainly be useful against Morehead State, but UK plans on getting everything it can out of facing the Eagles with or without him.
"I like my team, but this will be a great test," Calipari said. "They're all teams that are different, and that's what we need."
Nerlens Noel is averaging a team-leading 8.0 rebounds per game through the first three games of the 2012-13 season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If you had asked me two months ago which would be the biggest problem areas for John Calipari's 2012-13 team, I would have responded with rebounding and 3-point shooting, without hesitation.
Through three games, I would have been right about one of those two things.
Of course, intangible factors like experience and leadership were concerns, but I assumed those wouldn't be issues by the time March rolled around, and I still believe that. Rebounding woes, on the other hand, might be a little harder to kick.
Kentucky has the size and athleticism to be an elite rebounding team, that much is obvious, but that has not yet translated. Reflecting on last season, the Wildcats were the best and most efficient team in the nation, but they became those things without ever being dominant on the boards. According to kenpom.com, the 2011-12 national champions were 21st nationally in offensive rebounding percentage at 37.5 (very good), but just 113th in defensive rebounding percentage at 69.2 (average).
Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were far and away the best rebounders on that team, accounting for 63.2 percent of UK's rebounds. With excellent production from the players who got the bulk of the minutes at the 3, 4 and 5 spots, the Wildcat guards needed worry little about hitting the glass.
Based on early returns, it appears guards on this year's team won't have that luxury.
The top three rebounders through three games in 2012-13 (Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress) have 68 of UK's 99 rebounds, or 68.7 percent. Taken at face value, it might appear UK's starting front court is even better on the boards that last year's, but that's not the case.
First of all, UK has been outrebounded by over four per game so far this season. Noel, Wiltjer and Poythress have combined for 19.0 rebounds per game. Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones averaged 25.0 per game last season.
However, raw numbers can be misleading. With that in mind, we turn again to Ken Pomeroy and his individual rebounding rates. Breaking it up, let's look at the top five players from each of the last two Kentucky teams in terms of defensive and offensive rebounding percentages:
Defensive rebounding percentage 1. Anthony Davis (11-12) - 23.9 (45th nationally) 2. Nerlens Noel (12-13) - 19.1 (373rd nationally) 3. Terrence Jones (11-12) - 16.4 4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11-12) - 16.1 5. Kyle Wiltjer (12-13) - 14.2
Offensive rebounding percentage 1. Alex Poythress (12-13) - 15.2 (115th nationally) 2. Anthony Davis (11-12) - 11.5 (178th nationally) 3. Terrence Jones (11-12) - 10.6 (263rd nationally) 4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11-12) - 10.2 (301st nationally) 5. Nerlens Noel (12-13) - 9.6 (477th nationally)
A few observations from these statistics:
First, six of the ten spots belong to players from the 2011-12 team. In both defensive and offensive rebounding, three of the top four spots belong to players from the 2011-12 team. This simply reinforces the idea that last year's team was superior in terms of rebounding.
Next, Poythress might be the best offensive rebounder at UK since DeMarcus Cousins, whose offensive rebounding percentage was an astounding 19.6 in 2009-10. Poythress is a little different though, because almost all of his rebounds come off of his teammates' misses. Cousins much more frequently grabbed his own errant shots. The complete conversation about Poythress' offensive rebounding is one I will explore further at another time.
Finally, how can this year's team improve on the glass? I think we expect incremental gains from Noel, Poythress and Wiltjer, but not significant ones. Expecting them to match the production of last year's frontcourt is probably unrealistic.
Instead, I point to Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein. The pair has averaged a combined 7.0 rebounds per game so far this year, a number that must climb for the Cats to improve. Goodwin, in particular, has been challenged by his coach in this area. Averaging 10 rebounds a game as Coach Cal said after the win over Lafayette, is unlikely, but somewhere between between five and six is not considering his athleticism.
It's reasonable to expect the Wildcats will improve their rebounding as the season goes on. It's not reasonable, however, to expect them to be any better from 3-point range than they have been through three games.
UK entered 2012-13 trying to replace the most accurate 3-point shooter in school history (Doron Lamb) and the player who ranks 10th in school history in 3s made (Darius Miller). You figured Wiltjer would be a consistent threat from the outside, but it was uncertain who else would be.
All the Cats have done through three games (an admittedly tiny sample size) is shoot 50 percent (21 of 42) from beyond the arc, tied for second nationally. It is only the third time in Coach Cal's tenure that a UK team has shot 50 percent from 3 over a three-game stretch. The 2009-10 Cats did it twice in December of that season, including games against Indiana, Austin Peay and Drexel when they hit an astounding 24 of 39 (61.5 percent).
Here's a look at the players who have attempted 3s so far this season:
Kyle Wiltjer - 12-19 (63.2 percent) Archie Goodwin - 4-6 (66.7 percent) Julius Mays - 3-9 (33.3 percent) Alex Poythress - 1-2 (50 percent) Jarrod Polson - 1-3 (33.3 percent) Ryan Harrow - 0-2 Brian Long - 0-1
The interesting thing about UK's 3-point shooting is how infrequently the Cats are pulling up from long range. Only Wiltjer has attempted more than nine 3s so far this season and UK has attempted just 24.9 percent of its field goals from long range, which ranks 304th nationally. If the Cats keep up their current pace, 24.9 percent would be lowest percentage of 3-pointers attempted of any of Coach Cal's teams at either Kentucky or Memphis. In spite of their efficiency, the Cats are choosing to shoot 3s primarily as a way to keep the defense honest. That's especially true for Goodwin and Poythress.
Looking ahead, Wiltjer and Goodwin are not going to keep hitting at a 60-plus-percent clip from deep, but the fact that the Cats have hit so consistently from 3 is encouraging. At the very least, it plants the seed in the heads of future opponents that they must guard the line, opening up space for the Cats to do what they'd rather do anyway: attack the rim.
It was Dirty Harry who said, "A man's got to know his limitations." It was a cool line in the movie but when you're talking about a college basketball player, it's much better to have a player that doesn't know the limits of his potential. And veteran college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy sees that as a strength for UK freshman big man Nerlens Noel.
"He's not really polished in terms of finishing shots but he doesn't seem to care and that's what helps him," DeCourcy explained in an appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show on Monday. "He knows you're not as fast as he is and he's comfortable with the ball in his hands and he's going to get it up on the rim and hopes it goes in. And if he doesn't, he knows he's got a teammate that may get there before your guy does."
The book on Noel as a high school player was that he excelled at blocking shots - many said he's better at it than Anthony Davis - but that he might struggle with his offensive game. Through the five games we've seen Noel thus far, Noel is showing that may be able to bring more of an offensive game to the court than expected.
Noel's hands are soft and he catches most everything thrown his way. He's shown nifty passing skills and a willingness to share the ball as well. And he's just as comfortable going to his left hand as he is to the right. His field-goal percentage is under 50 right now, but that figures to change as he gets more comfortable in the post. And for now, DeCourcy says Noel can rely on his natural instincts.
"That confidence is what makes him dangerous. If he thought about it, he would struggle in the way that people worried that he would. (But) he just attacks and he figures you're going to have to clean up the mess," DeCourcy said.
"They (the UK coaches) did such great work over time with Anthony last year and he had so much skill and they were just bringing out different things. He was just a natural and was just learning how to apply that natural ability," DeCourcy continued. "As long as he (Noel) continues to attack, he's so big and so fast that's it really hard for defenses to keep him off the rim. That leads to fouls and he looks very comfortable at the free-throw line and he's going to get fouled a lot."
As for a judgment on the UK team as a whole, DeCourcy says he can't do that right now, because of the absence of projected starting point guard Ryan Harrow.
"You have players playing out of position right now. If you play Archie Goodwin at point guard, you have a guy at shooting guard that's probably - if you're going to be a top-level team - best at 18 minutes a game, maybe 20, in Julius Mays," DeCourcy said, adding he needs to see how good Harrow can be and how good Goodwin can be at his natural spot.
"I think the biggest problem with Archie at the point guard is that there's no Archie at the 2-guard," he added. "I saw Ryan practice with them and he looked really good. He finished plays, he made good decisions, he was very fast. I think there's a lot he can add to this team, if he plays."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 18:
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Junior Alexandra Morgan was simply a game-changer in helping lead UK to a four-set victory over Georgia on Senior Day. Morgan posted a career-high 10 blocks which easily is also the highest mark of the season for any Wildcat. She is the first UK player to tally 10 or more rejections in a match since 2010 when Lauren Rapp had 10 blocks in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament. In addition to the 10 rejections she also had a team-high three aces and contributed four digs which is the second-highest total for the junior this season behind her career-high of five. She was one kill off a double-double effort with nine hammers on a blazing .400 hitting percentage. With the 10 blocks she now pushes her season average to above one with 1.02 blocks per frame.
Men's basketball: Nerlens Noel
Freshman Nerlens Noel had a coming out party in front of a national audience against No. 9 Duke. Noel had his first-career double-figure point effort with 16 points while adding a team-high eight rebounds. He notched a game-high four steals and added three blocks to his stat line. He added career-high numbers at the line with 6-of-8 free throws. Against Lafayette, he was the spark to the Wildcats' effort with countless hustle plays that resulted in four steals and four assists in helping UK top the century mark for the first time since the opening game of the 2011-12 season. Noel added 15 points, his second-straight double-figure effort, and again led UK in rebounds with seven. The four assists and four steals were both career high tallies. His 6-of-8 performance from the field highlighted UK's .645 shooting from the field as a team which was the highest clip under fourth-year head coach John Calipari and the best clip for any UK team since 2008.
Men's basketball: Alex Poythress
Freshman Alex Poythress exploded for back-to-back 20-point efforts in helping lead UK to a 1-1 week. Poythress had 20 points and added a team-high eight rebounds in a loss to No. 9 Duke. He then topped that performance with a 9-10 night from the field for a career-high 22 points. He added his first career block and first career steal in the victory. The .900 field goal percentage led the team which turned in a .645 percentage - the highest field goal clip under John Calipari. The .900 clip was the third best individual performance in the Calipari era. He also becomes the first freshman since Brandon Knight in Feb. 2011 to have consecutive 20-point efforts.
Volleyball: Kayla Tronick
Freshman Kayla Tronick provided a spark off the bench for the Wildcats in helping UK down Georgia on Senior Day. Tronick did not play in the opening set, but came out midway through the second frame and struck for seven kills on a match-high .417 hitting clip to become one of five UK players to tally five or more kills in the victory. The kills and hitting percentage both ranked the second-best of the senior for the year first-year player, outside of her only career start against Ole Miss earlier this season. Tronick also added a block and just her second-career assist.
Football - Kentucky was impressive both on offense and defense in a win over Samford. Offensively, Kentucky posted 455 yards of total offense including 342 on the ground, while the UK defense limited Samford to 102 yards of total offense - which was the lowest output by a UK opponent since 1996. - True freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow went 10-of-13 for 66 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 59 yards and a rushing touchdown. Junior Raymond Sanders led the team in rushing with 123 yards and a TD. - Linebacker Avery Williamson paced the defense with 13 tackles, including two sacks, becoming the first player since 1990 to have four straight games with 13 or more tackles.
Men's basketball - Freshmen Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel led the effort against Duke as Poythress scored 20 points, while Noel contributed 15 points and eight rebounds. - Kentucky used sharp shooting in going over the century mark in the 101-49 victory over Lafayette. Kentucky's .645 shooting from the floor as a team was the best under fourth-year head coach John Calipari and best for any UK team since 2008. - Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer hit a career-high seven 3-pointers. Poythress charted a career-high 22 points to become the first freshman to have back-to-back 20-point efforts since Brandon Knight in February 2011.
Volleyball - Junior Alexandra Morgan shined in a 3-1 win over Georgia with nine kills on a .400 hitting percentage, but it was her defense that proved the difference. Morgan had a career-high 10 blocks to accompany three aces and four digs. The 10 rejections was easily a career high and it marks the first 10-block performance by a Wildcat since Lauren Rapp had 10 blocks in an NCAA Tournament victory back in 2010. - UK honored the senior class of Ashley Frazier, Christine Hartmann and Stephanie Klefot before the match. Frazier had nine kills, Hartmann a double-double with 45 assists and 13 digs, and Klefot a match-high 19 scoops in the victory.
Women's basketball - UK's first road trip of the season wasn't a very pleasant one as the Wildcats dropped an 85-51 decision to No. 1 Baylor in the programs' first-ever meeting. It didn't help that UK shot its lowest shooting percentage since 2008, netting just 27.1 percent from the field. Senior guard A'dia Mathies led UK with 12 points, while sophomore guard Bria Goss added 11. - UK regrouped and charted an 80-46 win over High Point on Saturday, hitting 50 percent from the field (30-of-60) and forcing 32 turnovers on season-high tying 19 steals. Mathies once again led the way, scoring all 17 of her points in the first half. Junior forward Samarie Walker pulled down a season-best 12 rebounds to go along with six points, three assists and three steals.
Women's soccer - UK fell to No. 5/6 UCLA in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Women's Soccer Championship, ending their season with a 14-6-1 mark. - It was the first time UK had ever advanced in the NCAA Tournament in 20 years of competition. - Kentucky finished the season with a 2-1-1 record against top-15 teams in the country, knocking off No. 12 Louisville, No. 13 Florida and earning a draw with No. 6 Texas A&M.
Rifle - The Kentucky rifle team shot a 4693 on Saturday but fell to top-ranked TCU. - Freshman Connor Davis tied a program best in air rifle with a 597. Senior Henri Junghänel led the team with an aggregate score of 1185, shooting a 590 in smallbore followed by a 595 in air rifle. Cross country - Cally Macumber capped a great season with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA National Championships on Saturday. She finished the 6K race in a season-best time of 19:42.20, fewer than 15 seconds behind the race winner. She is the highest NCAA finisher for the Wildcat women since Valerie McGovern was the national runner-up in 1989. Macumber became the first woman in UK history to complete a 6K race in less than 20 minutes. - Chelsea Oswald also had an impressive day as she came in 37th with a time of 20:13.00. Both Macumber and Oswald earned All-America honors, marking the first time since 1988 that multiple UK women were garnered that recognition in the same year. - Luis Orta also impressed by finishing with a time of 30:52.30 in his first NCAA Championship appearance.
Swimming and diving - Kentucky's men's and women's swimming teams earned second place finishes in the Volunteer Invitational this weekend. The Wildcats earned strong individual performances from freshman Matt Roman and junior Lucas Gerotto on the men's side, while sophomore Julia Gerotto, senior Mandy Myers and senior Megan Eppler led the way for the women. - Junior diver Greg Ferrucci had a big weekend, sweeping the 1-meter (369.95), 3-meter (410.90), and the platform (383.35) events over Tennessee and Duke.
Men's soccer - Kentucky fell to No. 19 Xavier, 1-0, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. - UK hosted just its second NCAA Tournament game in the history of the program and its first since 2003. UK's NCAA Tournament berth was also its first in nine seasons, with the Wildcats making its fifth all-time postseason appearance.
Wednesday, Nov. 21 Men's basketball hosts Morehead State - 7:00 p.m. Volleyball at Missouri - 8:00 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 23 Volleyball at Auburn - 4:00 p.m. Women's basketball hosts Morehead State - 4:00 p.m. Men's basketball hosts LIU Brooklyn - 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 24 Football at Tennessee - 12:21 p.m.
Cally Macumber and Chelsea Oswald became UK's first All-Americans in more than two decades at Saturday's NCAA Cross Country Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It was a big weekend for the Kentucky women's cross country team.
Cally Macumber and Chelsea Oswald became UK's first All-Americans since 1989 with sixth- and 37th-place finishes, respectively, in Saturday's NCAA Cross Country Championship. The finishes put an exclamation mark on a strong first season under a new coaching staff, showing that both the women's cross country and track and field programs have taken steps in the right direction.
