February 2013 Archives
Beginning at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday, season ticket holders were able to reserve up to eight tickets through Ticketmaster using an emailed code. During the same time, UK students have been able to pick up tickets at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office with their student IDs. By 3:40 p.m., 22,189 tickets had been claimed, up more than 4,000 tickets from just three hours prior.
In perhaps the clearest sign yet of the enthusiasm injected into the UK fan base by the arrival of Mark Stoops, that number of 20,700 would set at all-time record for attendance at a UK football spring game. Attendance at the 1987 edition of the event was estimated at 20,235 in 1987. Even more remarkably, tickets don't become available to the general public until March 11 at 9 a.m.
Don't think coaches and players aren't taking notice.
Great start to spring game tickets sales. Lets fill up Commonwealth! #BBN-- Neal Brown (@UKCoachBrown) February 28, 2013
In spite of unprecedented demand, there is still plenty of time to join in. If you are a season ticket holder, check your email to find the spring game code then obtain tickets in one of the following ways:
- Online at TicketMaster.com, by clicking here.
- By calling TicketMaster at 800-745-3000
- In person at TicketMaster outlets in Kentucky
- NOTE: Tickets are free but there is a small service charge per ticket
Members of Kentucky's 1996 national championship returned to Rupp Arena on Wednesday night for a special ceremony. Members of the team known as "The Untouchables" received title rings the players designed themselves in a ceremony at halftime of UK's win over Mississippi State.
"They sacrificed more than any team I'd ever seen When you talk about guys getting 20 minutes who deserved 40 minutes and accepting it, it was incredible," John Calipari said. "Anytime I see them, they're always kind to us and this program. I'm just happy that the university stepped up and did what they did. I think it shows a lot that we do reach back. If there's anything that we can make right, we do."
Check out the video above to see the ring ceremony. If you didn't see our story from earlier in the week about the '96 team getting rings, check it out here.
Sitting on the sideline, Harrow did little to try to hide his displeasure. With his team down big and Harrow not starting for the first time in more than two months, he wasn't happy.
Harrow didn't direct his discontent toward his coach or his teammates. He didn't try to assign blame as he went scoreless for the second straight game.
"I was more so disappointed in myself to how I was playing and to put myself in that position to be sitting on the bench," Harrow said.
Rather than going into a shell and resigning himself to his fate, Harrow decided to do something about it. Inspired by a team meeting during which his fellow Wildcats reminded him how much they needed him, Harrow called for a sitdown with Coach Cal and asked for his starting point-guard spot back. He granted the request, with one condition.
"When I went to go talk to Coach when we had that meeting, he just told me he needed me to be aggressive and when I play well it helps the team a lot," Harrow said.
Calipari had been delivering the message all season, but it was then that it sunk in once and for all: Paradoxical as it may sound, Harrow was in fact being selfish when he too often deferred.
"Coach has said it the whole year," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "When Ryan plays aggressive and (not) passive, that brings our whole team up. When he's playing like that, it's hard to beat us. He's got everybody else going. His defense, it just lifts everybody else up. We run more. When he's taking control, it's just a good thing."
Perhaps more than at any point this season, Harrow was in control on Wednesday against Mississippi State. And as the 85-55 final score showed, it was certainly a good thing for the Cats.
"The biggest thing it does, it's like what Willie said: I'm going to do my job; you all got to do your job," Calipari said. "So now Ryan's doing his job, it makes it easier on everybody on the team."
Harrow did his job to the tune of 19 points and four assists. He connected on six of his nine field-goal attempts, hit three 3-pointers and didn't commit a single turnover. He deftly ran a UK offense its most points in a non-overtime game since Jan. 29, using his driving ability and attacking when it was appropriate.
In the three games since his two scoreless outings at Florida and Tennessee, Harrow has scored in double figures each time. He's averaging 15.7 points during that stretch and has 14 total assists against just three turnovers. And in none of those games has Harrow played fewer than 30 minutes.
"My confidence is really good right now, really high," Harrow said. "I'm just playing a lot better offensively and defensively and I'm starting to do a lot more things on the court."
His slight frame might not suggest that one of those things would not be rebounding, but Harrow is mixing it up on the glass too. After grabbing seven rebounds against Mississippi State, Harrow has 20 over his last three games. Only Cauley-Stein has more over that stretch with 25 to lead the team.
"Coach told us since Nerlens (Noel) is out we just have start rebounding more," Harrow said. "All the guards have to start rebounding more. Especially with teams that shoot a lot of 3s, the ball's gonna fly out farther to where the point guards are at."
Cauley-Stein has a lot on his plate in having to step up in Noel's absence. So too does Alex Poythress in his move to a more post-oriented role as the Cats have reinvented themselves and clawed their way out of the coffin Calipari has taken to saying they were in a week and a half ago. Harrow's work on the boards has gone a long way to lighten the load of his frontcourt teammates and he's happy to do it, especially if it means he gets to be on the floor all the time.
"Oh, I'm real happy," Harrow said. "I didn't like sitting on the bench. I don't like sitting on the bench unless I'm tired. But I'm just trying to do whatever the team needs me to do, whether that's scoring or playing defense or getting rebounds."
Freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein
Sophomore guard Ryan Harrow
They first catch up on each other's lives and families, but it's not long before they start reminiscing. There are too many memorable moments to count, but there seem to be two they always bring up.
The first is familiar to any history-minded UK fan: that remarkable first half against LSU when the Wildcats scored a school-record 86 points en route to a 129-97 victory. Their coach might not even know about the second.
With time to kill in the days and nights before their two games in the Final Four, the Cats staged rather intense wrestling matches in their hotel rooms. Considering the size and athleticism of the group, it doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine a scenario in which one Tony Delk, Antoine Walker or another star could have suffered an injury that would have put the season in jeopardy.
"The things that we remember most and are most special are a lot of the off-the-court things that we did together as a team," Jeff Sheppard said. "That's one of the things that brought us so close together and made us the team that we were on the court."
Seventeen years later, "The Untouchables" still laugh about it.
"If somebody would have gotten hurt before the Final Four, Coach Pitino would have killed us," guard Derek Anderson said.
Fortunately for everyone involved, the roughhousing never resulted in more than rug burns. The '96 Wildcats would finish off a 34-2 record en route to the sixth national title in school history and first in nearly two decades.
"That team was one of the greatest college basketball teams ever assembled," said Rick Pitino, who coached at Kentucky from 1989 until 1997. "That's based on a number of factors: passing, cutting, defense, unselfishness, relentless full-court pressure, and a mixture of great players in the upper classes with the younger ones. They had total focus every night on putting their opponent in the ground defensively for 40 minutes. You don't see that too often from any basketball team."
That "total focus" started with an uncommon bond the team shared, the same bond that made those hotel-room hijinks so much fun. As a matter of fact, Sheppard doesn't even think Pitino would have been too surprised or even too angry to learn about the wrestling.
"He probably would have said, 'That figures,' " Sheppard said. "A part of him would have been really upset and a part of him would have been real excited."
He would have been excited because all the fun times off the court reflected just how special a team that rolled up a 22-point average margin of victory was.
"If you want to see a real brotherhood, you look at that '96 team and look at us 17 years later," Anderson said. "We're still the exact same way. We're closer than basketball and that's why we won championships."
A look back at UK's roster makes that chemistry even more noteworthy. The Cats were a team of stars, featuring nine players who would go on to NBA careers. Jeff Sheppard - the Final Four Most Outstanding Player during Kentucky's 1998 title run - played just 12.8 minutes a game and averaged 5.5 points. Nazr Mohammed - the only player on the '96 team still in the NBA - was stuck on the bench behind the likes of Walter McCarty, Mark Pope and Antoine Walker, so he spent much of the season playing on UK's junior varsity squad.
"I think the only thing that could have possibly gone wrong with that team was selfishness on anyone's part and they totally bought in to just 'championship.' " Pitino said. "Because of that, we did wind up winning it. It was an unbelievable run and I'm really proud of those guys on what they accomplished. They were just a great group of guys to coach."
After UK capped off the title run with a 76-67 win over Syracuse, the Cats were given a hero's welcome in returning to Lexington from East Rutherford, N.J. They raised a banner to the rafters in front of a full house in Rupp Arena. That '96 title, however, was during the early stages of when it became commonplace for schools to design championship rings and distribute them to players. UK's title teams in 1998 and 2012 would both receive team rings, but the '96ers received only the rings given out by the NCAA.
"We were just happy to win," Anderson said. "We weren't really concerned about that."
Though they never spent too much time thinking about it, UK's '96 greats are about to be able to compare jewelry.
"It's showing what the program's giving back to us," Anderson said. "Usually you give so much to a program and they forget about you. When your program remembers you and gives you a blessing like this, it's just like winning. It's like actually coming home from winning a championship. It'll be like coming back to Rupp Arena when we won and seeing 24,000 people celebrating with us again."