Sean Cartell from the SEC Digital Network writes about just that in this story:
The history of the Kentucky women's cross country program is well documented. After all, the 1988 Wildcats, under the direction of former legendary head coach Don Weber, are the only women's team in the history of the Southeastern Conference to claim an NCAA Cross Country Championship.
Still, the Wildcats hadn't advanced to the NCAA Championships as a team since 2008 and were no longer part of the national conversation when it came to winning titles. Hakon DeVries joined Kentucky in advance of the 2012 season as a part of first-year head coach Edrick Floreal's new staff, charged with the goal of returning the women's distance program to prominence.
Competing in the championship portion of their schedule over the past month, the Wildcats have proven that they are back among the nation's elite.
Junior Cally Macumber and senior Chelsea Oswald led the charge for Kentucky, finishing 1-3 at the 2012 SEC Championships and then both earning All-America honors at the NCAA Championships this past Saturday at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.
"We definitely wanted to come here and really put the cross country team back on the map really loud and clear," DeVries said Saturday. "I think we did a pretty good job of that with Cally and Chelsea."
UK will close out the regular season at Tennessee on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Almost exactly a year ago, the Kentucky football team was in the midst of preparations for Tennessee, Matt Roark was just learning he would play quarterback and "the streak" was still intact.
Now, the Wildcats are looking to start a streak of their own with a second win in a row over the Volunteers.
"That would be a great accomplishment for us and the seniors, the coaches," junior tailback Raymond Sanders said. "We want to send everyone out the right way. To be able to beat those guys two years in a row would be a great accomplishment."
UK-UT is a heated game no matter the circumstances. But as Sanders suggests, emotions will be running even higher come 12:21 p.m. ET on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. On both sidelines, a group of seniors and coaches will be participating in the border rivalry for the final time.
"I'm sure they'll be as hungry as we are and hungry to get a win to get us back for last year," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "We beat them in our house so it's going to be a big rival game. They got nothing to lose; we got nothing to lose so it's going to be a big battle."
For the Cats, the season hasn't gone as planned, but winning back-to-back games over Tennessee for the first time since 1976-77 would be a sweet way to go out.
"It would mean a lot just to finish out for these seniors," Joker Phillips said. "There's a lot of history like that that we're trying to change, and this would be one of those things that would be a plus, one of the things that this class has changed if we can get it done."
For those that will return next season, it would be an excellent way to start an important offseason.
"It would mean a lot because we have a pretty young team, lots of injuries, a lot of different things that's been going wrong this season," Sanders said. "To end the season on a couple wins, get some momentum and show those guys that we can we can win and this is the way you've got to do it."
With the upcoming coaching change, uncertainty is inevitable. Taking some momentum into the coming weeks and months would make that uncertainty easier to cope with.
"We don't know what's coming next, but we want to end the season with some wins and come to work this offseason to improve and get better," Sanders said. "With those guys getting experience and a couple seniors coming back, we feel like we can guide those guys to get the right work ethic and get in the film room more and do the little things so you can be more prepared."
Cats not over thinking future
The talk is inescapable. Even for UK's players, who are mired in a routine of practice and school, it's impossible to tune out the rumors of who their next head coach will be.
There is no group more interested in Phillips replacement than the players set to return next season, which leads classmates, family and friends to ask them often for the scoop. The Cats' answer is pretty simple.
"We don't even know," junior defensive tackle Tristian Johnson said. "When people come up and ask you questions about the next coach is I want to say, 'I'm in the same boat as you.' "
The fact of the matter is that no one really knows who will next lead the program, including those who will make the decision. Players can't help but think about the search since it means so much to them, but they are doing their best to stay focused on what they know and can control.
"We don't really talk about it too much. We really just focus on the season and try to finish out strong, but there is talk," Williamson said. "You can't just not see it, stuff on Twitter and everything. There's talk about it, but we try not to make it too big of an issue right now."
Making that easier is the fact that this bunch of Cats truly enjoys being a team.
"We're just happy to be together," Johnson said. "It's crazy because everybody this year is saying it's a tight bunch of guys and really it is. For us to know it's our last week together, all of us - seniors, coaches - we're going to blow it up and stay together."
Even though he won't be with the players he helped bring to Kentucky after this season, Phillips is taking it upon himself to encourage them to stay together in 2013 and beyond.
"We've got to leave these guys with positive attitude because the show goes on, and that's what we have tried to do," Phillips said. "I heard one of the guys say, 'I don't know about being here,' and I said, 'What do you mean you don't know about being here? It's the place for you.' It is the place for them, and I expect them to stay here, stay together and get this thing turned." Phillips challenges fans to support former Cat's cancer battle
In the wake of the loss at Arkansas last month, Phillips cited a former UK player battling cancer as an example of perseverance and what the Wildcat football family is all about. He didn't name the player at the time, but on Monday he confirmed that former offensive lineman Michael Scott is facing pancreatic cancer.
During Kentucky's bye week, Phillips visited Scott at his home in Fulton, Ga. On Monday, Phillips said Scott will be given the game ball from UK's win over Samford.
"There is no bigger Wildcat than him," Phillips said.
Scott is at home under hospice care and Phillips is encouraging UK fans to pray for him and offer their financial support to his family.
"I would like to challenge a thousand Kentuckians to give $100, I understand there are those that can't, but for those that can, I would challenge them to," Phillips said. "Nobody loves this school more than Mike Scott."
The Kentucky volleyball team celebrated Senior Day on Sunday with a win over Georgia. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Emotions have been running high lately for the Wildcats as the regular season winds down. Tensions were running high after a rough weekend on the road where Kentucky suffered two losses. But with an entire week to focus on the Georgia Lady Bulldogs for Senior Day on Sunday, the Wildcats were on point as emotions peaked before, during and after the game.
"I guess it was really emotional," said senior outside hitter Ashley Frazier. "It was back and forth a lot of the time. The team that had the momentum was the team that usually ended up winning the games, especially in games one and two. It was getting all of that momentum and emotion on our side and keeping it there."
Kentucky held its traditional pregame Senior Day ceremonies on the court before action got started, and it didn't take long for the emotions to rise. But when the celebration was over and the focus turned to the actual match as UK knew they would have its hands full with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia took the Wildcats to five sets in their first meeting. It looked like the Dogs and Cats would be in another tight battle through the early part of set one.
The teams traded points early on in the first set, but it was a kill from Frazier that got things started for UK. A beautiful touch shot that found the floor gave the Cats a two-point edge and propelled them to a 12-10 lead. That lead stretched to 20-15. Then to 22-16. And then UK captured the first set 25-19 on the strength of four of sophomore Lauren O'Conner's match-high 14 kills.
Kentucky looked like it would be cruising to a Senior Day victory from there. Georgia wasn't about to let that happen so easily.
The Bulldogs answered immediately as it appeared there was a role reversal in set two. Once again, it was a seesaw battle through the nine-point mark, but Georgia began pulling away from there. The Lady Bulldogs jumped out to a 16-10 lead and it was over from there. After an emotional first win, Georgia ripped the momentum right away in set two as they took the second set, 25-18.
The Wildcats and their seniors would have to respond.
Whatever took place in the Kentucky locker room at the break worked wonders because the Wildcats looked refreshed and aggressive. Skinner changed up the strategy a bit, as well as the lineup, and the energy was apparent on the court in sets three and four.
A big part of that was the insertion of redshirt freshman Kayla Tronick. The middle blocker saw action for just her 10th match on Sunday, and she provided quite a jolt after entering the lineup in set two. She then reappeared in the starting lineup in set three and rewarded her coach and her team with seven kills and hit .417 for the match.
"She had a heck of a week in practice," said Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. "Honestly, she deserved to start the way that she had been playing. We just needed a change of what we were doing and Kayla obviously did a great job.
"She brings a lot of energy and great play for us."
Tronick picked up three of her seven kills in that third set. Meanwhile junior right side hitter Whitney Billings led UK with five kills in the set as junior middle blocker Alexandra Morgan held it down defensively with four blocks. It was a big set for the Wildcats as they finished things off in a dominant fashion, winning 25-14 and taking a 2-1 lead in the match.
"I think Georgia responded really well in the second game and we weren't ready for that," said Frazier who finished with nine kills on her Senior Day. "So when we came into the locker room in between two and three, we talked about refocusing on the game and getting back to our game because they took us out of our game in the second set."
While Kentucky was clearly more focused in sets three and four, it was a strategy change that helped the Wildcats find an edge. At the break, Skinner elected to start serving more aggressively down the sideline to help funnel the Georgia attack to his to his blockers. The aggressive serving not only helped UK earn easy points, but it also put Morgan in great situations to help her rack up a career-high 10 blocks on the day.
Morgan had a huge match. To accompany the 10 blocks, she added nine kills, four digs and three aces. Her two aces in set four were momentum stealers in the fourth set and her blocks always seemed to swing momentum
"(Morgan) did a great job," said Skinner. "Before I think she was reaching for the ball, but today she took away space, which is the most important thing. When she does that, she's tough to hit around."
Kentucky continued to rack up the kills throughout set four, as senior setter Christine Hartmann continued to find all of her attackers all afternoon. She finished with 45 assists and 13 digs to earn her eighth double-double of the season, while leading five different hitters to seven-plus kills on the day.
Hartmann and the Wildcats went on to cruise to a 25-17 victory and 3-1 win on Senior Day. It was just the way the seniors hoped they could go out in their final regular season match in Memorial Coliseum.
"It was great," said Hartmann. "Definitely coming out with a win whether it's three, four or five sets, just knowing that my team's behind me and played their hardest."
As UK (18-19, 12-6 SEC) wraps up their home schedule, they look forward to a short week of preparation before they head back on the road for their final two regular season matches of the season. The Wildcats will have a pair of matches wrapped around Thanksgiving Day as they travel to Missouri and Auburn to try and boost their NCAA Tournament resume.
Senior libero Stephanie Klefot, who fittingly led the Wildcats with 19 digs on Senior Day, knows UK has to keep a similar focus to be able to get a pair of wins this week.
"It's very important that we finish out and we have a good practice before we leave because we have practice Monday then we leave on Tuesday," said Klefot. "It's going to be a big weekend for us, and then we'll be able to prepare for the tournament after that."
Larry Warford and Matt Smith carried head coach Joker Phillips off the field following UK's Senior Night victory over Samford. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For everything that has gone wrong this season for the Kentucky football team, its seniors, its coach deserved a night when everything that went right.
Taking the field in Commonwealth Stadium for the final time on Senior Night, they got just that, plus a memory that everyone involved will carry with them forever. UK defeated Samford 34-3 on Saturday, getting the win the Wildcats had sought for so long, delivering an impressive all-around performance in the process.
"We played well," senior defensive end Taylor Wyndham said. "We executed what we were supposed to. We were playing the right defense. The offense was moving the ball, they did a really good job out there. It was exciting to get a win, especially when you play like this."
UK snapped an eight-game losing streak against the visiting Bulldogs, dominating from start to finish. Scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions, the Cats jumped out to a 14-0 lead en route to a 31-3 halftime advantage.
"We talked all week how that was going to be a huge thing just to get going fast because the longer you let teams like this hang around, the more confidence they build as the game goes on," senior center Matt Smith said. "We just knew we had to hit them early and hit them hard. I feel like we did that and from there it just took off."
Smith and his fellow offensive linemen got to live a dream in the second half, running the ball on 31 of 34 plays for 189 yards and 6.1 yards per carry. The Cats tallied just a field goal in the second half, but they didn't need any more offense with their big lead and the way the defense was playing. UK held Samford to just 102 yards of total offense, the fewest for a UK opponent since 1996.
"I thought both sides of the ball we won the line of scrimmage, which is important," head coach Joker Phillips said.
As impressive as outgaining Samford 455-102 was, Phillips and his players aren't likely to keep postgame box scores as souvenirs. Prints of the image that captures the way they left the field are a much more likely memento. No matter what is said or written about the group of 19 seniors recognized on Saturday or the Phillips era, no one will ever be able to take that moment away.
Its genesis came with about two minutes left and the outcome well in hand.
Smith and fellow senior offensive lineman Larry Warford were lifted from the lineup after the first play of UK's final drive, embracing coaches and teammates as they left the field. Because of that, they were on the sideline as the Cats ran off the final 5:06 with a bevy of bruising runs by Dyshawn Mobley. They were soaking in their surroundings when Wyndham, their famously bearded classmate, approached them with an idea to carry Phillips off the field.
"He bleeds for this program, he puts everything into it, all his time and effort and I don't think anybody really understands how much he cared for this program if you're not part of this team," Warford said. "To carry him off like that, he just deserves every bit of it."
Smith and Warford were the logical choices to undertake the task because of their size and the instrumental roles they have played in leading a young team through a trying season. Neither needed much convincing.
They knew Phillips would be another story, but they weren't taking no for an answer.
"We were going to force him to get up on our shoulders because that's what he means to us," Warford said. "He's so important in our hearts and he loves this program much. He breathes this, he bleeds it and he's a champion."
Even though he is spending his last weeks as head coach after dedicating more than two decades to building the Kentucky football program, Phillips has been steadfast in his belief that this night not be about him. Another coach might want the spotlight on him as he departs a university that has meant to much to him, but Phillips has deflected it. That's always been his nature. In the end, that was the reason his players wanted to give him his parting moment.
"That's the kind of coach you want, that's looking out for his players and wants his players to win more than he wants to win," Smith said. "He's just such a great guy and he's always been there for us."
There will surely come a time when Phillips looks back on being carried off the field and realizes what it meant to him. But right now, he doesn't even really know what he feels other than gratitude he was able to spend so much time at a place he loves.
"I'm numb to all this," Phillips said. "I'm pretty numb to all of this. I understand it. But it's a numbing feeling that you just realize it's time to go. It's time to go, and I understand that."
His weightless moment behind him, Phillips once again shifted the attention back to his players in the postgame locker room. A few seniors stepped in front of their team to explain what the win means to them, what their Kentucky careers mean to them. Bittersweet is about the best way to describe the scene.
"It was pretty sad because I won't get to step on this field again and none of these guys will get to step on this field again," Warford said. "It was pretty emotional."
The locker room scene was special, but Warford found himself thinking back to carrying his coach. Fans were smiling and cheering from the stands, but he couldn't hear anything else. After Phillips helped mold him into a man, even carrying him at times over four years, Warford was happy to finally be carrying his coach.
"I didn't hear all the cheers," Warford said. "I was just thinking about what just happened and it was my last time on the field. I had my coach on my shoulder. It was just the perfect moment for me."
The University of Kentucky was well-represented at Saturday's NCAA Cross Country Championships.
On the women's side, both Cally Macumber and Chelsea Oswald earned All-America honors. Macumber finished sixth with a time of 19:42.20 and Oswald came in 37th at 20:13.00. In the men's 10k race, Luis Orta finished 114th with a time of 30:52.30.
Stay tuned for a complete recap on UKathletics.com later. In the mean time, watch the video above featuring interviews and highlights from the race. Congratulations to all three student-athletes, Edrick Floreal and his coaching staff on a great season.
With just a few days between games, the Kentucky women's basketball team was happy not to have too long to stew over a lopsided loss at Baylor on Tuesday. On Saturday, the Wildcats got back on the floor, this time at home in Memorial Coliseum, and began to erase the bad memories with 80-46 win over High Point.
"I thought we had some really good moments in the game and made some progress in some areas," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "(There is) still a lot to work on, but after the disappointing defeat Tuesday, only having a couple days practice time to get ready for this one, I thought the team prepared well and performed well."
A'dia Mathies led the way, scoring all of her game-high 17 points in the first half. She missed all six of her shots after halftime, but stayed aggressive. More importantly, her overall game was strong.
"A'dia was so fantastic today on the defensive end and I just was absolutely thrilled with her game," Mitchell said. "I thought she had a great game. She had a huge first half scoring and in the second half I thought she played a really good game and found some people and made some good passes."
With Mathies limited offensively in the second half, UK's bench stepped up, scoring 31 of UK's 39 points after halftime. The three Wildcats not named Mathies to score in double figures - Bernisha Pinkett, Kastine Evans and Azia Bishop - each scored 12 points in a reserve role.
"The 44 points off the bench was great, but their effort was even better," Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, UK's defense forced 32 High Point turnovers, leading to 39 Wildcat points. Seven players had two steals or more and the visitors shot just 20 for 55 (36.4 percent) from the field.
The Cats, though, are still a work in progress on both ends of the floor. Defensively, consistent effort is the key, while UK is in the middle of revamping its offense this season.
With just two practices to work since the Baylor loss, Kentucky made strides on offense, but was still plagued by mistakes. UK shot 30 of 60 from the field, but missed multiple easy opportunities around the basketball. The Cats also committed 20 turnovers and missed 11 of their 25 free-throw attempts.
"It's all new to them," Mitchell said. "Even for a player like A'dia Mathies, this is very different than anything she's done while she's been here. It will take a little bit of time, but I thought they made good strides in two days."
With six days before they play again, Mitchell is expecting even bigger strides before UK plays Morehead State on Nov. 23 in Memorial.
"I'm looking forward to this upcoming week of practice," Mitchell said. "I think we're going to make a big, big step this week."
Nerlens Noel had 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block in his regular-season home debut. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Throughout Kentucky's national championship season, John Calipari had a player he could point to as a paragon of hustle and effort.
Whenever Darius Miller's motor ran low, Terrence Jones wasn't going one hundred percent or Doron Lamb took a few plays off, a mention of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's name was sure to follow. The freshman swingman known by his initials was unwavering in his intensity, always pushing himself to the limit, and by extension, his teammates.
Nerlens Noel has long been talked about as the heir to Anthony Davis' shot-blocking throne, but it appears the void he's actually filling is MKG's.
"The guy's diving on the floor, playing with energy," Calipari said. "Would the rest of you please look at him and try to do what he's doing or do you think just let him do that and you're not going to do it?"
Coach Cal comments came in the wake of an offensive onslaught by UK. The Wildcats (2-1) dominated Lafayette (1-2) in their home opener by a final of 101-49. Kyle Wiltjer poured in 23 points, including a career-high seven 3-pointers. Alex Poythress needed just 10 shots to score 22 points in just 23 minutes. Julius Mays dished out 10 assists and didn't commit a single turnover. At one point in the second half, the Cats reeled off an incredible 39-2 run.
Sure, UK may have shot the highest percentage - 64.5 on 40-of-62 shooting - in the Calipari era, but he wasn't particularly interested in talking about any of that. His topic of choice was Noel, the player who came in ranked as the nation's No. 1 freshman but plays with the fervor of a player trying to make varsity for the first time.
"I was telling the team, give him a hand," Calipari said.
Noel ended with a stat line reminiscent of one of Kidd-Gilchrist's. He got his points, scoring 15 on 6-of-8 shooting, but left no other column unfilled. He added seven rebounds, four assists and a block to along with a team-leading four steals. If floor burns were an official category, he would have led the team there too.
"I've always been relatively high energy," Noel said. "Since I'm at a high level I think I've got to bring it every night, that energy, and just always being active for my team and just really making opportunities for the fast-break and just getting steals on the floor and throwing it out so my teammates can get going."
Getting his teammates going is exactly what Calipari is looking for out of Noel, in both the short and long term. Eventually, players will either become inspired to follow Noel's lead at all times or they'll tire of being the player not hustling by comparison.
"I told Nerlens, 'Just keep doing it, and they'll get it,' " Calipari said. "Because it becomes embarrassing when he's diving and you're jogging or you're standing straight up and get beat on the back door, and this kid's diving on the floor."
Wiltjer was Calipari's target for improvement following the loss against Duke in which the sophomore forward managed only five shots from the field. With Wiltjer having responded by hitting seven of UK's 11 treys, Coach Cal set his sights on Poythress and Archie Goodwin.
Both freshmen had relatively impressive statistical games, Poythress with his efficiency from the field and Goodwin with his 13 points and two 3-pointers, but Calipari once again wasn't interested in discussing those parts of the box score.
"We had Alex and Archie and Kyle combined for one rebound at halftime," Calipari said. "What are you doing? Why is that? You think you're just the offensive machine and everybody else should dive on the floor and rebound and not you?"
Poythress responded by showing a little more aggressiveness on the boards, but still not enough for Coach Cal's liking.
"Alex goes 9 for 10, and he played about 60 percent of the game," Calipari said. "The rest of the game, he kind of jogged around and looked around. Look at Nerlens, play like him, and you become ridiculous. That's hard."
He realizes that saying a player who has scored at least 20 points in back-to-back games isn't doing enough seems crazy, but it speaks to the potential Calipari sees in him. Poythress understands that.
"He expects more out of me," Poythress said. "He sees more in me. So I think that's a great compliment."
Goodwin is in the same boat.
Averaging 15 points a game through the first three games of a college career would be nice for a normal player. The thing is, Calipari doesn't think Goodwin is normal.
"Why wouldn't you end up with ten rebounds a game?" Calipari said. "Ten rebounds a game. Now what do you become as a player? Scoring, assists, speed, ten rebounds, what do you become? You're the best guard in the country."
Calipari doesn't think his team is normal either.
For Poythress, Goodwin and really his entire team, Calipari has a vision, one of a team that maximizes its potential in all areas. The Cats either don't believe how good they can be or haven't bought into doing what it will take to get it done, but Coach Cal is confident they'll get there.
"It's all stuff that we're capable of doing that I'm looking at these guys saying I want the best version of you, and the best version of our team," Calipari said. "Right now...I'm dragging guys. But that's okay. It's early."
Matthew Mitchell and the Wildcats will take the floor for the first time on Saturday since losing at Baylor. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
On Tuesday night, the Kentucky women's basketball took to the primetime stage looking to make a statement. Playing against Baylor, the Wildcats were looking to declare themselves contenders for the 2012-13 title.
Instead, it was the 2011-12 national champions who made the statement. The Cats were overwhelmed in an 85-51 defeat, their first of the season, turning in a performance UK fans who tuned into the game would rather forget.
But three days removed from the loss with his team preparing for its first game since, Matthew Mitchell is expressing an opinion you might not expect about the lopsided loss in Waco, Texas.
"I was really happy that we played the game," Mitchell said. "I'm sure that sounds a little silly or crazy right now, but I'm real happy that we had the experience of playing them."
The Cats could have been playing a much lesser opponent in the comforts of Memorial Coliseum. They could have played a mediocre game and come away with a double-digit win to move to 2-0 on the season. They could have avoided the pain and - in Mitchell's words - "embarrassment" that came from the loss by not playing the game at all.
Mitchell is glad they didn't.
Now that they've had a chance to put aside all the negative emotions that come from being outplayed from tip to buzzer, Mitchell and his team have realized their goals for the season haven't changed at all.
"You don't want to go on national television and look like that," Mitchell said. "But you have to move on from that quickly and think about the team and where we are and what we can become."
What the Cats want to become is a team that can compete with Baylor and teams like Baylor in late-round NCAA Tournament games. The game against the Lady Bears may have shone a spotlight on the fact that UK isn't there yet, but the Cats also now have a much better idea what they have to do to get to that point come March.
"If we can ever become the team we think we can and we were ever to come across them again, I think it'll be much more valuable to have that experience and know that we have a lot of things to improve upon," Mitchell said. "Even if you don't play them again, there's excellent teams remaining on our schedule and you have to be able to function against the best teams in the country if you're trying to be among those."
Keeping in mind the goal of becoming that team they want to be, the Cats have gotten back in the practice gym. With the sting of the Baylor loss still so fresh, you might expect Mitchell to be more fiery with his team, but he's taken a different approach.
"We were going to work with the facts," Mitchell said. "We weren't going to get emotional about it. We were going to react appropriately. We weren't going to overreact, we weren't going to underreact. We were just going to see where the facts led us and I think we're in a good spot moving forward."
Mitchell reported he was "very encouraged" by UK's first practice following the loss on Wednesday.
The first chance for the Cats to display their growth comes on Saturday. UK (1-1) will take on High Point (1-1) at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday looking to extend its 21-game home winning streak, but the Panthers will have other ideas.
High point center Cheyenne Parker stands at 6-foot-4 and is averaging 18.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 4.0 assists through two games, while point guard Erin Reynolds has posted averaged of 16.0 points and 6.5 assists. Mitchell has been impressed by both in watching tape, saying both are among the best players at their positions in the Big South Conference, but the Panthers have solid players around them.
"They're surrounded by a bunch of hard-nosed, tough player that can make 3s," Mitchell said. "Anytime you're playing a team with a good point guard, good post player and then people that can shoot the basketball, they are dangerous."
But as is normally the case with Mitchell and the Cats, their focus will be on themselves more than anything else.
"We have to be ready to go out and give a great effort and I'm looking forward to getting back in Memorial Coliseum and playing a tough game (Saturday)," Mitchell said.
Senior Henri Junghanel has helped lead Kentucky to an undefeated record this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The hunter has become the hunted. And the Wildcats, the former prey, are looking to track down the defending national champion TCU Horned Frogs on the rifle range this Saturday.
Texas Christian comes to Lexington, Ky., this weekend boasting the No. 1 ranking in the collegiate rifle ranks to set up a heavyweight battle between the two of the top three teams in the nation. The No. 3 Kentucky team, runner-up to TCU in last year's NCAA Rifle Championships, is looking forward to reigniting the rivalry they've built over the last few seasons.
"With both us being top programs in the country the last three or four years, when you go head to head, there's always that sense of they got us last year at the tournament or head-to-head from our perspective," said Kentucky head rifle coach Harry Mullins.
But the sport of rifle isn't basketball or football. There's no defense. That doesn't mean the level of competition won't be peaking in the range of the Buell Armory 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
"At the level we're going to compete at, it's going to be a grind-it-out, shot-for-shot-type of deal," said Mullins. "They don't know that as they compete, but I think they know in their subconscious that there's no room for error."
Though Kentucky has one of the toughest schedules in the country, Mullins has been able to mix and match his lineups to build experience. Kentucky's talent level has also allowed the Cats to relax a bit through the early portion of the schedule. With the TCU's and West Virginia's up ahead and more conference meets in the near future, Kentucky's margin for error is decreasing on a weekly basis.
That all starts with TCU. And the Cats are going to have to bring it from the first shot.
"An error is going to be costly on both sides, and I think both teams know that," said Mullins. "That's the atmosphere that's going to be brought into the range at both sides. You can't B-plus it most of the time and try to close strong. You have to bring you're A-game from start to finish."
Both teams come into the match undefeated. The Horned Frogs have reached the 4,700 mark, considered the benchmark of an elite-level competition, multiple times this season. Kentucky has broken the 4,700 barrier once this season shooting 4,716 earlier in the year against Army.
Eclipsing that mark will be necessary when facing the highest level of competition that the Cats have seen thus far in the season. In order for them to get that number, Mullins wants to see his athletes continue to forge together as a unit.
"I think we can put up a strong and great number when we're all together and clicking at the same time," said Mullins. "The key is for all of us to click at the same time. That's very, very hard to do."
The Wildcats just missed the mark in their most recent meet, falling just short at 4,697 in a win over Navy. It appears they're trending upward.
Over the last few weeks, Mullins has tried to emphasize the team-first mentality. Seniors Henri Junghanel and Stacy Wheatley and junior Emily Holsopple have anchored the team at times this season, carrying the Cats to their undefeated mark. This weekend is going to require a complete team effort.
Rather than focusing on beating No. 1, however, Mullins wants his team to continue to concentrate on what it does best. His team can't be worried about chasing some of the gaudy numbers that TCU's top seniors are capable of.
"We have to come in and do the things that we do best and that's to perform at our level," said Mullins. "When we perform at our level and our solid performance, we may have some good numbers like that. But more so, we will have solid number across the board from number one through number six."
Comfort and familiarity with the home range should be an advantage against TCU. Kentucky has been shooting very well in practices over the last few weeks, and the rising scores are indicative of that. The challenge the rest of the way will be to build the bridge from the practice rounds into the day of the competition.
"They feel they have a lot left to give," said Mullins. "The only question is when will they give it and will it be all at the same time? Under these conditions it would be a great accomplishment if they could do that."
John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats will play their first regular-season home game of 2012-13 on Friday vs. Lafayette. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Unless something strange happens, Kentucky's next three games will not be the lead highlight on SportsCenter. The games won't be played in electric neutral-site venues. They won't be played against opponents with championship pedigrees.
No, UK's next three games aren't against the likes of Maryland and Duke. That doesn't mean the Wildcats' priorities will change.
"Every game's going to be tough and we want to look at every game the same way," sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer said. "Regardless of who the opponent it, we want to prepare like we have for every game."
The opponent in this case is Lafayette. UK (1-1) will take on the Leopards (1-1) at 7 p.m. ET on Friday in Rupp Arena. The game will be televised on FS South instead of ESPN, a fact that might make Wiltjer's quote seem like a cliche, but there is truth in his words.
From media day on, John Calipari's stated goals for November and December were to learn about his players and prepare his team for conference play and beyond, not to pick up marquee wins or run the table. Just because the Leopards might have less recognizable names on the fronts and backs of their jerseys doesn't mean the Cats can't accomplish those things in facing them.
"It's what we need right now," Calipari said. "We need a team that plays well together offensively, really plays off the defense not running as many 'plays.' They're doing a few actions to try to get shots off. They shoot the 3."
Lafayette is shooting 41.0 percent from 3-point range through two games and has five players who have already hit at least two treys. Sophomore forward Dan Trist is scoring 23.0 points per game while senior guards Tony Johnson and Seth Hinrichs are averaging 16.5 points apiece.
The focus may be the same no matter the opponent, but each game offers a different set of challenges from which the Cats can learn. The Duke and Maryland games were as much about a young team coming to grips with the big stage than anything else. Jon Hood, who has spent enough time around freshmen to know a thing or two, thinks starting in those kinds of environments is ideal.
"I think that's what you do," he said. "I think that's the best way to do it is come out and play those types of games to start off. That gets you ready for the next few games that you have."
Even with 'winning or learning' talk, losing still stings
Coach Cal has preached for weeks now about emphasizing his team's growth over early-season results. Kentucky fans seem to be following his lead, even expressing a sense of optimism in the wake of a loss to No. 9 Duke on Tuesday.
That perspective has actually created somewhat of a unique problem.
"The worst thing you can do is listen to everybody say, 'Hey, that was OK. We're gonna be great in March,' " Calipari said.
Well before Calipari coined "winning or learning," he talked repeatedly about his teams needing to have a "will to win." If the Cats had simply sloughed off the Duke loss as if it were meaningless, there would have been cause for concern on that front. Fortunately, they did no such thing.
"They were disappointed," Calipari said. "We all were."
With Calipari leading the way, UK seems to have found a balance between the frustration that follows a loss and the awareness that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
"I think he was proud of us that we came back, but no one enjoys losing," Julius Mays said. "I don't think he appreciated the fact that we lost. But we've seen that we can fight back."
Five fall signees send UK on path to another top class
Minutes before Calipari stepped to the podium for his scheduled press conference, UK's stellar fall signing class was announced.
Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis and James Young all signed National Letters of Intent to become Wildcats in 2013. Most experts believe the group - which includes four five-star players according to Rivals.com and the consensus top point and shooting guards in the class - will give UK its fifth top-ranked recruiting class in as many seasons under Calipari.
When Calipari was asked about it at his press conference, he asked the assembled media to refer to the official press release for his thoughts, almost seeming a little disinterested. Realizing his reaction was being interpreted as such, he quickly clarified.
"We're excited about it, don't get me wrong," Calipari said. "I'm jacked up."