On the night of the ring ceremony, the first 10,000 fans to arrive at Rupp will receive special posters commemorating the team. All members on the '96 team participating will be available to sign the posters and other memorabilia at the Kentucky Proud Market in the Lexington Center before the Mississippi State game.
The gesture is just the latest in a series of efforts made by the Kentucky program under John Calipari and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart to reach out to those who were a part of its extraordinary history. Back in August, the '96 were in Lexington for a team reunion. It was there they were surprised to learn they would be receiving championship rings and their ring sizes were taken. Executive Associate Athletics Director DeWayne Peevy delivered the news along with an invitation to be a part of Coach Cal's Fantasy Experience and the UK Alumni Charity Game in September.
"It's the greatest thing ever," Anderson said. "You've given so much of your time and your life, everything to your program, and to have them give some of it back, you can't say enough about that. There's no price tag, there's no winning percentage, there's nothing you can cherish more than that."
Anderson, however, isn't done pouring himself into the UK program. A few weeks ago, he was on campus to speak to the team about the stories of perseverance he writes about in his book, "Stamina". Not long after, he made the six-hour drive from Atlanta upon learning of Nerlens Noel had suffered a torn ACL, the same injury that ended Anderson's senior season in 1997.
"What I was telling him and the players is coming from where I come from and the things that I've had to endure as a child, it never pushed me away from it," Anderson said. "It only brought me closer to success by not giving up."
In town to receive their long-awaited championship rings, Anderson and his teammates will no doubt spend any time they can with current Cats. They are all part of a unique fraternity, one that Anderson only appreciates more as the years go on. He'll be sure to pass that perspective on whenever he can.
"You won't get this opportunity to be amongst the best of the best in college and people and athletics and fans," Anderson said. "You won't get this opportunity again. So if you don't embrace this moment now, don't be upset when you never see it again. You have to find this moment and enjoy it."
He likely won't be encouraging any wrestling for team bonding though, especially not if Coach Cal's in the room.
If you would like to be there as the '96 Cats receive their rings, tickets are still available for Wednesday's game against Mississippi State. Call the UK Ticket Office at (800) 928-2287 or the Rupp Arena Box Office at (859) 233-3535 or visit Ticketmaster.com to purchase tickets.
In just a few days, the Wildcats will honor A'dia Mathies and Brittany Henderson - the two members of the winningest class in program history - on Senior Day. Minutes later, UK will take on perennial power Tennessee in a game that has become more of a rivalry with each passing season. Not long after, the Cats will head south for the Southeastern Conference Tournament with Selection Sunday soon to follow. And at some point along the way, Matthew Mitchell will likely move into the top spot on UK's all-time head-coaching wins list.
UK's next game, however, doesn't have the glitz and glamor of others on the horizon. The Cats aren't looking at a trip to take on Ole Miss that way though.
"It's very important," Mathies said. "We need every win we can get and this is the end of the year so every game is special."
Mathies knows her days as a Wildcat are numbered. In fact, she knows the exact math on how many games she has left. That's what makes them so precious.
"We have the possibility of playing four more games or we have the possibility of playing 11 more games and being in the national championship game," Mathies said on Wednesday. "We take every game as special and getting a win tomorrow would be what we need."
The priority for No. 10 Kentucky (23-4, 11-3 SEC) when it takes on Ole Miss (9-18, 2-12 SEC) at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday is getting back in the win column. The Cats lost a disappointing 77-72 decision against a motivated LSU team on Sunday. They've had a few days to reflect on what must be improved as they prepare for a team that they expect to be similarly motivated.
"We reviewed the video of that game and there were some areas where we can improve and do better and Ole Miss I know will be motivated," Mitchell said. "It's their last home game so that's always a night where people are really motivated to do well, last night in their gym."
Specifically, Mitchell has honed in on his team's first-half defensive effort. Capitalizing on an "uncharacteristic" UK performance, LSU put up 43 points and took a nine-point lead into halftime. Mitchell said the Tigers hit multiple shots with the shot clock approaching zero, including a few they don't normally convert. That's a lesson for the Cats that they can't afford to let such things deflate them.
"You can't always just play percentages," Mitchell said. "You can do that with a game plan, but once the game gets going you have to respond and make some adjustments. We just didn't play a good half of basketball and it cost us."
It was particularly costly because - with the loss - UK ceded control of its own destiny in the conference race. The Cats now sit in a three-way tie for second place, two games behind Tennessee. Instead of needing only two wins this week to guarantee at least a share of the SEC title, the Cats now need help. If Texas A&M should be Tennessee on Thursday, many scenarios come into play - up to and including a four-way tie for the SEC championship.
The Cats are leaving all that in the hands of others though. The only thing on their mind is what they know is in front of them.
"We've thought about that and it's really up the mercy of other people so we're not really focused on that," Mathies said. "We're just going to go out there and try to get a win on Thursday and on Sunday and try to head into the SEC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament."
That's exactly the way Mitchell wants his team thinking.
"We just told 'em it's really important now to any faint hopes that we have still come back to us winning," Mitchell said. "It's not anything that we can really obsess over or put a whole lot of energy into. We need to put energy into trying to beat Ole Miss."
If UK beats Ole Miss and Tennessee to close out the regular season, it may result in a second SEC championship in a row and it may not. That's out of the Cats' hands. That doesn't mean it's not completely up to them to decide whether they reach the rest of their goals.
"I think we're just taking steps of moving forward and trying to win every game from here on out," Mathies said. "If we do that then we'd be national champions and SEC Tournament champions and whatever else. I think that's where our focus is right now."
This week, Running Times interviewed them both about their success and their relationship. Here's an excerpt.
RT: You went 1-3 at SECs (in cross country) and then 1-3 again at the Southeast Regional, pretty remarkable. And then you got to return to Louisville for Nationals. What was your goal going in? Was it All-American (top 40)? Top 20? What were you thinking?
CM: I really had no idea how it would go because I'd never been to a national competition. If I wanted to be All-American I knew I had to be top 40 but in the back of my mind I was thinking maybe top ten. But again I had no idea what to expect. And I was really nervous but it turned out well.
RT: The indoor season has been more of the same -- running at a higher level than previous track seasons and seeing your names up among the best in the country. You've both raced three times indoors and have set personal bests. Can you keep improving?
CM: Obviously there was a lot of momentum at the end of cross country season and we didn't really want to take a break, but we did take a week off and then kind of picked up where we left off. I feel I can definitely improve because I've finished all my races feeling that I have more to give.
RT: Both of you will be back for two seasons during the 2013-2014 academic year, Cally for cross country and outdoor track and Chelsea for both indoor and outdoor track but not cross country. You're obviously a successful training duo and must be looking forward to keeping this going a while longer, right?
CO: We both have our strengths and our weaknesses, but luckily my strengths are her weaknesses and her strengths are my weaknesses. So we definitely complement each other a lot. We're both very competitive people, but we don't get upset with each other if one of us does better than the other. Everyone has good days and bad days. I'm done with cross country but I'll definitely be back and ready for action on the track.
Link: Running Times talks to UK's Macumber, Oswald
Coach Mitchell has a personal respect for the profession, which is why he is serving as the spokesperson for the program again in 2013.
"Teaching is my job, teaching is my passion. And it is something that I love and hope to do the rest of my life," he said. "It is a tremendous thing to be a teacher."
Now in its 15th year, the Teachers Who Made a Difference program gives individuals an opportunity to thank the teachers, principals, college professors or other educators who have inspired and motivated them to succeed.
The program does not select winners from a pool of nominees. Rather, the College of Education created the program to provide individuals a means to express thanks to educators who have impacted their lives. Honorees can be from anywhere and do not have to be affiliated with UK; however, the number of honorees to be recognized is limited. Organizers ask that each nominator limit recognitions to one educator per year.
Submissions are being accepted until March 8. To honor an educator, head to this link on the College of Education's website.
Kentucky returns to action at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday against Eastern Kentucky. In the meantime, check out highlights and video interviews below.
Head coach Gary Henderson
Seven days ago, John Calipari and his players were fielding questions about their mental state. The Wildcats had just experienced back-to-back blowout losses on the road and a season-ending injury to Nerlens Noel. The future seemed, at best, murky.
But on Tuesday - in the exact same pregame interview setting - the tone was completely different. Rejuvenated by a pair of home wins and a game of dodgeball, the Cats were talking about how things had clicked into place.
That one week may feel like a long time, but Coach Cal isn't going to allow his Kentucky team to forget the not-so-distant past.
"One week ago we were in coffins; people were trying to nail them shut," Calipari said. "Now all of a sudden, we're like 'OK, wow.' Well, you can go right back to where you were if you don't have maturity or toughness."