From his comments in the aforementioned release, that much is clear. Here is what he had to say about the five signees.
"Aaron is more of a scoring guard who can make shots and make plays at the rim. He can also play some point in a pinch. Like his brother, Andrew, he has the ability to physically dominate the opponent."
"Andrew comes in ready to play physically at the point-guard position. He's a driver, slasher and playmaker with great size. He and his brother Aaron have the ability to be great on-ball defenders."
"Marcus Lee is a long, agile, quick-bounce, quick-twitch, 6-9 forward. He gets to the basket, he's a terrific shot-blocker and he can rebound above the rim. Marcus has unlimited upside because he's going to get stronger and he's going to improve his skill around the basket. His speed, quickness, jumping ability and length set him apart."
"Derek is a very skilled, 6-9 big man who is learning to play through bumps, which is going to elevate his game. He's a long-armed basketball player who can get his hands on balls and really pass. Like Marcus, he has a tremendous upside because he's going to get stronger and be able to play more physical and really use his size and his shot-making ability to spread the court for us."
"James is a long, athletic and skilled wing. He's a lefty who can shoot it and get in transition. You can throw it ahead to him and he can make basketball plays. He rebounds the ball for his position as well anyone in the class."
Later in his press conference, Calipari said he believed he would sign "one or two" more players in the spring. Harrow 'doing better,' still unlikely to play Friday
Ryan Harrow was forced to miss the Duke game due to illness and has not since returned to practice. However, Calipari reported on Thursday afternoon that the sophomore point guard's health had improved.
Harrow worked out with strength and conditioning coach Mike Malone on Wednesday but will not return to game action until he is able to go full speed in practice.
In Harrow's absence, UK went with a shortened rotation with Archie Goodwin, Mays and Jarrod Polson splitting time at point guard. All five Kentucky starters played 32 minutes or more with Noel, Poythress, Goodwin and Mays all playing at least 37.
"I just want him back," Calipari said of Harrow. "The team, we were a little bit short last week. We know it. But (at the same time), you got to look at the kid's health first and get yourself right and let's go."
Candidates for more playing time against Lafayette are Jon Hood and Twany Beckham, while Willie Cauley-Stein should see significantly more minutes than the six he got against Duke.
In a game that featured multiple missed opportunities from both squads, Xavier was finally able to find the back of the net in the 86th minute to give the Musketeers a 1-0 victory over Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA men's soccer tournament at the UK Soccer Complex on Thursday evening.
Goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale kept UK within striking distance all night as the junior recorded three saves to keep the match scoreless for the majority of the evening. The Wildcats had a chance in the opening minutes of the game on a cross into the box to Bryan Celis but the ball was misplayed.
As the contest neared its end, UK was in full-on attack mode and threatened a bit. But in the end it was the Xavier offense, which had only been shut out twice all season, that delivered final blow.
"It was a tough loss for us of course," head coach Johan Cedergren said. "We don't want to go out this early in the tournament but at the same time look at where we are coming from. It's been 2003 since we have been dancing last time. Unfortunately there can only be one winner, they scored a great goal. You have to give Xavier and their coaching staff a lot of credit, I thought they played well."
The Wildcats' season came to an end Thursday night but it must be said how great of a year the 2012 season was. The season began with UK dropping four of its first five games and with a first-year head coach in place and it would have been easy for the Cats to lower their heads and play for themselves or just simply give up on the year.
That was far from what happened. Cedergren rallied the troops and the squad came together as a team against one of the toughest schedules in the entire country. Counting the game against Xavier, UK played a program record 10 ranked foes throughout the year. That didn't stop the team from battling as the Cats strung an 8-2-1 stretch together, making a run at the NCAA Tournament and earning a bid to host the first round.
The Cats hung tough all season and even picked up a huge win on the road against their nemesis Louisville. What a season it was for the Wildcats, who did not get much preseason praise from the media and coaches around the country.
"I couldn't be any prouder of the guys," Cedergren said. "In the end, to me you have to look at what we did this season. Played an unbelievable schedule, got some great wins and to be back in the NCAA Tournament I'm really proud of the guys for how well they pushed."
Cedergren gives much of the season's credit to his two senior captains, Cameron Wilder and Matt Lodge. Cedergren believes UK's success starts with them and the way they bought in right away to his coaching philosophies. The seniors may not be on the field the next time Cedergren leads his team to the postseason, but they work they did in their lone season playing for him is the foundation for the success that will surely follow.
Center Matt Smith is one of 19 Wildcats who will be honored as part of Senior Night festivities on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Change is at Kentucky football's doorstep.
Sometime in the coming weeks and months, a new head coach will be named. He will then sit alongside Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and spell out his vision for the program, triggering an offseason of team and individual meetings, recruiting and practices designed to build toward an unprecedented level of success at UK.
But first, the Wildcats must close out the 2012 season. Looking to finish a disappointing season with strong performances in their last two games, the Cats hope to build some momentum heading into an offseason of transition beginning with a win over Samford on Saturday.
"For the season, for Coach (Joker) Phillips, for this team, it means everything," senior guard Larry Warford said. "No matter who the opponent is, going out with two wins is going to be the best thing that could happen."
When UK (1-9, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) takes on the Bulldogs (7-3, 5-3 Southern Conference) at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, 17 seniors will be playing their final game in Commonwealth Stadium, and two more players - Sam Simpson and Steven Duff - will be honored as part of Senior Night festivities. The season has not gone as any of them hoped it would and they won't be directly involved in the new era of Kentucky football, but their teammates want to send them off on a high note.
"I'm not a senior, but I love every single one of those guys," junior tailback Jonathan George said on Monday. "This week, I feel like we're coming out practicing hard and I feel like we owe that to those guys. We're going to come out and attack this week and try to come out Saturday and get a big win for those guys."
As difficult as it has been for those seniors to go eight games without a win, the last 11 days - during which UK has not even played a game - have been the most trying. They have had to cope with the news that their head coach of the last three years would be replaced at season's end, but they haven't wavered in their focus.
"They mean the world," Phillips said of UK's seniors. "How they went about their business and how they went about their business through this time, that's big for me. All of them have a story."
From the already-graduated Collins Ukwu to All-SEC performer Larry Warford to the ever-unselfish Morgan Newton, there are too many stories to tell here, but UK senior captain Matt Smith represents his class well.
Smith grew up a Kentucky fan in Louisville. He has been a steady performer at center since his redshirt freshman season and started all but two games of his final three seasons. He has snapped the ball to five different quarterbacks - including one wide receiver - over the last two seasons, but has provided a steady presence amid all the uncertainty behind him. He is being recognized for all his work, both on and off the field.
This week, he was named one of eight finalists for the 2012 Wuerffel Trophy. The award is named after Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel and honors the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with outstanding academic and athletic achievement.
"I remember sitting in his home and talking to him about how he would grow here," Phillips said. "For him to be a finalist for this award, it shows how much he has grown here. He has an unbelievable family and that is where it started. He has just carried it on and it has helped with the process of him growing up. We are proud of him."
Smith is a two-year member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and traveled to Ethiopia for a service trip this summer with Phillips and two teammates. All told, he has logged over 200 hours of community service as a Wildcat, but his time with the Salvation Army summer camp is most special to him. He was reminded by himself as a child by many of the youngsters he mentored during that experience.
"I know when I was that age, that I always looking up to the football players here at Kentucky and watching what they were doing," Smith said. "So I just tried to set a good example for those kids."
That, along with the fact that he eventually hopes to become a teacher and coach, is why he donated so much of his time, not for the recognition he might receive.
Smith was taking a cue from his coach in setting a good example for people that looked up to him. Knowing he will not be coaching beyond the next couple of weeks, Phillips has made clear his love for his players and the university he has so long represented by conducting himself with admirable class.
Nonetheless, there was a time that the man who has been such a significant part of the last three decades of Kentucky football considered not coaching final two games of 2012. Not wanting to take away from the attention this group of seniors deserves on the night of their final game, Phillips planned to step down immediately.
"I had my senior day," Phillips said on Monday.
Over the 24 hours during which he debated his decision, the seniors made it clear how much they wanted them there. Smith was one of those players, sending Phillips a long text message to let his coach know just how much his presence would mean.
"He always talks about family here and that's his big thing, that we stick together as a family," Smith said. "I just told him it wouldn't be the same, we wouldn't be a family if he didn't finish this out with us. He's been such a huge part of my life and my experience here that I really wanted him to come back and coach this team."
Smith and his fellow seniors figure to be in for an emotional evening on Saturday as they reflect on their four and, for some, five years in the program. Wide receiver La'Rod King said Warford is the most likely to cry when his jersey is presented to him and "My Old Kentucky Home" is played. Though Warford doesn't deny that shedding tears is a possibility, he does say he won't be the first.
"I would say it's going to be either Trevino (Woods) or La'Rod," Warford said. "And then I'm going to cry if I see them crying because it's a biological cue. I can't really help it. I'm not going to be embarrassed about it. I love this program."
Warford isn't ashamed because there's good reason to be emotional. These seniors are closing the chapter on a memorable chapter in their lives, particularly considering the relationships that they've built.
"This is the closest I've ever felt with a team since I've been here, as a whole team," Smith said. "It's been great camaraderie with everybody. The coaches have been great. Everybody's bought into things this year and it's just made it a lot more enjoyable even though we haven't been winning."
That closeness may not have translated to on-field results this season, but the seniors hope the character lessons they've passed on to the younger Cats help lay the foundation for future success.
"Things haven't turned out how we wanted to, but the biggest thing, regardless of how it is, you've got to help your program for the future," defensive end Taylor Wyndham said. "You have to get the young guys to do what they're supposed to, to do the thing right things."
Like Phillips, these seniors won't stop caring about UK football even though they will be moving on next season. What they want is for fans to help them say goodbye to it the right way and to generate some excitement heading into an uncertain time.
"Hopefully I've left a little impression on this team and this program," Smith said. "I know it's left an impression on me."
The Kentucky women's soccer team continues its NCAA Tournament run on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET vs. UCLA in San Diego. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
There's no place the Kentucky women's soccer team would rather have made history than in front of its home fans. When the Wildcats won the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament game over UT Martin on Friday night, having their supporters there to rejoice in the victory with them made it that much more special.
There's no place UK would rather continue its postseason run than the UK Soccer Complex, but things have not worked out that way. Since the Cats will have to leave home in search of NCAA win No. 2, they want it to be an occasion.
"We had a great home game in front of our crowd and of course wish we were home again," UK head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "But if we're not going to be home, let's make it a big deal."
Lipsitz and the Wildcats want to go somewhere they will always remember to play an opponent they will never forget.
"Let's really go someplace," Lipsitz said. "Let's go play the best. Let's go out west. Let's go someplace that's new and exciting."
They are getting their wish.
Kentucky's second-round game will take place in San Diego far from Lexington both in terms of distance (it's more than 2,000 miles away) and climate (Wednesday's high temperature in Lexington is 44 degrees, 68 in San Diego).
The opponent awaiting UK is new too, and certainly fits Lipsitz's "play the best" criteria. The Cats (14-6-1) will face third-seeded and sixth-ranked UCLA (16-2-2) for the first time in program history on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Bruins have made every NCAA Tournament dating back to 1997, reaching at least the second round each time. UCLA has 45 NCAA wins to UK's one and, according to Lipsitz, is one of "four or five" teams most talked about as national championship contenders.
"I have all the respect for UCLA," Lipsitz said. "I have all the respect in the world for what they've accomplished in the past and what they're doing this year."
There's a lot to respect.
UCLA owns an 8-1-1 record against the 64-team NCAA field and has outscored its opponents 44-11 this season. The Bruins have posted shutouts in 11 of their 20 games and their attack is led by the Pac-12's leading scorer and Player of the Year Zakiya Bywaters. Lipsitz and his team have the proper respect for their opponents, but fear doesn't accompany it.
"We couldn't care less about that," Lipsitz said. "That's what people will talk about and they'll talk about us as this upstart team or a big underdog. And we are. We are a big underdog and that's great. We're going to go and we're going to have fun and we're going to play hard."
The Cats are not without reasons to be confident.
Three times this season UK faced a team in the top 18 of the final RPI rankings. UK twice came away with wins (vs. No. 8 Florida and at No. 15 Tennessee) and tied once (vs. No. 18 Texas A&M). UCLA was sixth in the final RPI release on Nov. 5.
"I have a lot of confidence in our players," Lipsitz said. "I have a lot of confidence in their ability to be ready for the matchup and we're just excited to get there."
The Wildcats have had an historic season by playing a possession-based style and refusing to change their approach no matter the opponent. UK will of course prepare for the Bruins, but playing an elite opponent with the ability to turn mistakes into goals in an instant won't make the Cats something they're not.
"It's who we are and we're not going to change that," Lipsitz said. "We have to be who we are. Yes, anybody we play there's a scouting report and there are nuances that UCLA will give us, but the number one thing is we have to be who we are. And we're a possession team and we want to knock the ball around."
UK's will to stay true to that was tested in the first round.
Playing a UT Martin team with a plan designed to attack them, the Cats got off to somewhat of a sputtering start, turning to long passes and direct play more than they had for most of the season. Considering he started a lineup featuring four freshmen, Lipsitz wasn't totally surprised by the uncertain first half.
He wasn't surprised by the way the Cats settled in either.
"As the game went on, we became more and more a possession team knocking it around," Lipsitz said. "I think we were a little tight early in the game they made it difficult to play it through the midfield and we got a little bit too direct. As the game went on, we got better and better at it."
Considering the circumstances, that was particularly impressive.
In spite of a handful of good chances, the match remained scoreless late into the second half and into overtime. The Cats knew one bad touch or errant pass could spell the end of the season, but they persevered. Eventually, Arin Gilliland and Kelli Hubly combined for the golden goal minutes into the first period of overtime.
"To have put the work we did and to win the first NCAA game in the history of this program was a special moment and we're enjoying it," Lipsitz said.
That first NCAA victory has been a stated goal for the team all season and really since Lipsitz arrived four seasons ago. The Cats put great pressure on themselves to deliver it and deserve to celebrate it, but they are not resting on their laurels.
Leading up to the first-round game, Lipsitz was asked whether he was concerned a letdown would follow should UK beat UT Martin. At the time, he thought a lapse in focus for the second round was a possibility. Now that the moment is here, his concerns have evaporated.
"I was worried about it, but not now," Lipsitz said. "Not now that I've seen them. They just want to play. They want to get back out there. They want to show who we are."
With those worries gone, the Cats turn their attention to UCLA. Plenty of new worries over facing a talented Bruin team could take their place if the Cats thought that way. But they don't.
UK doesn't have to overcome two decades of tradition or undo any of the Bruins' impressive victories this season. All UK has to do is be better on Friday.
"The great thing about playing in this format is there's 90 minutes and it's 11 versus 11 and we're going to do our best," Lipsitz said.
The UK men's soccer team is hosting Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex (Michael Reeves, UK Athletics).
For the first time since 2003, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team is hosting the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament against Xavier on Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. at the UK Soccer Complex. However, first-year head coach Johan Cedergren is taking a different approach than usual after his squad was selected to host on Monday during the NCAA Men's Soccer Selection Show.
Cedergren and the team will stay the night in a hotel Wednesday evening and treat the contest as if they were traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio to take on the Musketeers.
Why, some may ask?
Well, the Wildcats own an impressive 6-2 road record on the year, including victories over ranked foes Louisville, UAB and Tulsa to name a few. While in Lexington, UK has dropped its last two matches and sport just a 3-4-1 mark at home.
Following a win at Tulsa on Oct. 27, the Wildcats were sitting pretty in the Conference USA standings and had won four straight - three coming on the road. With home games against UCF and South Carolina left on the schedule and a shot at the regular-season league title, junior defender Steven Perinovic jokingly mentioned to Cedergren that he should call the remaining opponents and inform them that UK would openly travel to their facilities instead of playing the contests in Lexington.