UK's next outing - hosting Mississippi State at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday - is a different sort of test of the Cats' maturity and toughness.
The Vanderbilt game was all about injecting a sense of fun back into the season and rebounding from setbacks. Missouri on Saturday was about overcoming a quality team in a primetime environment. Mississippi State will reveal the Cats' ability to maintain their focus in a game without the hype, but with the stakes just as high.
With just over 24 hours before tipoff, the Cats are talking a good game.
"We approach every game the same way, treat every opponent the same, so we're not too worried about that," Kyle Wiltjer said. "We're just worried about ourselves really and just getting better."
The Bulldogs (7-19, 2-13 Southeastern Conference) will arrive in Lexington to face UK (19-8, 10-4 SEC) having lost 12 straight. In head coach Rick Ray's first season, Mississippi State has had to cope with roster turnover that resembles UK under Coach Cal in addition to season-ending injuries to freshmen Andre Applewhite and Jacoby Davis and another injury that has senior Wendell Lewis out indefinitely. Mississippi State is currently playing with six scholarship players.
"It's been a trying season and, to our guys' credit, they really hung in there and tried to be good citizens and do some of the things that we want them to do on the court and continue to try to compete," Ray said.
The Bulldogs have suffered more than their share of blowout losses, but they played well in road games against LSU and Alabama before losing 72-31 at home against Vanderbilt. Calipari is trying to get his team to expect Mississippi State's best effort.
"I just watched them play Alabama at Alabama six days ago," Calipari said. "It was a four-point game with five minutes to go, at Alabama. I just watched their game with LSU. It was a two or three bucket game at the end of the half. LSU made some threes, turned them over and spread it out, but it ended up being a 12-point game. This team is capable."
The Cats have seen opponents set foot in Rupp Arena and play out of their minds too many times to think otherwise.
"We know if a team starts hitting shots then it's a totally different ballgame," Jarrod Polson said. "They probably had their worst game against Vandy, so who knows what they could do."
Players talked a lot on Tuesday about not overlooking Mississippi State but, in truth, Calipari wants UK focused on itself more than anyone else. He remembers his team from two years ago and how the Cats began to find their feet about this time in 2011. That season, Kentucky won its final three games of the regular season before sweeping through the SEC Tournament and all the way to the Final Four.
The Cats' record through 27 games: 19-8, identical to their 2012-13 successors.
"We had the maturity to say let's take advantage of this now," Calipari said. "Let's see if we have that maturity to take advantage of the position we're now versus the position we were in seven days ago."
Memorial Coliseum played host to the eighth annual DanceBlue marathon, where a record $1,113,189.42 was raised for the fight against pediatric cancer. After the final total was revealed on Saturday evening, participants learned of a $500,000 endowment fund started by the late Joy Wills, who beat cancer three times and supported DanceBlue during her life.
"This year, with a record number of 800 dancers, DanceBlue was able to raise over $1.1 million for the Golden Matrix Fund to support cancer research at the Markey Cancer Center and child-life initiatives in the DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic," said Ethan Ritter, DanceBlue's 2013 Overall Chair. "It was a wonderful 24 hours that united our entire campus and state."
Include UK Athletics in that too.
Wildcat student-athletes, coaches, teams and the department at large lent their support in myriad ways. Multiple coaches - including John Calipari and Matthew Mitchell - took to the stage to encourage dancers, one of whom was former UK wide receiver La'Rod King. Any visitors to the marathon left in awe of the dedication and passion of the participants.
"I was blown away by the number of students in that gym Friday night dancing and raising money to fight pediatric cancer," Coach Cal said. "As I told them Friday, they may never do anything more meaningful than what they did with DanceBlue. It is hard to do something by yourself, but to come together like they did and raise more than a million dollars warms my heart. It will make a tremendous difference in the fight against cancer."
The women's soccer team took an even more active role.
"It means a lot for us as a team to be able to give back to the Lexington community and donate to something that we strongly believe in," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "Allison Berger was someone who touched all of our hearts and so we will continue to do everything we can to fight this awful disease in her honor. Yes, we want to win games and win championships, but just as important is winning off the field, and this cause means a lot to our players, coaches, staff and university."
The donation by the women's soccer team instigated a little good-natured competitiveness from a fellow UK program. Volleyball head coach Craig Skinner, in addressing dancers, announced his team would hold a match of its own next season to benefit DanceBlue.
"I personally challenge Coach Lipsitz the volleyball team will raise more money than the soccer team next year," said Skinner before going on to propose the losing coach shave his head. Lipsitz may want to amend that wager considering he has substantially more hair to begin with.
Friendly jabs aside, DanceBlue - which has raised more than $5 million since its inception- has grown into something few could have imagined when it began in 2006. That good work will surely continue with or without the involvement of UK Athletics, but that involvement is appreciated nonetheless.
"The support from our athletic community was terrific," Ritter said. "Visits from our coaches got our dancers excited, the only thing they cheered more for were our clinic families. Our continued use of Memorial Coliseum for the event and the special events hosted by teams like women's soccer shows that UK Athletics truly takes interest in supporting events that improve our community."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 24:
Men's basketball: Willie Cauley-Stein
Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein had a breakout week in helping lead UK to a pair of crucial victories this week. Cauley-Stein averaged 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. His 19 rebounds for the week, .647 field goal percentage, blocks and steals were all team highs. Cauley-Stein began the week by pouring in a career-high 20 points to couple with a team-high seven rebounds and three blocks. He made 8-of-10 field goals in the win over Vanderbilt. In an overtime thriller of a victory over Missouri, Cauley-Stein played in a career-high 35 minutes. The first-year player altered the game defensively with a career-high seven blocked shots. His 12 rebounds was a career-high tying, and it marked only the third game in his career with double-figure rebounding. He added seven points to the winning cause in addition to another steal.
Baseball: Jerad Grundy
Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy continued his dominating start to 2013 with a win over Elon in a pitching duel with 2012 Cape Cod League All-Star Dylan Clark ... Grundy worked seven innings in the win, allowing only three hits and one run, walking two and striking out three ... Elon hit .136 against the Johnsburg, Ill., native with Grundy only facing three hitters over the minimum ... Grundy opened the first 12.1 innings of the year without allowing an earned run, before the Phoenix got a solo homer in the seventh inning ... On the year, Grundy has a 2-0 mark and a 0.69 ERA, tossing 13 innings, allowing seven hits and three walks, striking out 12, with foes hitting .152.
Softball: Griffin Joiner
Griffin Joiner continued her hot bat, earning a hit in every game to move her season-long hitting streak to five games - just one off her career best. Joiner hit .583 (7-for-12) for the weekend, while slugging at a 1.250 clip, and posting two or more RBI in every game. Her three hits against Howard tied a career high, while her three RBI against Howard and USC Upstate also tied a career high. The native of Hopkinsville, Ky., blasted two homers on the weekend, including a go-ahead bomb in UK's thrilling 11-inning win against USC Upstate. Joiner leads the team with three roundtrippers, while sitting tied for first with four doubles and second on the team with 12 RBI.
Baseball: Max Kuhn
Sophomore infielder Max Kuhn continued his blistering pace to open the 2013 season, leading UK in hitting during a challenging three games at the Caravelle Resort Invitational ... Kuhn hit .385 (5-for-13) with a double and two RBI during the week, including a career-best three-hit game vs. Kansas State on Thursday ... On the year, Kuhn is hitting .320 (8-for-25) with two doubles and a triple, adding seven RBI and a 5-3 walk-strikeout ratio.
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
- Senior guard A'dia Mathies led UK in scoring on the week, averaging 16.5 points per contest, along with 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals.
- Despite playing just five minutes in the first half due to two early fouls, Mathies scored a team-high 13 points in the second half to help lead the Wildcats over No. 10/13 Texas A&M 70-66.
- The win snapped A&M's 12-game home winning streak and gave UK its fourth win over a ranked opponent this season, including second win over a top-10 team on the road.
- Scored 17 of 20 points in the second half at LSU, marking her sixth 20-plus point outing and moving her to No. 2 on UK's all-time scoring list.
- Also grabbed six rebounds and equaled a team-high with three assists.
- Has reached double figures in 25-of-27 games this season, including 18 in a row.
- With four 3-pointers on the week, is tied for ninth on UK's single season 3-pointers made list with 55.
- Ranks in the top 10 on 13 UK career lists, including No. 2 in scoring (1,863), No. 3 in steals (297) and No. 5 in field goals made (656) and 3-pointers made (159).
- Only player in UK history to accumulate over 1,800 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 250 steals in her career.
- Overall, leads the team in scoring (15.9 ppg), 3-pointers made (55) and is second in assists per game (2.4) this season.
- Averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game in SEC play and is tied for the team-high with 1.6 steals per contest.
Men's basketball: Julius Mays
Senior Julius Mays was sensational in helping lead UK to a pair of critical victories this week. The senior logged 16.5 points for the week to go along with 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists. In the opener for the week, Mays logged nine points and a team-high six assists. He added six rebounds and a steal. He was magnificent in the win over Missouri playing in a career-high 44 minutes. He logged a season-high 24 points while going .500 from the field including 4-of-8 from behind the arc. He added six more rebounds and dished out three assists. Furthermore, he was 8-of-9 from the free throw line including a perfect 6-fo-6 in overtime. Mays has connected on a least one 3-pointer in 16-straight games and has made multiple 3s in seven-straight. UK is 5-0 when he pulls down six or more rebounds, which he achieved in both outings this week.
Softball: Maisie Steed
Produced for Kentucky in limited action, hitting .600 (3-for-5) for the weekend with three RBI, including a double, homer and stolen base. Steed's homer was the second of the season, ranking her tied for second on the team. The freshman walked three times against USC Upstate, coming home to score once. Steed played solid defense all weekend, not committing an error even though she played third base, first base and both corner outfield positions.
If this Kentucky basketball team writes a story about bouncing back from adversity and finishing strong, it looks like the defining moment might well turn out to be a decision by John Calipari to help his team remember the fun of playing the game they love and not worrying about the pressure that comes with doing it at the University of Kentucky.
So instead of dodgeball being an "underdog story" like the movie title says, dodgeball might be a comeback story.
"It's a big factor. When you lose that bad (by 30 points at Tennessee), I felt depressed. I didn't want to come out of my room. I was grumpy. Then, they put in dodgeball and you just forgot everything," freshman Willie Cauley-Stein told reporters after the Cats beat Vandy in the first game after the Tennessee debacle.
"You look at Minnesota or Cincinnati and neither team is having any fun playing the game and I think Kentucky was probably in that situation," SportingNews.com college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy told "The Leach Report" show Monday. "I think it was really smart for John to do what he did. Let's get back to having some fun. This is supposed to be fun. Yeah, it's important business but it starts as a game where everybody wants to have fun."
Kentucky looked like a different team in the two games last week: more smiles, more passion for winning 50-50 battles, more shaking off the effects of setbacks.
Take the last play of the first half of the win over Missouri. Phil Pressey nailed a tough 3-point shot to put the Tigers up by six with just seconds to play. But instead of shuffling off to the locker room, the Cats counter-punched. Ryan Harrow raced up court and found Cauley-Stein for a buzzer-beating dunk, giving UK a shot of momentum going into the locker room.
On the first play of the second half, Cauley-Stein outran a Missouri player to save a loose ball from going out of bounds. And the Cats whipped the ball around the perimeter to an open Archie Goodwin for a 3-point shot. The week before, Goodwin probably would have passed up the 3 for a lack of confidence but he confidently drilled it and then followed with a steal and dunk to give UK the lead.
Those plays were signs of a team with a new attitude. Missouri had lost twice in 44 games under Frank Haith when it led at halftime and yet the Cats rallied. And the biggest deficit UK had overcome in an SEC game was four points and yet this team they climbed out of a 13-point first-half hole.
Along with a dodgeball-inspired mindset change, the Wildcats benefitted from some coaching tweaks. Most noteworthy was what Calipari did with the offense in the wake of losing Nerlens Noel. He decided the best approach would be to open up the court and in the Missouri game, we saw Harrow, Goodwin and Alex Poythress attacking the rim with authority. That enabled Kentucky to create some of the same kinds of mismatch issues that opponents were creating for UK's defense without Noel to protect the lane.
"I think the system of the play - spreading the court and running some ball screens - is important, but it still comes down to (Goodwin and Poythress) playing with greater passion and consistency. If Kentucky is going to make the tournament and do any damage there, those two guys have to play with great energy and confidence," DeCourcy observed. "He (Poythress) has to have another great game. He doesn't have to get 22 points every night but he has to be significant in every game he plays. The new style of play didn't get Archie going; Archie got Archie going. He played with great energy in the second half and that changed his game and the entire Wildcats team."
- Kentucky captured a pair of critical home victories this week including an overtime thriller against Missouri.
- Senior Julius Mays poured in a team-high 24 points in the win over Missouri on Saturday. He launched four 3-pointers and has now connected on at least one shot from long range in 16 straight games.
- Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein notched a career-high 20 points to push UK past Vanderbilt earlier in the week. He followed that performance with
a career-high tying 12 rebounds against Missouri to go along with a career-best seven blocked shots.
- Alex Poythress scored 21 points, while Archie Goodwin notched 18 - all coming after the half in the win over Missouri.
- Kentucky split road games last week, defeating No. 10/13 Texas A&M 70-66 in College Station on ESPN2's Big Monday before falling at LSU on Sunday in Baton Rouge 77-72.
- Against the Aggies, junior center DeNesha Stallworth flirted with a triple-double as she charted 12 points, 12 rebounds and a school-record seven blocks. .
- Mathies netted a team-high 20 points at LSU, passing former Wildcat great Victoria Dunlap as UK's No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 1,863 career points.
- Kentucky recorded its best score of the year at Florida on Friday. The Wildcats finished with a total score of 196.075, dropping the meet to the Gators' score of 196.975.
- UK's score was good for the sixth best in program history.
- The Wildcats used season-high event scores on vault and beam to reach 196 for the first time this season.
- Audrey Harrison also notched her sixth all-around title of the season and fourth in a row, scoring a 39.225.
- The Kentucky rifle team finished second at the Great America Rifle Conference over the weekend, shooting a 4690 over the course of the weekend.
- Freshman Connor Davis won the GARC individual air rifle title, shooting a 596 before winning with a 105 in the Final.
- Senior Henri Junghanel placed second overall individually with an aggregate score of 1179.
- The UK softball team continued its winning ways over the weekend with a 3-0 record, taking down Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate.
- Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner led the Wildcats offensively with a .583 (7-for-12) average with two doubles, two homers, eight RBI and four runs scored.
- Pitchers Ellen Weaver, Katie Henderson and Kelsey Nunley all recorded wins, while Weaver going five strong innings, allowing only one hit and no runs against Georgetown and Henderson allowing only one hit over five innings against Howard. Nunley threw the final nine innings against Upstate to get the win.
- No. 8 Kentucky continued its season-opening six-game road trip with the Caravelle Resort Invitational, hosted by Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach. S.C., picking up wins over CCU and Elon and suffering its first loss of the year to Kansas State in the opener on Thursday.
- UK finished the weekend with a ninth-inning win at Coastal Carolina, 2-2.
- UK has hit .314 as a team through six games, slugging .435 and reaching base at a .311 clip. UK has stolen 12 bases and on the mound, owns a 3.57 ERA, with 16 walks and 42 strikeouts in 53 innings.
Track and field
- The women's track and field team finished seventh in the SEC Indoor Championship team standings with 34 points, and the men finished 10th with 30.
- Cally Macumber led all Wildcats with 15 points earned throughout the meet. Matt Hillenbrand led the men with 11.25. Macumber won the women's 3,000 meters SEC championship.
- Hillenbrand won the SEC mile championship with a time of 4:01.55. Hillenbrand's time was a new personal best, and the seventh-fastest in school history. The junior became the first Kentucky athlete to win the SEC men's mile since David Freeman took home the title in 2004.
- The No. 6 men's tennis team traveled to Birmingham, Ala., this weekend and collected two wins in a doubleheader with Samford University and Jacksonville State, both by a score of 5-1, to move to 12-2 on the season.
- No. 90 Anthony Rossi picked up his 93rd and 94th career wins in a UK uniform on Sunday with wins in both matches for the Wildcats.
- Also picking up wins in both ends of the doubleheader for the Wildcats were Beck Pennington, Kevin Lai and Juan Pablo Murra.
- The Kentucky women's tennis team defeated the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks 5-2.
- Freshman Nadia Ravita improved to 7-1 in the No. 1 singles slot after defeating Christiana Raymond 6-1, 6-2.
- Senior Jessica Stiles and sophomore Stephanie Fox won their singles matches in straight sets, with Stiles winning 6-4, 6-3 and Fox taking the No. 6 singles point 6-3, 6-1.
- The Wildcats moved into the rankings for the first time this season, landing in the No. 63 spot.
- The Kentucky men's golf team opened up its 2013 spring season, placing 10th out of 16 teams in the Mobile Bay Intercollegiate. UK finished 37-over-par with a final score of 901.
- Senior Chase Parker was the low golfer of the week for the Wildcats, finishing tied for 16th overall at 4-over-par.
- Junior transfer Ben Stow made his Kentucky debut, placing tied for 27th at 6-over-par.