This was all a joke but Kentucky ended up dropping its final two games of the year and finished in fifth place in C-USA. In all honesty, Cedergren is ecstatic to be playing at home but is trying a different approach and offers a few suggestions of why the team has fared better on the road.
"I think when you are on the road you just get into the routine where you get to relax a lot," Cedergren said. "You don't have to worry about girlfriends, friends and Facebook and that kind of stuff. We kind of control what they do and what they don't do. When they are on the road all of their focus is on soccer."
After falling short in the final two regular season games, UK suddenly saw its NCAA tournament hopes on the ropes. Kentucky would need a strong showing in the league tournament to assure a berth into postseason play.
The Cats did just that as they picked up an important 1-0 decision over Memphis in the first round and went toe to toe with the conference's regular season champion, SMU, before losing to the Mustangs in penalty kicks.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Kentucky is right where it wants to be and has gained valuable experience heading into Thursday evening.
"In the short two-week span, there was a lot of growing because we now all of a sudden have been in pressure situations four times," Cedergren said. "The first two times we didn't do as well as we wanted but then we did much better. Going to play Xavier where you have to win to keep going, we've played must-win games the last four so it's nothing different for us playing tomorrow."
Because this is the first NCAA bid UK has earned since 2003, none of the players have any sort of postseason experience.
So who will Kentucky rely on for leadership?
Look no further than the coaching staff, which is loaded with postseason experience and national championships. Cedergren has been to the NCAA tournament in each of the last six seasons, while assistant coach Erik Imler won three national titles as a player and fellow assistant David Casper owns one as well from his playing days.
"We have been sharing some information and some things to think about with the guys all throughout the season," Cedergren said. "I think within the staff, we have been there, we have done that, we know how to handle it and for the guys it's just a matter of getting over the hump."
Xavier comes in with a 13-2-5 overall record and finished 6-1-2 in the Atlantic-10 conference. The Musketeers have outscored their opponents 47-19 on the year with their lone defeats against top-25 foes St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth.
XU defeated Dayton in penalty kicks in the A-10 tournament and tied Northwestern earlier in the year - two teams that defeated the Wildcats early in the season.
Cedergren is very impressed with the type of program Xavier has developed over the years and wasn't hesitant to praise his team's next opponent.
"You have to have a lot of respect for Xavier and how well they have done since Coach (Andy) Fleming took over," Cedergren said. "Before that they were not a team that was on the bubble to get into the tournament or even considered. In three years he has gone three for three so that's an unbelievable achievement and now we have to see who the better team around this area is."
Another interesting tidbit to throw into tomorrow night's matchup is the ties between Xavier and UK's head coach. Cedergren is no newcomer to the matchups against XU, having played against the Musketeers as a member of Cincinnati's team back in his playing days.
Cedergren also received his MBA from Xavier, putting the Wildcats' head coach in an interesting position. Without much thinking, Cedergren reverted back to his playing days and enjoyed every time his team got the best of the Musketeers saying it never hurts to beat Xavier.
With a new rivalry possibly forming, Cedergren is anxious to see what tomorrow night has in store.
"This is a little different with Kentucky and Xavier but for me I just want to play the best opponent possible," Cedergren said. "I think Xavier is a really good team and it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow."
Alex Poythress had 20 points and eight rebounds in UK's 75-68 loss to Duke on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Big Blueprint is back. A rapid recap of the game, the Big Blueprint looks at the nuts and bolts of the latest UK game when Cat Scratches is not in attendance. Today, we break down UK's 75-68 loss to Duke in the Champions Classic.
The skinny: No. 3 Kentucky (1-1) lost its first game of the season by a 75-68 final on Tuesday night against No. 9 Duke (2-0) in the Champions Classic in Atlanta, Ga. The defeat was just UK's fourth in its last 53 games. After a nip-and-tuck first half that ended in a 33-31 Duke lead, the veteran Blue Devils built a lead that climbed to 14 points with 9:25 left. With Alex Poythress (20 points), Archie Goodwin (16) and Nerlens Noel (16) leading the way, the young Wildcats made a valiant run, twice cutting the Duke lead to three points with less than four minutes to play. Both times, senior guard Seth Curry had an answer. He scored six of his game-high 23 points to hold off 2012-13 UK's reprisal of the 1997-98 "Comeback Cats."
The difference: Offensive execution. When the Blue Devils needed a basket, they knew who needed to have the ball and how to get it there. That's to be expected with a team starting three seniors. When the Cats needed a basket, they were a little more unsure at times. That's to be expected with a team starting three freshmen.
Player of the game: Curry. Mason Plumlee got off to a hot start, scoring 14 first-half points, but Curry was the finisher. He scored 14 points after halftime, including those aforementioned scores in the clutch. Perhaps most impressively, he did it without even attempting a 3-pointer. In his first season at Duke, 64 of his 101 field goals came from behind the arc. With UK closing hard on his outside shot, Curry made more athletic defenders pay with an arsenal of drives, fakes and floaters. He also hit all six of his free-throw attempts. Turning point: With their team playing in an event with three of the most high-profile schools in the country, Kentucky fans dominated the stands in the Georgia Dome. They made their presence felt during a 9-0 UK run that cut the Duke lead to 64-61 with 3:29 left. They were ready to explode when a 3-pointer that would have tied the game left the hands of Julius Mays. It was a good look, but the shot missed. It would be the last time UK had the ball facing less than a five-point deficit.
Key stat: Hidden points/possessions. UK outshot Duke 49.0 percent-45.6 percent and the Blue Devils outscored the Cats by just one point at the foul line, 15-14. How then did Kentucky end up losing by seven? Taking a closer look at the box score, it's pretty obvious. First, Duke launched six more shots than UK because the Blue Devils committed five fewer turnovers and grabbed two more offensive rebounds (11 for Duke, nine for UK). Second, Duke's field goals were more valuable. The Blue Devils hit eight 3s in 18 attempts, outscoring the Cats by 12 points from behind the arc even though UK shot a respectable 40 percent. Unsung hero: Poythress. After a quiet collegiate debut, John Calipari challenged the freshman forward to play like the "beast" Coach Cal had so often called him in the preseason. Poythress answered the bell with a few solid days of practice before carrying the momentum into Tuesday's game. He needed just 12 shots to score his 20 points while throwing down an array of ferocious dunks. Poythress also had five offensive rebounds and scored off each one with a 3-pointer, two dunks, a layup and a short jumper, accounting for all 11 of UK's second-chance points.
What this one means: The Cats fell on the learning side of Coach Cal's "winning or learning" early-season scale. Facing a veteran team likely to stay in the top 10 most of the season, UK never backed down. Things looked grim when the deficit was 14, but the Wildcats once again showed fortitude, rallying late. They fell short, but the play of freshmen Poythress, Noel and Goodwin was encouraging. That doesn't mean there's not plenty to work on. Rebounding was once again suspect, offensive fouls were once again a problem and the point guard position was once again unsettled in Ryan Harrow's absence. With Harrow undergoing tests to determine the nature of his illness back in Lexington, Jarrod Polson couldn't recapture his Maryland magic, while Goodwin showed he is still a work in progress at the lead guard position, committing four turnovers. Even with all that in mind, there was nothing on Tuesday night to suggest the Cats can't live up to lofty preseason expectations as the season goes on. In short, we won't know quite what this one means until we find out what they learned from it and how they respond.
He said what? "We had our chances. What happens when you're a freshman team, and I told the guys after, we had about three spells of a minute and a half that we do something dumb on our end and they come down and what a good team's going to do is they capitalize." - Calipari
"Going up against a team like Duke, you got to bring it every
possession. Tonight was a learning process. I think we're just going to
get back to work and really figure it out." - Noel
"It's a good game. I can't stand losing, but it was a great game. Our
fans - I want to thank our fans for making the trek down here. It was
amazing. You walk down here and it looked like we were at home." - Calipari
"He's a beast. That's what he needed to look like. That's who he is. He's not a 2-guard. He is a beast. So be a beast. I don't want to see any of the cute stuff. Get the ball by the guy and dunk on somebody. And he did it." - Calipari on Poythress
"He tried to work out today back home. We got him with our weight,
strength and conditioning just to see if they could get something going.
We just don't know. I feel for the kid because he really wants to
play." - Calipari on Harrow's health
"We've got find one more guy 'til Ryan gets back and probably it's Jon Hood. But this was a hard game. It wouldn't have been fair of me to stick Jon Hood in a game like this." - Calipari
"I think it helped our team. This is all new to this team. We're trying to figure out how we're playing. We don't play hard enough yet. We don't compete on every possession yet. We don't go hard after every rebound yet. We don't know how to finish games yet."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 11:
Men's basketball: Archie Goodwin
Scored 16 points in his collegiate debut which was the second-highest total on the team. Thirteen of his points came in the first half. He also connected on 9-of-11 free throws to lead the team.
The 16 points in a debut ranks as the sixth-best start to a season for a freshman under John Calipari at Kentucky.
Men's basketball: Kyle Wiltjer
In his first career start, Kyle Wiltjer led the Wildcats with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting including a 4-for-6 clip from 3-point range. The four 3-pointers ranks as a career high in addition to a career-high three swats. His 19 points are the most since scoring 24 against Loyola on Dec. 22, 2011. He scored 11 first half points to reach double-figures for just the sixth time in his career. He also sunk two free throws in a clutch situation (final three minutes in a six-point game).
How will Kyle Wiltjer handle an expanded role in his second season at UK? It didn't take long to get an answer to that one. Wiltjer scored 19 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots in the Cats' 72-69 win over Maryland - good enough to earn the sophomore forward recognition as SEC Player of the Week.
"I have done a lot of work this offseason, just working on my body, physically - quickness, strength - stuff like that and definitely honed in on my skills as well. You can't be too good at something so I just continue to work on my jump shot and playing out of that and getting able to play in the post which will be key this year, showing people that I am a really good post player as well," Wiltjer said earlier this fall.
Last year, Wiltjer was mostly a long-range shooting specialist but against Maryland, he showed his game is considerably more well rounded.
"The more I can do, it will make me harder to defend so, I am looking forward to this year to better my role, improve my game and show people what I can do. I am excited for this year," Wiltjer said.
If you listen to Mike Pratt on our UK radio network broadcasts, you often hear him talking about the importance of lower body strength to a big man's success in the lane. Coach Calipari had Wiltjer do offseason weightlifting sessions with the offensive and defensive linemen on the UK football team, to get him in the mindset of the kind of toughness he would need to compete in the paint as well as the perimeter. For Wiltjer, the training sessions were about building his lower body strength.
"Just a strong base. My legs. Leg strength is key. Just post up and be able to finish off the bumps against a stronger guy with more length. Just finishing over Nerlens has been a great way to practice," Wiltjer said. "We have had such great length the last few years and that has definitely made me a better player. It's a process. I need to continue to work on it and the more I work on it, the better I am going to be."
Even though he's only a sophomore, Wiltjer has logged more minutes at UK than any other Cat, which makes him a candidate to fill a leadership role. He says he's done that before and is willing to accept that challenge this winter. It's part of the attitude that's been passed down from his dad, a former professional player.
"Being professional even though you are a college player," Wiltjer said of his dad's advice. "Treat you body right, eat the right stuff, work with your coaches because they have our best interest even though it may be hard, keep pushing through it. He does a great job at keeping me humble and keep working on my game. They come in and look to experienced guys for where to go and stuff like that. I just kind of try to be there for them and anything they need I try to help them out."
As part of his plan to get ready for this season, Wiltjer worked out this summer with the Canadian national team and he hopes he'll be able to play in the 2016 Olympics.
"There were great workouts there, great coaches, we were able to work out twice in the morning. We went really hard and then at night, we went up against some of the best players. It was a great experience because it was the first time everyone had gotten together, all the talent and there are a lot of NBA guys up there and a lot of professional basketball players so, I was able to push myself to become a better player," explained Wiltjer, adding that his dad played for Canada's Olympic team and that motivates Kyle to do the same.
For now, Wiltjer is focused on helping Kentucky return to the Final Four and make a run at a second straight national title. But his message to his teammates is to avoid looking ahead.
"Staying in the moment," Wiltjer said of what he's telling them. "We knew we had a lot of potential but we took every game like it was going to be our last and continue to work hard even though we were a good team, we continued to rise and become a better team."
Men's basketball - Kentucky was sparked by a career-best performance from Jarrod Polson in the 72-69 win over the Terps. The junior had career highs in points (10), assists (3) and rebounds (2) in addition to sinking the game-clinching free throws. - Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer led the Wildcats in scoring with 19 points to couple a career-high three blocks. - Freshman Archie Goodwin provided 16 points which ranks as the sixth-best start to a career by a freshman under John Calipari at Kentucky. - The meeting with the Blue Devils this Tuesday night will mark the first matchup between the two since the 2001-02 season. UK leads the all-time series 11-8, but Duke has won six of the last seven matchups. Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team endured a pair of heartbreaking losses on the road at Alabama and Arkansas this weekend. - Senior Ashley Frazier led the Wildcats with 10 kills in a four-set loss at Alabama. - Junior Whitney Billings paced the Blue and White with her career-best 14th double-double of 18 kills and 15 digs in the loss to Arkansas. Senior Stephanie Klefot had 14 or more digs in both matches, while freshman Sara Schwarzwalder matched a career high with eight blocks against the Razorbacks.
Women's soccer - Kentucky recorded its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in program history Friday night, picking up a 1-0 decision over UT Martin in overtime. - Freshman Kelli Hubly scored the game-winning goal in the 93rd minute with Arin Gilliland recording her 21st point of the year in the game-winning assist.
Men's soccer - The Wildcats used a magnificent goal from senior Jacob Kemper for the 1-0 win over Memphis on Wednesday night. - In the C-USA quarterfinals against No. 19 SMU (No. 22 in NCAA RPI) the Wildcats got the first career goal from senior co-captain Cameron Wilder for an early lead, After allowing an equalizer, UK battled back on Gabriel Conelian's fifth goal of the year. After a pair of scoreless overtime periods, SMU - the C-USA regular-season champion - advanced to the finals via penalty kicks to face Tulsa on Sunday.
Rifle - The University of Kentucky rifle team defeated No. 15 Navy on Saturday, 4697 - 4591. - Senior Henri Junghänel tied a school record, shooting a 597 in air rifle. - Four UK shooters broke 590 in air rifle, including seniors Henri Junghänel (597), Heather Greathouse (592) and Stacy Wheatley (592) and junior Emily Holsopple (591).
Cross Country - Cally Macumber won her second-straight race, the NCAA Southeast Regional on Friday. - Three Wildcats, Cally Macumber, Chelsea Oswald and Luis Orta all qualified for the NCAA Championships on Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky., at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park. - Macumber flew across the 6,000-meter course in 20:10.98, a time less than two seconds off her season-best performance at that distance. - Macumber, the 2012 SEC Champion, and Oswald will be the first Wildcats to compete in the NCAA Cross Country Championships since Kentucky qualified as a team in 2008. They are the first individual qualifiers for the Wildcats since Allison Grace in 2005. - Luis Orta led the men's team to a 12th-place finish with a time of 30:08.32 more than 30 seconds faster than his time at regionals last season. - Macumber, Oswald, Allison Peare, Anna Bostrom and Orta were all named to the All-Region Team.
Women's basketball - No. 6/7 Kentucky opened its 39th season of varsity women's basketball and year six of the Matthew Mitchell era in winning fashion, defeating Delaware State 90-50 in front of 4,637 fans in Memorial Coliseum. - The Cats' scoring attack was led by preseason SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies with a game-high 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting. The senior guard also dished out a game-high six ssists, while charting four rebounds and four steals. Mathies moved up one spot to No. 11 on UK's all-time scoring list and is now just 55 steals shy of tying the school's all-time steals record of 309 set by Stacey Reed (1991-95). - UK had three players finish in double-figures as junior transfer DeNesha Stallworth tallied 11 points in her Kentucky debut and Bria Goss recorded 14 points.
Men's tennis - Maks Gold and Ryuji Hirooka were crowned the champions of the 2012 Bulldog Scramble in doubles on Sunday, claiming an 8-4 win in the championship match. - Gold went 3-1 on the weekend in the singles portion of the draw, including picking up two wins over SEC opponents. - The tournament marked the completion of the 2012 Fall Season, as UK now sets its sights on the spring season which is set to begin on Jan. 11, 2013. Upcoming schedule Tuesday, Nov. 13 Women's basketball at Baylor - 6:00 p.m. Men's basketball vs. Duke (Atlanta, Ga.) - 9:30 p.m.
Archie Goodwin had 16 points in his collegiate debut on Friday against Maryland. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For Kentucky, matchups with Duke are rare. But when they happen, they are something to behold.
The last four times the Wildcats and Blue Devils have matched up - spread over two decades - both teams have been ranked in the top 10. Of the 19 total games in the series, 12 have been played between ranked teams and six with a team at No. 1. They have played once for the national championship, once in the Final Four, twice in the Elite Eight and once in the Sweet 16. Thirteen of the games have been decided by six points or less and three in overtime.
With the two teams set to add another chapter to the storied series for the first time in 11 seasons, it's only fitting that John Calipari would spend both practices of the weekend leading up to the game not even mentioning Duke.
"They play really hard, they deny, they try to steal, they switch, they switch out of bounds plays, they play pick-and-roll defense funky," Calipari said. "Yet for two days we worked on us."
More specifically, they worked on rebounding.
In the season opener, UK was outrebounded 54-38 by Maryland. The Cats gave up 26 offensive rebounds, meaning that for just the second time in the Coach Cal era, a miss by UK's opponent was more likely to wind up in the hands of the opponent than Kentucky.
"It's more or less of us just being conscious about, we follow the flight of the ball," Calipari said. "Which, I think that's sixth grade, might be seventh grade (when players learn that). You don't follow the flight of the ball, you see the flight and you go find somebody (to block out) and then go get the ball."
With a team as young as the one he's coaching, Coach Cal has eschewed the concept of winning or losing in favor of "winning or learning." In the case of the Maryland game, it turned out to be winning AND learning.
Early-season games over the past four seasons have called attention to the areas where UK needs work. Calipari didn't necessarily expect rebounding to be one of the issues that arose, but he's glad he now knows.
"If we haven't worked on it, I can't be upset," Calipari said. "And we hadn't. I just thought we're 7-foot, 6-11, 6-10, 6-9; we'll rebound. No. When your guards are taking off and they're wedging you under and you're looking at the ball and you're next to the cheerleader, you're probably not going to get the ball."
Working in UK's favor on that front when the Cats face Duke at 9:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday is that the Blue Devils are unlikely to punish the Cats on the boards as the Terrapins did. With a frontcourt made up primarily by returners from a team that ranked 69th in offensive-rebounding percentage and 165th in defensive-rebounding percentage in 2011-12, Duke was actually outrebounded 33-31 by Georgia State in a season-opening 74-55 victory.
That's not to say, however, that there aren't a bunch of ways in which the experienced and ninth-ranked Blue Devils can expose UK.
"When you watch Duke, they're a veteran team, they know how they are playing, they do a great job of posting the ball, they do a great job of spacing the court, they use pick-and-rolls for threes and if you leave corners, which you guys know that's one of my no-no's, if you leave a corner it is automatic buried three," Calipari said.
Duke made 11 3s in 24 attempts (45.8 percent) against Georgia State on Friday.
No matter the style of play or the personnel, plenty of intrigue surrounds any game between UK and Duke. Though the two teams have played just three times in his lifetime and none since he was eight years old, Archie Goodwin has an idea of what the game means to fans.
"I know (Kentucky fans) don't like Duke and I know Duke doesn't like Kentucky," Goodwin said.
The most famous UK-Duke game was, of course, in 1992. The details of the Elite Eight battle need not be rehashed because they are so familiar to the college basketball world. And besides, UK fans would probably rather avoid any reminders of Christian Laettner's overtime buzzer beater.
Goodwin knows about it even though it happened before he was born, but Willie Cauley-Stein, on the other hand, is a little behind. He said on Monday he had never even seen the shot that sank the Unforgettables' Final Four hopes.
"I don't keep up with that," Cauley-Stein said.
As surprising at the revelation may be to some, Goodwin didn't hesitate in saying he believes it to be true.
"People don't understand; Will's a different dude," Goodwin said. "He doesn't even watch TV or anything, so I wouldn't think he was lying if he did say that."
Calipari wasn't surprised to hear it either, but for a different reason.
"You can say George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and they won't know)," he said. "Magic Johnson was the big guy that came to the game. That's it. They know three years. Three years ago they were 14, 13."
They might not know about the Elite Eight in 1998 or 1992, the national championship in 1978 or the Final Four in 1966, but they'll surely remember the Champions Classic in 2012.
Matthew Mitchell and his Kentucky team will take on No. 1 Baylor at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday in Waco, Texas. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Outside of the NCAA Tournament, the spotlight in women's basketball doesn't get much brighter than the one the Kentucky Wildcats will be staring into on Tuesday night.
UK's game at Baylor will be televised nationally on ESPN2. The Cats will be taking on the defending national champion Lady Bears, a team that went 40-0 last year and hasn't lost a home game in more than 32 months. Taking the opening tip for Kentucky's opponent will be Brittney Griner, the reigning national player of the year and arguably the most famous female basketball player on the planet.
That's a tall order, but one these Cats aren't shying away from. They are looking forward to the marquee matchup because it's just another step in taking their program where they want it to go.
"We want to be the best program in the country," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We want to be the best women's basketball team in the country and I think you have to play in games like this to get there."
That sounds a lot like the old "to be the best, you have to beat the best" cliché, but there's a key distinction to be made. Mitchell doesn't discount what a win would mean for his team and his program, but neither a victory nor a defeat guarantees anything in March, when things really matter. It is the second game of the season after all.
"Being able to go on the road and play Baylor, who is such a great team, is something that will do nothing but help us," Mitchell said.
Don't get Mitchell wrong though, the Cats will head to Waco, Texas intent on winning. Baylor is the nation's unanimous No. 1, but Mitchell believes his sixth-ranked UK team has plenty of reasons to be confident heading into the State Farm Tip-Off Classic.
"I think they are certainly physical attributes of our team that would allow us to win the game and there are clearly physical attributes that Baylor possesses to win the game," Mitchell said.
Baylor's biggest physical attribute - both literally and figuratively - comes in the form of the 6-foot-8 Griner. She averaged 23.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.2 blocks last season and is as much of a presence on offense as she is on defense.
"Griner presents unique challenges just with her size, but she is a great player," Mitchell said. "She's not just a big imposing figure in there. She can really, really play and her game has developed."
In light of Griner's ability, it would be easy to get caught up in facing her and her alone. In Mitchell's mind, that would be a mistake for two reasons.
First, Baylor is far from a one-woman team. Point guard Odyssey Sims was an All-American as a sophomore in 2011-12, dishing out 4.4 assists per game to go along with 118 steals. She guided an offense that committed just 13.7 turnovers per game and outscored its opponents by an average of 26.3 points. In Mitchell's mind, limiting her is just as important as defending Griner.
"Odyssey Sims is unbelievable," Mitchell said. "She's a really, really good player, she's so explosive and she deserves every accolade she receives because she is a top-notch player. She's so fast with the basketball, so aggressive, so decisive in her movements and she is going to be a challenge."
Sims and a team full of talented players are reason enough not to focus solely on Griner. But even more importantly, Mitchell is not allowing the Cats to train their eyes on one player alone because they have bigger goals in mind than beating Baylor.
"We can't spend a whole lot of time just trying to take one player away at this stage in the season, because I think that would really impede our progress of trying to build this team for the long haul," Mitchell said.
With the season still so young, the Cats are still in the early stages of finding their feet in UK's signature "40 minutes of dread" defense. What that means is Mitchell wants his team primarily focused on itself and its own development rather than pulling out all the stops for a mid-November victory. What Mitchell wants is a team playing much better basketball when the calendar flips to 2013 and conference play begins.
The fact that the Cats are still a work in progress means it's difficult to predict what will happen against the nation's top team.
"We're not as sophisticated on defense as maybe we would be two months from now, so that part of it is sort of one of the big unknowns going into the game is how our defense will go up against their offense," Mitchell said. "It will be interesting to see."
All Mitchell can really ask at this point in the season is for effort and intensity. If the Cats can deliver those things, they will live with the result - win or lose - and go from there.
"This kind of game, I think we just have to turn it loose and go play really, really hard and try to stick as close to our identity as we can," Mitchell said. "Whether that's going to be a good formula to play Brittney Griner, we're not sure. We will find out tomorrow night."
Defensive end Collins Ukwu has 38 tackles and a team-leading four sacks during his senior season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Bye weeks are supposed to give teams a breather during a grueling football season. They provide the chance to recover physically and mentally, serving as a break from what can become a monotonous weekly routine.
Kentucky's bye week was certainly anything but routine.
The decision that Joker Phillips would replaced at season's end was announced. At first, it looked as if Phillips would not coach out the final weeks of the season. Eventually, he decided it would be best for his players if he did.
Add all that up and you have a bye week that was more an emotional drain than a break. Nonetheless, the Wildcats kept their heads in the game and even managed to sprinkle in some fun.
"Practices have been good, upbeat," Phillips said. "We've had no problem with that part of the whole season. We've had some upbeat practices, been positive, had some fun. Again, you're so young, guys are just excited to be out there on the football field."
Opportunities for those young players to take the field in 2012 are dwindling quickly. UK has just two games remaining, the first of which is coming up against Samford on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Commonwealth Stadium. For a group of seniors, it will be the final chance to take the field in front of their home fans.
"I think it'll be fun and I'm just anxious to get back on the field honestly," senior defensive end Collins Ukwu said. "It's going to be pretty fun just playing in Commonwealth one last time."
Ukwu and his classmates will participate in Senior Night festivities before kickoff. The La Vergne, Tenn., native is looking forward to it all, but he wants to make sure he holds himself together when he's presented with his framed jersey.
"Hopefully I won't be boo-hooing and stuff like that," Ukwu said. "Hopefully I can keep my composure. My mom's going to be with me so that's going to be pretty fun. Hopefully I can stay intact and ready to win the game."
Ukwu's senior year hasn't gone as he envisioned, but persevering through the adversity of the last few months and the last week in particular has been something he'll carry for the rest of his life.
"I really learned a lot about myself this year and to keep fighting and just to keep looking forward," Ukwu said. "That's something that I know that I'll be doing on in the future."
While Ukwu is looking forward to the next phase of life - whether it's in football or elsewhere - his younger teammates are hoping to right the ship and reach bowl games as Ukwu did his first three years on campus. At the same time, they feel a responsibility to send the veterans off the right way.
"I'm not a senior, but I love every single one of those guys," junior tailback Jonathan George said. "This week, I feel like we're coming out practicing hard and I feel like we owe that to those guys. We're going to come out and attack this week and try to come out Saturday and get a big win for those guys."
George and many other Wildcats also said they want to win the game for Phillips, the Kentucky native who has worn the Blue and White as a player and coach for more than two decades.
"To be around Coach Phillips all the time when we're not on TV on Saturday," junior defensive tackle Tristian Johnson said. "The Mondays and the Tuesdays with him when he can sit down and talk to you. He's just a great guy. Sometimes we just look at him as a head coach and that's all we see him as a head coach. But I got to meet him as a guy, and he's a great guy."
Phillips appreciates the sentiment, but he'd rather have the focus on his players.
"I don't need any treatment, special treatment or anything," Phillips said. "It's not my senior day. I want those guys that have been here and given all they have for this program to be rewarded."
With Phillips leading the way, practices at the Nutter Training Facility won't look any different this week even though the circumstances have changed radically.
"It's been business as usual," George said. "They coaches came and they haven't coached us any different. The players, we've been attacking every practice as if it was the same."
Where all the players want things to be different is on the field at Commonwealth. The Cats and the seniors in particular want to finish strong.
"We're just playing for each other because this is probably going to be the last time we'll ever play with each other," Ukwu said. "It's something that we just want to capitalize (on) and be better and win these last two games."
After playing 10 minutes against Maryland with flu-like symptoms, Ryan Harrow's status for Tuesday's game against Duke is uncertain. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In Kentucky's season opener, Ryan Harrow's battle with illness opened up for Jarrod Polson to create one of the more interesting in-game storylines during John Calipari's tenure. Taking advantage of his first extended minutes as a Wildcat, Polson scored 10 points, including two crucial free throws with less than 10 seconds left to help seal UK's 72-69 victory over Maryland.
With Harrow still dealing with flu-like symptoms, Polson could have another such opportunity.
On Monday, Coach Cal announced that Harrow has not practiced since the Maryland game. UK has one more practice Monday afternoon before leaving for Atlanta and the Champions Classic and it will determine whether Harrow is available.
"We practice later today," Calipari said. "If he can go today, he'll make the trip. If he cannot go today, (he) probably in all likelihood will not make the trip to Atlanta."
Against Maryland, Harrow played 10 minutes, dishing out two assists and committing one turnover. In hindsight, Calipari says Harrow should have been held out. Coach Cal won't make the same mistake when UK faces Duke at 9:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
"He's still not a hundred percent really, hasn't practiced since we've been back," Calipari said. "Probably should have held him out in that Maryland game. We've been holding him out of competition until he's a hundred percent now and back practicing."
Entering the season opener, Julius Mays' status was also questionable with a knee injury. He ended up being good to go, playing 30 minutes and scoring seven points, but took a blow to his eye. Mays would return to the game, but swelling has been an issue since.
"The eye injury to Julius kept him out of practice yesterday," Calipari said. "I've not seen him today. His eye closed up on him so we're trying to see what that means."
With both Harrow and Mays uncertain for Tuesday, Coach Cal is left pondering how to fill his rotation. Polson is likely to see time again, but Calipari also said Jon Hood and Twany Beckham could get minutes as well. He is also considering the possibility of playing a big lineup with Kyle Wiltjer at the three position and Archie Goodwin at point guard.
"We'll have to see," Calipari said. "There's all kinds of different lineups I can try to find."
Coach Cal will have to figure out who will be on the floor should Harrow and Mays be unavailable, but his top priority heading into a game with the top-10 Blue Devils is unchanged.
"My concern right now is, alright, when they really get after us, how do we respond?" Calipari said. "We're freshmen. How do we respond? When they make a little run, which they're going to do, how do we respond? This is what we're going to learn about our team."
A'dia Mathies had 16 points, six rebounds and four steals in UK's season-opening win over Delaware State. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
With his team playing its first game of the season, Matthew Mitchell wasn't looking for a masterpiece. He wasn't expecting flawless execution on offense or a perfect demonstration of Kentucky's "40 minutes of dread" defense.
The first step toward building toward that sort of game is effort, so that's really all he wanted.
The Wildcats delivered it.
"The first part of building our team and our defensive identity starts with that, with a high level of intensity," Mitchell said. "And that starts with their attitude and their willingness to really put themselves out there and make mistakes, because we made a ton of mistakes today. But it's all part of the process."
In spite of those inevitable mistakes, UK delivered a 90-50 win over Delaware State to move to 1-0 on the young season and extend its home winning streak to 21 games. The Cats scored the game's first 11 points and led by double digits for all of the final 35:02. Preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies turned in a solid all-around game with 16 points, six assists, four steals and two rebounds.
"We just tried to play Kentucky basketball, try to give 40 minutes of our best," Mathies said. "We felt like if we would do that, that then we should have a great victory, and we did tonight."