Swimming and diving
- The UK men's and women's swimming and diving teams competed in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Swimming and Diving Championships last week with both the men (368.5) and the women (452.5) finishing in ninth place.
- Junior diver Greg Ferrucci earned two second place finishes on the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events and earned an eighth place on the platform. He broke the program record on the platform in the preliminaries with a 435.5.
- Junior swimmer Lucas Gerotto broke multiple program records at the Championships including the 200-IM (1:47.20) and the 100-backstroke (47.29).
Tuesday, Feb. 26
Women's tennis hosts Eastern Kentucky - 10:00 a.m.
Women's tennis hosts Northern Kentucky - 1:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Murray State - 4:00 p.m.
Women's tennis hosts Abilene Christian - 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday Feb. 27
Baseball hosts Eastern Kentucky - 4:00 p.m.
Men's basketball hosts Mississippi State - 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 28
Women's basketball at Ole Miss - 8:00 p.m.
Friday, March 1
Softball vs. Illinois - 11:30 a.m. (Tampa, Fla.)
Women's tennis at Arkansas - 1:00 p.m.
Men's tennis hosts Arkansas - 1:00 p.m.
Softball vs. USF - 2:00 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.)
Baseball hosts Akron - 4:00 p.m.
Track and field at NCAA Qualifying (South Bend, Ind./Fayetteville, Ark.)
Saturday, March 2
Baseball hosts Akron - Noon
Softball vs. Loyola Marymount - 12:15 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.)
Softball vs. Central Michigan - 2:45 p.m. (Tampa, Fla.)
Baseball hosts Akron - 3:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at Arkansas - 4:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Knoxville, Tenn./Athens, Ga.)
Track and field at Last Chance Qualifier (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Sunday, March 3
Softball vs. Western Michigan - 9:00 a.m. (Tampa, Fla.)
Men's tennis hosts LSU - 1:00 p.m.
Women's tennis at LSU - 1:00 p.m.
Gymnastics at Ball State - 1:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Akron - 1:00 p.m.
Women's basketball hosts Tennessee - 3:30 p.m.
Men's golf at USF Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)
Swimming and diving at Last Chance Meet (Knoxville, Tenn./ Athens, Ga.)
And if not for Witt's defense, the game very well may not have been tied at all heading to the ninth. Take a look at the two plays he made in left field.
Witt and the Cats begin a stretch of 12 consecutive games at Cliff Hagan Stadium by hosting Murray State at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
It took the Kentucky gymnastics team eight meets, but UK finally reached the summit of said "hump".
The Southeastern Conference acts like a monopoly at times with the amount of talented and elite teams it boasts in many varsity sports in the collegiate ranks. For example, football hasn't lost in the BCS Championship game for the last seven years. Baseball has won three of the last five College World Series. Oh, and an SEC gymnastics team has won seven of the last eight NCAA Championships.
In other words, it's tough to be an up and coming team in a such a dominant league.
It might take awhile for UK gymnastics to rise to the level of its most recent competitor, No. 1 Florida, or two-time defending NCAA champion Alabama. But the Cats are trying, and they are getting closer than they have ever been since the early 1990s, the days of All-American and three-time NCAA All-Around Champion Jenny Hansen.
For those who don't know the sport, it's, well, different. In most cases, a gymnastics team is not competing against the other teams it faces in a meet. Instead, teams perform for themselves and by themselves. Win/loss records are valued, but a greater emphasis is placed on team scores.
UK started off the 2013 season at a record pace, earning its highest score in a season-opening meet in school history. The Cats also earned their first SEC road win in decades. They've set the bar high (no uneven bars pun intended), so now the staff and the athletes themselves have higher expectations for this season.
There is still a lot of work yet to be done in 2013, but UK capped off its SEC slate with their first 196-plus score of the season in Gainesville, Fla., against the No. 1 Gators Friday night. The Wildcats weren't perfect, but that target of 196 was one that the team had been reaching for all season long.
Consider UK on top of the hump, trying to figure out where to go from here. Whether or not the Cats finally get over it or if they roll back down the side they've been climbing all season long is yet to be determined.
What the Wildcats can be excited about is that there is continued progress being shown on an almost weekly basis. Facing a litany of SEC powerhouses consecutively, Kentucky held its own and posted some season-high scores in the meantime. That progress was thwarted two weekends ago when No. 21 UK hosted an unranked Missouri team.
Kentucky turned in a season-high score on uneven bars that night and finished the evening off with a solid performance on floor exercise to nudge by the Tigers for UK's fifth win of the season. But UK was unrecognizable on balance beam and the Cats continued to underperform on vault.
After the meet against Missouri in which UK posted its lowest team score of the season, there was uncertainty as to how the Wildcats would respond against another SEC juggernaut back on the road for the first time in four weeks.
Though beam competitors struggled mightily against Missouri, beam has been one of the strongest and most consistent events of the season for UK. The main area concern from UK head coach Tim Garrison has been vault.
Garrison would say that vault should be his team's best event. To this point, it hasn't been. To this point, it's been frustrating. His team has only stuck four landings all season, a figure he believes should be much higher due the team's skill level and ability to stick dismounts at a higher rate in practice.
At Florida, vault turned back into UK's strength. Despite still not sticking a perfect landing in the event, the Cats walked away with a season-high score of 49.05. Garrison made lineup changes, including leading off with sophomore Sara Shipley who was competing for the first time in the event all season.
The lineup changes and the intensity of the preceding week's workout paid off as the team got back on track in a big way, including beam where UK posted its season-high score to polish of a final tally of 196.075, the sixth-best performance in program history.
With a Sunday meet at Ball State waiting this weekend, it is imperative for Kentucky to not relax as the Cats step outside of conference competition. After facing the best of the best over a five-week stretch, UK will have to continue to carry that intensity heading into the weekend and beyond.
If this team can pushits over the hump, there are potentially big things awaiting UK on the other side. A few more 196-plus performances this season, which the coaching staff believes is completely attainable, and the Wildcats will officially be over the hump and chasing greatness all the way to the NCAA Championships.
His team is set to play Mississippi State and Arkansas this week and Coach Cal talked about those games and other topics on Monday, including advances in video technology and Archie Goodwin's play. Below is a transcript of his comments as well as relevant quotes from other coaches.
First, congratulations are in order for Willie Cauley-Stein, who has been named SEC Freshman of the Week after he averaged 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.0 blocks in two UK victories last week over Vanderbilt and Missouri.
On this week's games ...
"Well, we've got four left and Mississippi State at home and gotta go on the road to two teams (Arkansas and Georgia) that have played very well and have been well-coached and end up with Florida, one of the top two, three, four teams in the country to finish up the year. So we got a tough road. What I'm trying to do with our team is stay in the moment and let's see how we improve. I think we have gotten better and just try to keep on that path right now."
On advancement in video technology and its impact on scouting ...
"The biggest thing that we're able to do ... These iPads are ridiculous and you can really get stuff on those iPads for your staff and team quickly. You can blow through tapes much faster and with less frustration - you press a button and it goes too far ahead. They've got it down to a science so it is much easier. I can really blow through tape in like 30 minutes and rush through stuff I don't need to see and get a good feel for it. But also your team, you can put clips and different things and stuff for them on the iPads so that they can see it too. There's no reason for a player not to know tendencies of another player he's playing or watch himself and get a true evaluation."
On whether there is an information overload ...
"Not here. The truth for us, the only real tape that we'll show that's not themselves is at the pregame meal prior to the game, which is four hours before the game. So they don't see highlights or anything. Now, if they choose to watch tape, they'll ask the video guy for it. I'm worried about us and I've always been that way. I think, again, there's a thousand ways, but for me it's fresh minds and fresh legs at the end of the year. And the only way you do that is you don't overload 'em with video and those kind of things."
On how Archie Goodwin has played this year ...
"He's played good. He's a freshman. He's one of the youngest freshmen in the country. He's 18. He just turned 18 earlier in the year, so he's learning his way. We're trying to figure him out. He's trying to figure himself out. Too hard on himself, a la Derrick Rose. If he misses one shot, it leads to three more misses. If he turns it over, he can't defend down at the other end. Hasn't put the emphasis on rebounding yet, but he's a freshman and he's doing well. He's gotten better as the year has gone on. But opening up his mind, playing through mistakes, playing through turnovers, being in better balance and control, slowing down your mind, it takes years to learn that."
On the best thing Goodwin has done this season ...
"He's an unbelievable worker. He's in the gym just about every night. He's the first one at the practice, the last one to leave. He's got the work habits and the drive you need to be special. Now, that mentality of playing, that feel for the game, that takes maturity and time. It doesn't just happen in two months. It's a lot of trial and error. His right now, there's a little bit of trial and a lot of error, but that's part of being a freshman."