Mathies didn't commit a single turnover, but she was much closer to the exception than the rule on this afternoon in Memorial Coliseum. UK forced 31 turnovers - an eye-popping number for most teams, but a rather pedestrian one for the Cats - but committed 22 of its own. Seven players among the 13 that played for UK had at least two turnovers.
On the sideline though, Mitchell didn't seem to dwell much on his team's giveaways. His normal response to an errant pass or a ball lost of bounds was to yell "Go, go, go."
"We will figure out, we will correct in timeouts, we will correct in dead balls, we will correct in video review and practice," Mitchell said. "That's when we'll correct. The main thing that you have to have is a mentality of putting the pressure on and attacking all the time."
On that front, UK was just fine.
"It's early in the season and the thing that I liked was the speed that Delaware State had to play with today, they were pretty uncomfortable it looked like to me," Mitchell said.
Playing their first game under new head coach Tamika Louis, the visiting Hornets had trouble coping with UK's trademark pressure. They committed traveling violations on each of their first three possessions and had 19 turnovers by halftime in battling the Cats and a loud crowd of 4,637.
"You know what you're getting yourself into," Louis said. "The problem is you really can't prepare for it."
Louis wasn't the only party involved in this game going through a first-time experience.
After transferring from California and sitting out last season, DeNesha Stallworth played in her first game as a Wildcat. She hit five of her nine attempts from the field en route to posting 11 points, two rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes.
"I was definitely excited," Stallworth said. "It's a lot to work on, but we just have to just take it day by day, practice by practice. But overall, it was a pretty good performance."
Since she made public her decision to attend Kentucky more than 18 months ago, Mitchell has raved about Stallworth's game. Her line in the box score was solid, but her coach expects more.
"On defense, I didn't think she was anywhere close to what she can be," Mitchell said. "Offensively, I thought she was very impatient around the bucket. Those are my initial impressions of her. She is a very talented player and has, I think, a real possibility of having a great year."
In its upcoming test, UK will need everything it can get out of Stallworth and every other interior player.
Mitchell was happy with how his team kept the focus on Delaware State even with a trip to face Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor looming on Tuesday, but the attention now shifts in that direction.
"I think we're going to have to be clicking on all cylinders," Mathies said. "We definitely got to have great ball pressure, great denying and great help defense, that's the basis for any defense. But just being able to knock down open shots and everybody staying on the attack and being aggressive, not being passive even when there's somebody who's 6'8 and can block basically everything."
Mitchell, though, will make sure to keep his team's focus primarily internal heading into the marquee matchup.
"I think, at this point in the season, what's important for us is we have to have two more good days of trying to work on the things that will make us good and then go down there and try to be a Kentucky team that goes and plays," Mitchell said.
His players are following suit, balancing confidence with keeping the game in perspective.
"It's not going to make or break our season, but we're definitely going to put all we have into this game, just like we do every game," Mathies said. "I think if we focus on Kentucky on the things we do well and things we should do well, playing aggressive and playing our best, we should be able to come out with a victory."
Jarrod Polson had 10 points in 22 key minutes off the bench as UK defeated Maryland 72-69 on Friday night in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Big Blueprint is back. A rapid recap of the game, the Big Blueprint looks at the nuts and bolts of the latest UK game when Cat Scratches is not in attendance. Today, we break down UK's 74-59 win over Florida to close out the regular season.
The skinny: The No. 3 Wildcats held on to defeat a scrappy Maryland team 72-69 as the Terrapins took the Wildcats to the wire up in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the first ever Barclays Center Classic, the Wildcats (1-0) saw their lead shrink smaller and smaller until the Terrapins (0-1) took a lead in the middle of the second half. Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer got off to a slow start but found his stroke to lead the Cats with 19 points. Freshman Archie Goodwin had a strong first half and finished with 16 points on the night. But it was junior guard Jarrod Polson who held things together for the Wildcats down the stretch. Polson kicked in a career-high ten points with three assists in 22 crucial minutes to stabilize the offense and help lead UK to a three-point victory.
The difference: Field-goal percentage. Kentucky got off to a great start offensively, scoring 49 first-half points. Meanwhile, Maryland struggled to get shots to fall for most of the night. The Wildcats shot 43 percent from the field compared to Maryland's 33 percent, but the Terrapins were 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Kentucky shot 46 percent from downtown, hitting six of its 13 attempts. The Terps could have made quite a run against Kentucky as they pulled down 28 offensive rebounds, but they failed to score on their second-chance opportunities and the UK defense continued to challenge shot attempts. Player of the game: Jarrod Polson. With Kentucky having trouble taking care of the ball in spurts during both the first half and second half, Polson came in and played 22 minutes as point guard Ryan Harrow struggled to get things going for UK after battling illness this week in practice. Polson came in and immediately stabilized the offense. The junior found himself in the right place at the right time throughout the night as he had a couple of big stick backs, a circus-act layup, and hit two big free throws at the end of the game to extend Kentucky's lead. He added three assists, picked up a steal and made four of his five shots from the field. Calipari alluded to the fact that the staff was comfortable with Polson in the game, and as foul trouble mounted in the first half, Polson made the most of his opportunity and made a strong case for more playing time in the immediate future.
Turning point: After a Charles Mitchell layup at the 5:07 mark in the second half to give Maryland the 63-62 lead, Polson came up with a stick back at the 5:09 mark as he cleaned up a Kentucky miss to put UK back ahead, 64-63. UK would never turn back from there as the Cats rode the Polson wave the rest of the way. From there, the Wildcats would build a five-point lead. The Terrapins fought back and made it close, but Polson would come down with seven seconds remaining to hit both free throws and give UK its final three-point margin.
Key stat: Rebounding. Though Kentucky still managed to come away with the win, Maryland had several opportunities to put up big numbers against the Cats. They outrebounded UK 54-38, including a staggering 28 offensive rebounds that nearly cost Kentucky the game. Had the Cats limited Maryland's second-chance opportunities, they may have been able to maintain a much more comfortable lead for most of the game. Against better shooting teams, second-chance points could really hurt the Wildcats the rest of the season if they don't get that corrected. With the amount of size that UK possesses, the big men have to learn how to play with one another in the post and know that when one of them is going to block, the others must rebound. The guards also need to do a better job of picking up long rebounds as many of Maryland's second chances came on long misses on the opposite side of the rim. Unsung heroes: Nerlens Noel. In his much-anticipated collegiate debut, Noel was as good defensively as advertised. He altered shots all night, came up with two steals, three blocked shots and pulled down nine rebounds. He was particularly aggressive offensively out of the gate, hitting a nice jump hook to start the game for UK, but he cooled down offensively the rest of the way. However, his defensive presence in the lane led to several missed shots around the basket for UK and contributed a great deal to Maryland's 33 percent shooting from the field.
He said what?: "The team with 7-footers, five guys that can jump above the square, should not give up 30 offensive rebounds."- Calipari
"They're going to be fine. What they were is manhandled a little bit today. Now, we had 11 blocks today." - Calipari on his freshmen
"We're not ready to play 40 minutes of basketball. We're just not ready." - Calipari
"(Polson was) ready for his opportunity, and as a coach there's nothing that makes me happier. The whole team was hugging him in there." - Calipari on Polson's play What this one means: Calipari talked about how he wasn't sure how his team would play when they actually got to play another Division I opponent. He knew that starting with Maryland and Duke would be very tough tests for his young team early on, but that no matter the outcome Kentucky would use these first two games as learning experiences. His players, particularly the freshmen and newcomers who struggled a bit at times in a brand-new environment, definitely showed where they excelled. They also showed their glaring weaknesses and gave Calipari and his staff an opportunity to see where they stand early in the season. Kentucky was able to hang on despite not having worked on situational play much in practice, and the Cats did it while not playing their best basketball. At times the Wildcats looked far ahead of expectations, but as the second half wore on, UK came back to reality. Overall it was a great opportunity to see what areas to address before their first matchup with Duke in 10 years this Tuesday in Atlanta.
Women's soccer won the first NCAA Tournament game in program history on Friday night over UT Martin. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Jon Lipsitz knew this day would come.
When he accepted the head coaching position of Kentucky women's soccer, he was certain the Wildcats would deliver the program's first ever NCAA Tournament win. It was his vision.
With a 1-0 win on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex, his team proved him right.
"I was brought here four years ago to make it to this moment," Lipsitz said.
Lipsitz even knew this was the year it would happen.
"We've been sitting in the office for three years going, '2012, 2012, 2012,' " Lipsitz said. "And that doesn't mean we didn't think it could happen before. We almost did it last year, but it was our dream that we knew it was going to happen this year. We knew."
The moment, however, did not come easily against a game UT Martin squad. The Cats and Skyhawks remained locked in a scoreless tie through 90 minutes of regulation play. UK stayed true to its possession-based style, holding the ball for the majority of the game, but failed to capitalize on 12 shots, six of which were on goal.
"UT Martin presented an unbelievable tactical challenge to us," Lipsitz said. "It was a classic soccer game of a team looking for their one moment and us trying to keep them from that moment while finally finding the goal."
For the second year in a row, the Cats headed to overtime in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. In 2011, UK would eventually fall in penalty kicks to Washington State. This time, a senior who was on the field for that loss had no intention of letting the outcome be determined in the same way. She let her team know about it.
"(Natalie) Horner was very clear with the team at the beginning of overtime that we were not going to PKs. Very clear," Lipsitz said.
So clear, in fact, that he walked away from the huddle and essentially let his team run itself. But not before drawing up the play that would win the Cats the game. It seems, in fact, that just as Lipsitz knew this day would come, so too did he have a good idea how its decisive moment would happen.
"He literally drew up the goal," Arin Gilliland said.
With Skyhawks swarming Gilliland, Lipsitz recognized UK's sophomore forward likely wouldn't be adding to her team-leading goal total.
"Before overtime I took out my pad and I drew Gilliland going central like that and they were running four players at her and I said to her, 'You are not going to score the goal, it's not going to happen,' " Lipsitz said. " 'There is no way you are going to get through that many players. Even if you do there is going to be a fifth and a sixth.' "
With Gilliland drawing the attention, Kelli Hubly went wide. Gilliland fed her and the freshman forward put away the game winner.
"I actually did not think it was real life," Hubly said. "When I got the ball I was thinking, 'What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?' Every day at practice we work on those, and I said, 'Oh, I just have to hit it past her.' "
It turns out the situation was yet another one Lipsitz foresaw.
UK was on the field this morning what he expected to be a casual walkthrough, but Lipsitz heard something that concerned him. Working on the exact breakaway situation on which she would score just hours later, the words "I'm not good at these" escaped Hubly's mouth. To Lipsitz, that was unacceptable.
"We don't really work on anything except for walking through the day of the game, but I pulled some balls out and made her do that repeatedly," Lipsitz said. "We made all of our forwards do that because from film we knew that would be the way to score."
When game time arrived, Lipsitz pulled Hubly aside to hammer his message home: self-assuredness is a must.
"I made her say over and over 'I'm going to score a goal, I'm going to score a goal, I'm going to get a breakaway, I'm going to score a goal,' " Lipsitz said. "It's just so special because it's one thing to coach, it's another thing when players respond."
Right again, Coach Lipsitz.
Now that everything Lipsitz believed would happen has come to pass, what's next?
Well, UK almost certainly faces a West Coast trip to face the winner of second-seeded San Diego State and Cal State Northridge. Before refocusing on doubling UK's all-time NCAA win total, the Cats are going to savor No. 1.
"The next step, it starts Sunday," Lipsitz said. "Saturday, it doesn't. We're going to enjoy this for a little while but it starts Sunday. You have to get that first one to take the pressure off, to know that this is what we are about. For me, I'm going to enjoy this because we can never do this again, that's the special thing about the first."
Bria Goss scored 16 points in just 19 minutes in UK's exhibition win over Bellarmine. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
No one is questioning the closeness of the Kentucky women's basketball team, but there have been times this preseason that the Wildcats weren't all that fond of one another.
Through intense practices and grueling workouts, players spent day after day with one another. They shared a common goal, but in pursuing it, they competed with one another, and never harder than one of the first times they went full-court.
Samarie Walker can't remember whether it was a four-on-four or five-on-five drill, but she remembers clearly what the Cats felt like afterward.
"I got sick of looking at my teammates, playing against them," the junior forward said. "We did this one drill in practice and afterwards we all hated each other. We argued first and then didn't talk to each other the rest of the day."
Bria Goss can remember that specific instance too, but it is not the only time she can remember things getting heated.
"It gets like that after practice," Goss said. "It gets pretty competitive in here (the practice gym). One time, we all came out here and competed, emotion ran so high that the locker room was quiet. After practice, I was almost preaching to the team and telling them, 'This what we need and this is what we got to do.' "
All that work, all that passion add up to a team singularly focused on the 2012-13 season, which begins officially at 1 p.m. on Saturday when UK plays host to Delaware State in both teams' first game. The hard work has been one thing, but the way last season ended in the Elite Eight has made this spring, summer and early fall that much more interminable.
"Coming off the loss to Connecticut, you just want to go back on the court," Goss said. "You never want to lose your last game. Since we lost that last game, you just want to hurry up and get back on the floor. Now that it's here, we're just thankful. It was a long offseason."
March's NCAA Tournament loss may be sticking with the Cats, but there are no such unhappy memories from last season's home slate. UK won all 18 of its home games last season, all but one of which were in Memorial Coliseum, to run its home winning to 20 and its home record to 48-2 dating back to the 2009-10 season.
"There isn't a lot of carry over and we don't look back a lot, but we do honor the accomplishments of teams that have come before us," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "The last three teams have lost two games in three years here and that is a big deal. And the only way you make that a bigger deal is to keep winning."
The offseason even included a workout specifically designed to keep the importance of winning at home in the forefront of players' minds. The Cats only did the "Protect the House" drill a few times, but that was more than enough to make the message sink in.
Strength and conditioning coach Stephanie Tracie-Simmons would lead the proceedings, having players read the names of World War I, World War II and Korean War soldiers whose names are written at the entrance to the building. The Cats would then jog up the ramp, enter the gym, do 50 double-under jump rope repetitions, run around the entire stadium and up and down the stairs before jump-roping one last time. Bernisha Pinkett finished first each time, but Goss reported that each member of the team improved her time.
"It's a tough workout, but we always compete with each other," Goss said.
While going through the workout, it's difficult to think about anything other than the next step, but once it's over, "Protect the House" is a reminder of what it takes to do just that.
"During it, I don't think we think about it," Walker said. "We just think about getting through it. Before and afterward, it's definitely something that's on our minds."
UK's first chance to defend its home floor will come against a team neither the coaches nor the players know much about. Delaware State returns a fair amount of experience from 2011-12, but Tamika Lewis is in her first year leading the Hornets as head coach. Mitchell isn't all that concerned about the unfamiliarity because, at this point, most of his focus is on his own team anyway.
"I think everyone this time of year is pretty much in the same boat," Mitchell said. "It's hard to prepare for somebody else when you are just trying to prepare yourself to be the kind of team you want to be. We're not ever overly concerned with the opponent, we always have a very healthy respect for who we are playing and we try the best we can."
Even though the game isn't for four days, Mitchell fielded more questions about unanimous No. 1 Baylor than Delaware State. UK will take on the Bears on Nov. 13 in the State Farm Classic in one of women's college basketball's marquee early-season games and the Cats would be lying if they said it's a matchup they haven't yet thought about. Nevertheless, they are following their coach's lead and taking things one step at a time.
"We see it up in our hallway by the locker room, we have a little countdown (to the Baylor game)," Walker said. "But that doesn't mean anything until we get past Saturday."
Lucas Gerotto has won the 100-butterfly in all three meets this season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the Kentucky swimming team, two Gerottos are better than one.
Junior Lucas Gerotto and his sister, sophomore Julia Gerotto, have been two bright spots early on for the Kentucky squad this season. Lucas has been on a hot streak all season, winning the 100-butterfly event in all three swim meets UK has participated in this season, while Julia has come on strong as of late, winning her first event in the 200-butterfly.