On why Goodwin and Ryan Harrow have struggled with their 3-point shooting in conference play ...
"I haven't seen it. I don't know what the numbers say. Obviously they're not the two that we're relying on, so I'm good with it. That's not what's going to define their game. Ryan had eight rebounds and six assists last game. We've got to get 10, 12, 14 points from him. We can't have games like Tennessee and Florida where he doesn't want to get into plays and doesn't shoot balls. When he plays the other way, we're pretty good, and he's pretty good. He can go 0 for 5 from the 3 and still play a great game, and the same with Archie. Now, if they make those and the other guys are making them, then we win by 25. They're not going to be evaluated on 3-point shooting. It's all the other parts of their game."
Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray
On last week's games ...
"I thought our team did a tremendous job at Alabama by going out and playing with a tremendous competitive spirit. With the situation we're in right now with the suspension having six scholarship guys and now the two walk-ons, for those guys to go out and compete like they did against Alabama I was really impressed with that factor. I thought we were in that ballgame until we were down four then the next three possessions we turned the ball over and gave them some easy opportunities in transition. I was looking for some carryover from that Alabama game into the Vanderbilt game and obviously that did not happen. I thought we came out and really played well the first four to six minutes defensively and then they started to started to set a high ball screen and we didn't get that stopped at all, which led to them getting a lot of offensive rebounds. But the biggest thing is I thought we had some decent looks at the basket offensively the first four six to minutes of the ballgame that simply didn't go down and our guys kind of lost their spirit because we wasn't playing well offensively which led to us not playing well defensively."
On getting the spirit back down the stretch ...
"When you're dealing with a young and inexperienced team, and I don't think this is just our basketball team - I think it's dealing with any young men that are playing competitive basketball -- they kind of live through their offense at times. When things are going well for them offensively, they really compete and defend for you on the defensive end. When you're having the offensive struggles that we have, like against Missouri and against Vanderbilt when you're constantly coming down and you're not seeing the ball go through the hoop, it's hard for you to have that competitive spirit on the defensive end. Ultimately, what you would like to do is have a team that can persevere through some offensive struggles, but I think it's just commonplace for college basketball for guys to live through their offense."
On the difficulty of the season given roster numbers and turnover ...
"Yeah, and that's a good question. The thing that we have to realize - and our team knows it - is there is nobody, there is nobody in the country that's went through what we've went through. I don't care what level - NAIA, Division II, junior college - with the numbers that we have. And I would wonder if anybody in the history of college basketball has been through what we went through as far as like the off-the-court issues and then the injuries. It's been a trying season and, to our guys' credit, they really hung in there and tried to be good citizens and do some of the things that we want them to do on the court and continue to try to compete. But when someone says, 'I understand what you're going through.' No you don't. You really don't. But you can't use it as an excuse. At the end of the day, you have to go out and try to compete and win ballgames because no one's cancelling the season."
On his observations of Kentucky ...
"This is the first time I've really had a chance to look at them because it's the first time we've played them. I've seen them on tape as an opponent, but I'm really focusing on the other teams at that point in time. Things have changed for them obviously losing (Nerlens) Noel on the defensive end because he covered up a lot of mistakes and you could have some situations where you could pressure more and gamble more and he would erase those mistakes at the rim. That's obviously affected their team. But the things I'm really impressed with is how Coach Calipari has set his guys up to be successful on the offensive end with some of the things they do. That diamond screening action that they're doing for Julius Mays really does a good job of isolating him and getting him cutting and screening and having some opportunities to score the basketball, but it also isolates (Kyle) Wiltjer in the post, and I'm really concerned about him because he's so patient when he gets the ball in the post. Most kids, when they get it in the post or off the post, they really rush everything, but he's patient and can go over either shoulder, can dribble with either hand. Obviously (he) has a tremendous shooting touch. And then you've got Goodwin, who is just a terror to stop him getting into the paint. And I think (Alex) Poythress is a big, strong, physical kid, and I'm really concerned he will overpower some of our guys in the driving area and in the post. I think Coach Calipari has really done a good job of finding some ways to put his guys in position to be successful by scoring the basketball."
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson
On Archie Goodwin ...
"Archie's a very good player. Very athletic kid. Seemed like a kid that had his head on right in terms of what he wants to attain as a basketball player, good student. But he's a very talented young kid."
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin
On Archie Goodwin ...
"Very, very talented young man. True freshman to be playing at such a high level. That's one of the things about Cal that makes him so good is he can get these really young kids that are very talented to play the game the right way so early in their career. That's a credit to both Cal, his staff and the young man that he's so willing to listen so can complement his obvious talent with the understanding of how to play."
Record Last Week: 2-1
Thursday, Feb. 21 - lost vs. Kansas State, 5-7
Friday, Feb. 22 - defeated Elon, 6-1
Sunday, Feb. 24 - defeated Coastal Carolina, 8-2
Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern)
Tuesday, Feb. 26 - vs. Murray State - 4 p.m. (HOME OPENER)
Wednesday, Feb. 27 - vs. Eastern Kentucky - 4 p.m.
Friday, March 1 - vs. Akron - 4 p.m.
Saturday, March 2 - vs. Akron (DH) - 12 p.m.
Sunday, March 3 * vs. Akron * 1 p.m. ET
PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE
6-1 - Sr. - LHP - Johnsburg, Ill. (Heartland/Miami, Fla.)
Week Stats: 1-0, 1 GS, 1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 3 SO, .136 opp. avg.
Notes: Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy continued his dominating start to 2013 with a win over Elon in a pitching duel with 2012 Cape Cod League All-Star Dylan Clark ... Grundy worked seven innings in the win, allowing only three hits and one run, walking two and striking out three ... Elon hit .136 against the Johnsburg, Ill., native with Grundy only facing three hitters over the minimum ... Grundy opened the first 12.1 innings of the year without allowing an earned run, before the Phoenix got a solo homer in the seventh inning ... On the year, Grundy has a 2-0 mark and a 0.69 ERA, tossing 13 innings, allowing seven hits and three walks, striking out 12, with foes hitting .152.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE
6-1 - So. - 3B/1B - Zionsville, Ind. (Zionsville)
Week Stats: .385 (5-for-13), 2B, 2 RBI, 1-2 SB
Notes: Sophomore infielder Max Kuhn continued his blistering pace to open the 2013 season, leading UK in hitting during a challenging three games at the Caravelle Resort Invitational ... Kuhn hit .385 (5-for-13) with a double and two RBI during the week, including a career-best three-hit game vs. Kansas State on Thursday ... On the year, Kuhn is hitting .320 (8-for-25) with two doubles and a triple, adding seven RBI and a 5-3 walk-strikeout ratio.
Eighth-ranked Kentucky continued its season-opening six-game road trip with the Caravelle Resort Invitational, hosted by Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach. S.C., picking up wins over CCU and Elon and suffering its first loss of the year to Kansas State in the opener on Thursday.
Kentucky (5-1) - which has spent 11 of the last 12 days on the road - will return to action with its 2013 home opener on Tuesday, hosting Murray State at 4 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK will then host Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, before welcoming Akron for a four-game weekend series.
The Wildcats posted a pair of challenging wins during the tournament, beating Elon, 6-1, in a pitching duel with 2012 Cape Cod League All-Star Dylan Clark and the Phoenix. UK's Jerad Grundy outdueled Clark for the win, tossing seven strong innings and allowing only three hits and one run, snapping a steak of 12.1 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to open 2013. UK finished the weekend with a ninth-inning win at Coastal Carolina, getting a base-clearing double from Lucas Witt to break open a 2-2 game, with Trevor Gott closing the door for his second win. UK suffered its first loss of the year on Thursday, as the Wildcats traveled to Myrtle Beach a day early to beat the rain and play Kansas State. The Cats beat UK, 7-5, getting a two-out two-run homer in the ninth inning for the final margin.
UK has hit .314 as a team through six games, slugging .435 and reaching base at a .311 clip. UK has stolen 12 bases and on the mound, owns a 3.57 ERA, with 16 walks and 42 strikeouts in 53 innings. Individually, J.T. Riddle has led the team with a .556 average (15-for-27) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and seven RBI, stealing two bags. Thomas Bernal has added a .364 average (4-for-11) with a pair of doubles and RBI, with sophomore Max Kuhn adding a .320 average (8-for-25) with a double and seven RBI. All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino is hitting .320 (8-for-25) with two doubles, a homer and four RBI, stealing five bases and scoring a club-best nine runs. A.J. Reed has hit .320 (9-for-25) with a triple, homer and seven RBI, while shortstop Matt Reida owns a .273 average (6-for-22).
On the mound, UK has used the weekend rotation of Reed (1-1, 5.79 ERA), Grundy (2-0, 0.69 ERA) and Corey Littrell (0-0, 6.52 ERA). In the bullpen, Gott (2-0, 0.00 ERA) has both wins with 3.2 shutout innings, with Walter Wijas, Dylan Dwyer, Zach Strecker and Tyler Cox each owning perfect ERAs in the bullpen.
But over their last two games, the Cats have experienced life without Mathies and Stallworth, at least in spurts anyway.
In the second half against South Carolina, Mitchell elected to sit Stallworth for all but one minute as she worked through a mini-slump. In the first half at Texas A&M, Mathies played just five minutes due to foul trouble and was held scoreless.
Based on how well Mathies and Stallworth have played much of the season, that sounds like a recipe for a pair of losses against two ranked opponents. Instead, the Cats completed a 16-point second-half comeback against South Carolina with minimal contributions from Stallworth and built a halftime lead minus Mathies en route to a win over the Aggies.
"It's really amazing," Mitchell said. "In DeNesha and A'dia, you are talking about two of the most talented players and most physically gifted players in the league and you win two games against two of the best teams in the league without really a normal contribution from your two most talented players and it's really remarkable."
It didn't happen by accident either. Mathies and Stallworth are surrounded by more talent than has ever filled a UK Hoops roster. There's no doubt the Cats are better when the inside-outside duo is functioning well, but it's a boost to know they can win without prime performances from Mathies and Stallworth heading into a road rematch with LSU (15-10, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday.
"You just have to believe that it gives us confidence," Mitchell said. "It certainly does from a coaching perspective."
It also serves another purpose. Having seen just how capable their teammates are, a measure of pressure to perform is lifted off of Mathies and Stallworth. That likely doesn't mean a great deal to Mathies - the defending SEC Player of the Year - because she has gotten the job done throughout her career whether opponents leave her wide open or send triple teams her way.
But for Stallworth, it could make a major difference. At times, the Cal transfer has been dominant. Others - like a recent two-game stretch against South Carolina and Vanderbilt - she has had little go right.
"I think what DeNesha struggles with is just confidence in herself," Mitchell said. "All of us that can watch her think that's silly because she is so dynamic and so talented."
Without the weight of the world on her shoulders, her talent might just shine through more often.
It certainly did at Texas A&M. With 12 points and 12 rebounds, she had her first double-double in nearly a month. On defense, she registered a school-record seven blocks while going head-to-head with Kelsey Bone, the SEC's leading scorer and rebounder.
"She responded at the right time, we certainly needed that kind of performance Monday night," Mitchell said. "I would think DeNesha and all of our team, you should leave that game understanding what you accomplished and how well you played and I would think that would give you a lot of confidence."
UK may have won last week without Stallworth playing her best, but Mitchell would still rather avoid that situation going forward. The Cats have just three regular-season games left and trail Tennessee by a game in the SEC race with a matchup with the Lady Volunteers set for next weekend. First, however, UK must tame the Tigers for a second time.
On Jan. 27, the Cats defeated LSU 73-60 in a game Mitchell remembers as closer than the score might suggest. He's right, because UK led by four points with 1:57 left before closing on a 9-0 run.
"They are very, very talented and they have some explosive scorers at really three positions with Theresa Plaisance and two of their guards, (Adrienne Webb) and (Danielle Ballard), are really just difficult players to deal with," Mitchell said.
Not only are the Tigers talented, but they are playing for their tournament lives. LSU has won three straight starting with an upset of then-No. 9/10 Georgia and the Tigers last lost in a 64-62 heartbreaker to Tennessee.
"I just think it's going to be a real motivated group and a very talented group so it will be a tough game for us," Mitchell said.
First it was "Ner-LENS, Ner-LENS!" in honor of Kentucky's fallen star. Chants continued with "ARCH-ie GOOD-win!" and "AL-ex POY-thress!" among others, until it was Julius Mays' turn.
"Un-cle MAYS," fans screamed in unison, drawing smiles from Mays and the Cats
The "uncle" moniker is obviously plays on the fact that Mays, at 23 years old, is a good two years older than any other UK rotation player and as many as five years older than some of his freshman teammates. But it's just as much about the steady veteran presence Mays provides on the floor. And, as it turns out, the chant turned out to be a pretty good predictor of what would happen at the UK-Missouri main event 10 hours later.
After a first half during which he scored just three points on 1-of-3 shooting and his team fell behind by as many as 13 points, Mays was there down the stretch to take every big shot, to make every big play. Over the final 3:37 of regulation, he scored five of UK's eight points to allow the Cats to survive a Missouri rally and reach overtime, even assisting on Willie Cauley-Stein's game-tying layup with a little more than 41 seconds left.
In the extra session, Mays scored eight of his season-high 24 points to propel the Cats to a 90-83 win over the visiting Tigers in front of a game-changing crowd of 24,380 on Saturday. He hit all six of his free throws in overtime, overcoming cramps that were completely understandable in light of the fact that he played 44 of a possible 45 minutes.
"Julius was terrific, the shots he made and the leadership," John Calipari said.
Mays' team-high scoring output, six rebounds and three assists were big, but - as Coach Cal suggests - his presence was just as important, as it has been all season.
If you had to assign familial roles to each member of this UK team, Calipari is clearly the strong father figure. He loves unconditionally, but often has to come down hard on a young group of players. That's where Mays' uncle role comes in, though it's probably more appropriate to call him a big-brother type. He's able to understand the perspectives of both his coach and his teammates and serve as an arbiter of sorts.
"Julius, there's not another person like Julius," said Archie Goodwin, who scored all 18 of his points after halftime. "He's a great leader and he's a great big brother to me, like my best friend. He's just always there for encouragement."
Mays does more than just encourage though.
As an example, there was one point late in the game when Ryan Harrow allowed the man he was guarding to turn down a pick-and-roll. It was a crucial mistake and Mays saw that Calipari was about to tell his sophomore point guard about it. Mays, however, was able to recognize Harrow's mistake and foresee how the interaction between his teammate and his coach would go, so he spoke up.
"I knew what (Calipari) was about to tell (Harrow), so I just stopped him ahead of time and told him that I got him," Mays said. "Plus, it was a crucial point in the game and I didn't want Ryan to get down on himself. So I figured I would talk to him instead of letting Coach."
That's exactly the kind of wisdom and maturity that earned Mays his nickname and also exactly the kind of ownership Calipari wants his players to take in their team.
"He wants us to hold each other accountable," Mays said. "Him and the coaches don't want to be the ones to have to get on us all the time. He wants us to get on each other amongst ourselves and be able to take it, the coaching from each other."
From the very beginning, Mays has had the gift of being able to offer constructive criticism to his teammates. After electing to transfer to UK for his final season of collegiate eligibility, Mays arrived on campus after his teammates but immediately bonded with them - especially Goodwin and Alex Poythress, who had 21 points and seven rebounds as the Cats picked up a resume-building win.
"From the time I got here, they accepted me like a big brother," Mays said. "We probably are the closest on the team and I always kept it real with them and I'm not going to sugarcoat anything. I don't lie, I don't tell them what they want to here because I've been around five years so I know what it takes."
Goodwin and Poythress haven't been immune to criticism this season, but they deserve credit for recognizing the value of Mays' knowledge.
"Julius is incredible," Poythress said. "We look for him on and off the court. He's always there to help with when we're in need or anything like that. We always look for him for guidance if we're in a pickle or we're just confused. He's always got the right answers."
The only time on Saturday when it would have been possible to question Mays was the final play of regulation. After the Cats pressured Phil Pressey - who led Missouri with 27 points and 10 assists - into a missed layup with less than eight seconds remaining, Mays came away with the rebound. He raced down the floor and launched a shot with time still remaining from just inside half-court. The shot narrowly missed, but Goodwin was streaking down the floor wide open and wanted the ball.
"I didn't even know how much time I had," Mays said. "When the guy jumped in front of me, I didn't see the time. I was making sure I didn't turn it over, so I saw Archie at the end."
Ultimately, Mays and UK rendered the exchange at the end of regulation nothing more than a footnote by outscoring Missouri 15-8 in overtime. As for how to react to a win many are calling the biggest of the season, the Cats need only take a cue from Uncle/Big Brother Julius.
"It's another stepping stone for us," Mays said. "Obviously it doesn't make or break our whole season. We're just taking it one game at a time and not looking ahead or looking past anyone, just living in the moment, enjoying the moment."
When College GameDay comes to Rupp Arena, you can rest assured that records will fall.
ESPN's popular Saturday morning show came to Kentucky on Saturday and the Big Blue Nation came out in predictably large numbers. The announced attendance for the event was 15,087, the largest crowd of the season for the program. It's also the second-largest crowd in GameDay history, with the 2010 Rupp edition holding the record.
"I love the fact that they want to come out and say, 'You're not having an event that pertains to Kentucky basketball that we don't support,' " GameDay host Rece Davis said.