The Brazilian siblings are showing that even though they are a long ways away from home, they are more than comfortable finding success in the United States. And even better, for the University of Kentucky.
It almost didn't turn out that way.
Lucas's first choice wasn't Kentucky. He actually spent one season at Clemson University before transferring to UK. But the decision to transfer wasn't ultimately his.
"I first went to Clemson and then we had our program cut," said Lucas. "I started looking for new places and (UK head coach) Gary (Conelly) contacted me."
It was a frustrating time for Lucas. Clemson had just completed one of the greatest seasons in program history. They finished No. 25 in the nation and Lucas had excelled in his freshman season. As he dealt with the feelings of losing his team, he had to begin looking for a new one.
Current Kentucky assistant and former Clemson assistant Derek Perkins played a major role in the recruitment of the Gerottos to Kentucky. He knew Lucas from their time at Clemson and had already developed a relationship with the Gerotto family.
While Lucas weighed his options, a newly-hired Perkins and the Kentucky staff were already looking at Julia to possibly add to their roster. Unable to make a visit of her own, Julia had to rely on Lucas's opinion when he took his recruiting trip to the Bluegrass.
"I came for a recruiting trip, loved it, and my sister was back in Brazil looking for a university here," said Lucas. "She asked me to pay attention to stuff and tell her later what I thought about it. I just told her that I loved it and thought it was a great place."
Each of them had other options and places they were looking at, but based on her older brother's impressions, Julia put her trust in Lucas's observations during his trip.
"It kind of just worked out that way," said Julia. "We were looking at all different places, and I just trusted my brother's opinion and thought, 'OK, I can go to the same school as you.' "
With the decision made to come to Kentucky, Julia finished up her high school education in December of 2010 so that she could enroll early at UK in 2011. Though she would have to sit out of competition in the spring semester, she was able to spend some time with the team and get used to the college life.
Meanwhile, Lucas was finishing up his final semester at Clemson before he could head to his new university.
It was a difficult adjustment for Julia initially, coming to a brand-new country and having to assimilate into a completely different culture. Times were tough.
"It was like a big change for me," said Julia. "I didn't have time to get used to it. I just got here and had to learn everything. My brother was at Clemson, so he had a year to adjust to the American lifestyle."
But when Lucas finally made it to Lexington, the Gerottos relied on one another to settle in. Julia looked to her older brother on how to get used to America and the college lifestyle, while Lucas relied on Julia to get used to his new school and team.
"I'm the oldest one so I'm kind of responsible for her," said Lucas. "But she got here six months before me, so she had the responsibility to tell me where things were and how things work here, so it was funny because I was looking out for her and taking care of her, and she was doing the same thing for me."
Each of them, after spending most of their lives swimming together back in their club at Brazil, were reunited and once again swimming for the same team. Life became easier.
"He taught me some things about classes and how it worked," said Julia. "He taught me some things about practice and how different the coaching style is from Brazil. It was just really helpful to have him go through the adjustments first."
For Lucas, after spending a year by himself in Clemson, it was nice to be able to have his family back.
"I think here it's special because we're away from family, so we have each other's support and someone to speak Portuguese to," said Lucas. "I think that's one of the things I wish I had in my first year as a freshman. She wasn't there with me. I feel like it's easier here for me."
Julia Gerotto picked up her first win of the season against Auburn in the 200-butterfly. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After strong campaigns in their first seasons at Kentucky, it would seem the Gerottos have settled in nicely in Lexington. This season, they are already making a deep impact, often seeing their names high up in the results.
Lucas has had a great start to the season, winning the 100-buttefly event in each of the first three meets he's competed in this season. And in each meet he's improved his time. Standing at 5-foot-9, Lucas doesn't have the typical make-up of a sprinter. But one thing that he was able to do that he didn't have the chance to do in Brazil was to hit the weight room.
After spending a summer in Lexington after his first season, Lucas hit the weights and added some strength. A distance swimmer for the majority of his life with the 200-butterfly his specialty, his additional strength helped him become one of the top sprinters in the Southeastern Conference.
"That's his favorite because it's the perfect distance for him," said Conelly. "He takes a lot of pride in that race. I don't think he's going to let anyone beat him in it. They're going to have to outperform him to do that, and that's going to take a pretty special swim."
On the women's side this season, Julia has helped pick up the slack. On a team that's hurting due to a few injuries, Julia's filled in for other areas that may not be her strong suits. And she's getting better every week.
Conelly says her swims have been critical.
"On Julia's side," said Conelly, "her performances are enormous because we actually are swimming her out of her best events and she's taking up slack where we're not as strong like the 1000 and 500 and stuff like that."
Julia's best events are shorter races like the 200-butterfly or the 200-individual medley, but she's been able to hold her own in the other events that her team needs her. Last weekend against Auburn, she picked up her first win of the season in one of her specialty races, finishing first in the 200-butterfly while also claiming second place finishes in the 1000-freestyle and 400-individual medley.
The Gerottos are not long, tall athletes. They don't have prototypical builds of top swimmers. They are getting results. But how?
"I personally hate, hate to lose," said Julia. "I'm really competitive in everything I do in life."
Julia and Lucas each have that killer instinct which has seen them find success during meets each weekend this season. It's something that Conelly believes makes a good swimmer great.
"They are both really talented swimmers, but I think more importantly they're real hard workers," said Conelly. "They're very competitive. They want to do real well. They push themselves real hard in practices. So when they get up to race, they give 100 percent every time they race."
That competitiveness may be the key to each of Lucas and Julia's success the rest of their swimming careers as their bright spots become brighter. Conelly feels that there is potential for each of them to succeed in the NCAA championships and eventually compete for the Brazilian national team in the Olympics. With the physical skills that each of them already have, the future is very bright as long as they continue to "hate to lose."
"They can go pretty far," said Conelly. "They've got a really good combination. They've got the most important piece of the combination which is the drive to win. They're both physically really talented and then they have that killer instinct to compete. You can't teach that."
Senior Ashley Frazier is one of 10 national finalists for the Senior CLASS Award (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When covering the beat of a sports team, you get to spend quite a bit of time around the athletes. You see how they perform on the court during competition or even in the fragments of practice you witness over the season. But it's always interesting to get to know the personality of the team, both collectively and individually.
One of the most pleasant athletes I have had the pleasure of dealing with over the course of the season while covering the Kentucky volleyball beat is senior Ashley Frazier. In October, Frazier was named one of 10 national finalists in NCAA volleyball and the first in program history for the Senior CLASS Award.
CLASS is an acronym for "Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School". And if there is a better word to describe Frazier than "class," I've yet to hear one.
A relentless competitor on the court, Frazier takes the same mentality off the court in her everyday life. She's a model student-athlete who is currently enrolled in the MBA program at UK after finishing her Management and Marketing degree following her redshirt junior season.
Frazier knows that, while her passion is volleyball and there may be professional opportunities in the sport after her senior season, the sport is only temporary.
"School has always been a really big focus for me because while I love playing volleyball, I'm not going to be able to do it forever," said Frazier. "So making the most of this opportunity and getting an education and doing well in it was very important to me."
She has certainly made the most of her opportunities. Frazier transferred to Kentucky after two seasons of playing for Alabama. After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, Frazier helped fill a major void at the outside hitter position last season and she's continued to be a major contributor as the current kills leader for the Wildcats with 285 putaways on the season.
She's had multiple 20-kill matches this season, most recently in a 3-1 win over Ole Miss. After the match, Frazier downplayed her performance, as she usually does, and focused solely on her team. After tying her career-high in kills, above all things she was more concerned with the fact that she and her teammates had just added another win to their total.
And when asked about her nomination for the Senior CLASS Award, Frazier was quick to deflect the praise away from herself and give it to those who have helped her continue to reach new heights, both on and off the hardwood.
"It's just a huge honor and speaks to all the work we've put in over the last four years," said Frazier. "Obviously I couldn't have done any of it without everyone who has supported be along the way like my teammates, my coaches, everybody in the academic center, just pushing me to do better all the time."
As her senior season winds down, Frazier looks to be getting stronger as her supporting cast continues to push her to improve on a daily basis. Her performance has been crucial for Kentucky as the Wildcats hit the stretch run heading into the postseason.
"She has really done a lot for us physically on the court," said Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. "In the last few weeks, she's really come into her own in terms of having a presence and having a spirit about her that is pretty important to our program."
Frazier isn't the type of leader to get the team fired up, nor is she going to be very vocal on the court. She is much more of the leader-by-example type, and her nomination for the Senior CLASS Award explains exactly why.
For her teammates, they see how she carries herself not only on the court on game day and in practice, but they also witness her success in the classroom and her service in the community.
"She's a marketing major and I'm also a marketing major," said junior defensive specialist Jessi Greenberg. "So she's setting a really good example for not only me, but everyone else on the team that you can be an elite athlete and be an awesome student too."
It takes a special person to be able to continue to practice healthy habits as a student-athlete, whether it is in the classroom, on the court or in the community. Frazier excels in all three aspects.
"She's always one of those people that since she's been here she's been a pretty consistent person," said fellow senior Christine Hartmann. "She's always been who she is, just a great person and part of that is being part of the community and stuff with the team and doing well in school. Those are all things that have always been important to her."
Frazier, Hartmann and senior libero Stephanie Klefot each have their own ways to help lead this team. Klefot is the energetic one, bringing enthusiasm on the court and getting her teammates fired up. Hartmann tends to be in charge of picking up the slack and letting her teammates know when to step it up. And Frazier leads by example.
But that doesn't mean when she talks that people don't listen. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Perceived as a quiet leader, when Frazier has something to say to her team, they know it's important.
Due to the experiences she's gone through, the way she handles herself on and off the court, and how she respects her teammates, she's earned the utmost respect from her peers. When she has something to say, it's often meaningful and impactful.
To freshman middle blocker Sara Schwarzwalder, that type of leadership is invaluable.
"She's a great leader on and off the court," said Schwarzwalder. "Obviously she gets good grades. She's a hard worker on and off the court. She's a role model. She's great. I love her."
While Hartmann is more likely to challenge her teammates and isn't afraid to get after them when they need it, Frazier is a more calm, detail-oriented speaker when she needs to get her point across.
"She doesn't just say stuff to fill space," said Schwazwalder. "She says stuff that's meaningful and she has thought about and witnessed on the court.
"She's great to hear her past experiences or just to talk about 'This spot's open.' She doesn't do it in a way that's in your face but in a way that's calm and collected."
Now the team is collecting wins while Frazier is collecting votes. Since Frazier has been so giving of herself to the University of Kentucky, her team and the community, the Big Blue Nation is now returning the favor as the campaign for Frazier to win the Senior CLASS Award. Her teammates tweet about voting for her daily, encouraging their followers to do the same.
The support has been overwhelming for Frazier and nothing says "class" more than a gracious individual. And as you can guess, Frazier is exactly that.
"It's really awesome," said Frazier of being first in the fan vote. "I'm super thankful for all of the support I'm getting. Everybody at home and everybody in the UK community just backing me, I'm really appreciative of that kind of support."
As of Friday morning, Frazier held a slim lead in voting for the Senior CLASS Award. Fans can vote once a day at this link.
John Calipari and the Wildcats practiced at the Barclays Center on Thursday in preparation for their game against Maryland on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The relationship between John Calipari and Mark Turgeon dates back to the days the two spent at Kansas.
Calipari was an assistant under Larry Brown when Turgeon arrived as an undersized in-state point guard. Turgeon was listed at 5-foot-10, but says he was closer to 5-8 when he first came on campus. Nonetheless, Calipari recalls a very confident freshman.
"Mark I remember coming up to a table while we were having breakfast and Larry Brown had gotten the job and he just walked up and said, 'I am better than any point guard you have on your team,' " Calipari said.
Turgeon isn't sure he was quite so brass.
"I didn't really say it like that," Turgeon said. "We had a meeting with Coach Brown and Coach (Bob) Hill. They just asked me if I could play at Kansas and I thought I could, but I was really small."
Self-belief is one thing Calipari and Turgeon had in common from the start, which helps explain why they became so close in just one season before Coach Cal left to be an assistant at Pittsburgh.
"He hasn't changed a bit," Turgeon said. "He talked all the time then, very confident then, knew his basketball then, great recruiter then. He was just fun to be around and I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for John being a part of my life at a young age. He gave me a lot of confidence."
Nearly three decades after their time together in Lawrence, Kan., the two will face off as coaches as they open the 2012-13 season, Calipari leading Kentucky and Turgeon in his second season at Maryland.
The programs the men are leading both have storied pasts, but while UK is about to begin a national title defense, Turgeon is in the midst of a rebuilding job. Friday's 8:30 p.m. ET game in the Barclays Center Classic was borne out of Calipari trying to help his friend in that process.
"He felt like my program needed this, felt like it would be a good opportunity for us," Turgeon said. "A lot of guys wouldn't do that so I feel grateful to him and we're looking forward to getting to New York and playing against a great Kentucky team that's obviously well-coached every year."
That doesn't mean either is particularly excited about facing off against a friend. They will be happy to see each other, but both will be looking to start the season on the right foot.
"I'm not one of those guys who likes playing friends, and Mark Turgeon is a guy I've known for years," Calipari said. "He was a player at Kansas when I coached there, and a terrific player and great teammate and somebody I've grown to respect over the years."
In the end, the game should be good for both programs and coaches. UK is in need of an early-season test of the team's mettle and the same goes for Maryland.
"He is one of the guys that you don't want to play them - the Tony Barbees, the Derek Kelloggs, the Josh Pastners - and if you lose to those guys you are sick but you are really happy for them," Calipari said. "You end up saying, 'You know what? If I am going to lose, I want to lose to this guy who will really benefit,' " Calipari said.
This year marks the first time since 2002 that Kentucky opens the season away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. And Friday's game in Brooklyn, vs. Maryland, is followed by a trip to Atlanta Tuesday night, to face Duke.
More than a few times in recent months, John Calipari has warned Big Blue fans that his fourth Kentucky team could start the season 0-2. ESPN's Andy Katz agrees with Coach Cal.
"Kentucky has more talent than both of those teams combined, but those teams will be more ready for an early-season game like this (because of experience)," Katz noted in a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show.
Katz pointed out that Michigan State lost its first two games last season and still captured a share of the Big Ten title and gained a number one seed on Selection Sunday. And with games at Notre Dame and Louisville on the non-conference slate, Katz says UK could lose all four of those games and yet still make it to the Final Four.
Dortch on UK seeking a veteran presence
When Chris Dortch looks at the Kentucky team about to start a new college basketball season, his biggest question is not about the freshmen joining the program but about the veterans.
"Who's going to step up? I don't know that they would have won it all without Darius Miller."
The editor of the comprehensive Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook believes Kyle Wiltjer can answer that call.
"I think Kyle Wiltjer is a guy who can really step up his game," Dortch said. "I think he's got as versatile of an offensive game as you'll see in college basketball. It's going to be interesting to me to see if he can take it to the next level. I think he can."
UK, Maryland share big-game histories
Kentucky and Maryland were on the losing ends of what were arguably the two greatest games in college basketball history.
Cat fans know we're talking about the 1992 epic battle with Duke in the NCAA East Region final. For Maryland, that game came in the 1974 ACC Tournament title game, as North Carolina State beat the Terrapins 103-100 in overtime.
In '74, only the league champion made it to the NCAA Tourney field and that NC State-Maryland classic, many believe, provided the push the NCAA folks needed to expand the tournament and allow leagues to send more than one team - putting us on the road to today's version of March Madness. Cats, Terps both boast past top picks
Kentucky and Maryland are two of only 10 schools that can say they have had two players chosen first overall in the NBA draft.
At UK, both were recent - John Wall in 2010 and Anthony Davis earlier this summer. At Maryland, it was John Lucas in 1976 and Joe Smith in 1995.