Fans arrived in large numbers even before the live show began and 10 a.m. ET on ESPNU and continued to fill Rupp as coverage moved to ESPN at 11 with a dodgeball game inspired by John Calipari's motivational play from earlier this week. It was then that the Kentucky team arrived, injecting even more energy into the building.
"I love the way the fans like to come out and show their pride," Davis said. "And the way I define that is they like to tell the nation, 'We're Kentucky. You're not.' Everybody else has to live up to this."
One of the highlights of the show was when Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein participated in the "Know Your Teammate" segment. Noel and Cauley-Stein were given oversized cue cards on which they wrote their answers to a few questions designed to explore how well the two know each other. Noel got a huge ovation when he was introduced, but it was also a reminder that the Wildcats will have to play without him for the third time when they take on Missouri later in the day.
"Look, it's hard," ESPN's Jay Bilas said. "But the game starts at nine o'clock. You have to play no matter what."
For all the hoopla of GameDay, the real priority for the team is to win a basketball game against a quality Missouri team. If the Rupp crowd brings the same kind of energy it had at GameDay, the Cats will get a needed boost.
"I think Rupp is one of the great arenas in the country, and primarily because of the passion that crowd brings to it," Bilas said.
The official attendance for ESPN College GameDay is 15,087, largest of the season for the program and second only to when UK hosted GameDay in 2010.
And that will be true, but not because ESPN College GameDay is in town. It won't be because it's a must-win according to NCAA Tournament prognosticators either.
The game against Missouri is the biggest on the schedule because it's the next one.
"It's a big game because it's the next one on our schedule," John Calipari said. "But guess what? After this game, the next one is a big game because it's the next one on the schedule."
But Mississippi State doesn't come in town for another few days, so the Wildcats (18-8, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) are training their focus solely on a matchup with Missouri (19-7, 8-5 SEC) at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. The Rupp Arena crowd will likely be rambunctious for the primetime tip-off, but the Tigers have the kind of experience needed to survive such an environment, as well as a strong backcourt led by point guard Phil Pressey - the SEC's leader in assists at 6.9 per game.
"He's a great player," Calipari said. "He's really effective and efficient, doesn't turn it over that much, goes in that lane and finds people. He can score it when he needs to, but his whole thing is, 'I'm going to get in here - I'll drive baseline and hit that corner; I'll drive right and throw it over my left shoulder and hit a guy on the weak side for a 3.' "
That guard play hasn't yielded the road wins one might expect - Missouri is just 1-6 this season in away games - but Pressey, Earnest Ross, Keion Brown and Jabari Brown will provide a stiff test.
Just a few days ago, the chances of UK's backcourt passing it looked slim. Julius Mays had played consistently well, but Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin were struggling mightily. In losses at Florida and Tennessee, Harrow and Goodwin combined for 15 points on 6-of-23 shooting, eight assists and 10 turnovers.
Against Vanderbilt, they looked like different players. Goodwin scored 16 points and shot 50 percent from the field, much more effectively toeing the line between aggressiveness and recklessness. Harrow, meanwhile, had 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers in a return to the starting lineup - a move he prompted himself by asking Coach Cal.
"He played with a lot of confidence," Goodwin said. "Once he plays with confidence, that's when he's probably the best point guard in the nation because he's very hard to guard off the dribble and he do so many different things."
Harrow's certainly going to need confidence in going toe-to-toe with Pressey, though Goodwin has enough to go around.
"It's going to be a lot on the guards because this is like a playmaker game basically," Goodwin said. "And so we just have to go out there with the mindset that we're the better guards - because we are - and just prove it and show we're here for a reason."
For all the talk of the outcome being decided on the perimeter, the battle in the paint should not be overlooked. Missouri is a far different team from the one last year that won 30 games in spite of spotty rebounding with ultra-efficient first-shot offense. With the addition of transfers Alex Oriakhi and Tony Criswell, the Tigers are among the best in the nation on the boards.
"This team attacks the glass," Calipari said. "If we ball-watch, you get beat. You have no chance of beating them. If you don't physically check out, if you're ball-watching, they're sending three."
They are also one of the nation's most balanced rebounding teams, and in more than one way. Oriakhi - who considered UK after transferring away from UConn during the offseason - leads the way at 8.6 rebounds per game, but the other six Tigers who play 19.6 minutes or more per game average at least 3.3 boards apiece, even the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Pressey.
Mizzou also gets it done on both ends of the floor. The Tigers are ninth in the nation in offensive-rebounding percentage (39.7) and 22nd in the nation in defensive-rebounding percentage (72.8), making them one of only three teams nationally to rank in the top 25 nationally in both categories along with Quinnipiac and Colorado State.
"If you're not physical on the post, you're going to get chucked," Calipari said. "You'd better be down and ready. They're a good team."
Without Nerlens Noel - their top rebounder - the Cats are going to have to get it done as a team on the glass as they did against Vandy. All seven players who were on the floor for double-digit minutes grabbed at least three rebounds in that game.
Goodwin was in that group with his six rebounds. He'll be looking to continue his solid work on the glass and for his team to take another step forward on a national stage.
"I think this is definitely a game that we can make a statement in," Goodwin said. "We came back with a strong win the other day after a loss at Tennessee. We're just looking to keep building on what we've been doing."
As the calendar approaches March and the weather begins to warm up, the feel in the air gives fans an itch for the outdoor sports season. The University of Kentucky softball team is off to a terrific start in their 2013 campaign and should give fans plenty to be excited about.
The Wildcats have jumped out to an 8-3 record, including wins over No. 3 California, No. 20 Stanford and No. 16 Washington, as sixth-year head coach Rachel Lawson believes this may be the best start in school history. UK got off to a 10-2 start in 2010, but in terms of quality opponents, the Cats have faced five ranked teams in their first 11 games, along with Oregon State and San Diego State who are receiving votes.
Kentucky, which began the year outside of the polls, has climbed into national consideration and currently sits 20th and 22nd in this week's rankings.
It's tough to gauge what your team is just two weeks into the season, but Lawson was pleased with the complete team effort she saw out of her players in the two tournaments out west. The Wildcats displayed great pitching and the offense came up with clutch hits in key situations to give Lawson confidence about her team's mental toughness.
"You can't beat those teams without great pitching so it started there and offensively, where we didn't put up a lot of power numbers, we were good situationally," Lawson said. "Some games we started off pretty hot but then in other games where they were close we were able to come up with a run at the end so that's a sign of mental toughness, which is something that we pride ourselves on and being pretty gritty."
Lawson is not surprised by her players' performance. Kentucky has several new faces that joined the roster this year and even have returners in positions they have never played before, but all stepped up when their time was called.
Sophomore Kara Howard made a possible game-saving catch against Stanford when she robbed a potential two-run homerun in the fifth inning to preserve a 3-0 lead for the Cats. Krystal Smith also stepped up, filling in at third base for the first time in her UK career. Smith's defense, specifically charging the plate on bunts, has stood out to Lawson. As far as the outfield goes, Lawson feels the entire crew is ahead of where they were last season, which was a bit of a weakness at the beginning of the 2012 season.
The Wildcats are loaded with depth and decisions are still up in the air on who has locked in positions in the lineup.
"We definitely have to figure it out," Lawson said. "The nice thing is we did so well and I don't even think the new people even came close to doing what they can do."
Kentucky features a talented freshman group that is expected to make an impact on the Cats' success this year.
Nikki Sagermann ranks second on the team in batting average, hitting at a .364 clip in nine starts and Lawson feels she is capable of even better numbers because she is yet to show off her power and slugging percentage.
Sylver Samuel has played in 10 of the 11 games and leads the team with three stolen bases, while Darrington Richardson - who has been used primarily in pinch-running situations - has swiped two bags. The two should create plenty of havoc on the base paths and Lawson believes they are two of the fastest players she's ever coached.
Ansley Smith, Maisie Steed and Christian Stokes also saw playing time in the opening two tournaments and should see their numbers rise when they get more comfortable as the season progresses.
In the circle, the Wildcats had some exceptional performances from junior Lauren Cumbess and freshman Kelsey Nunley. Cumbess gave the Wildcats a jolt of energy with a 3-2 victory over third-ranked Cal to open the season. The Lady Bears threatened multiple times in the game but the Normal, Ill., native buckled down and led the Wildcats to a nine-inning triumph.
Nunley has been arguably the most impressive player for UK thus far, posing a 6-0 record in the circle, including wins over No. 20 Stanford and No. 16 Washington. Her 32 strikeouts lead the team, while her 2.50 ERA is second to Cumbess' 2.04. The talent is obviously there for the young right-hander out of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., but Lawson says there is another quality Nunley possesses that you can't teach.
"She is just a winner," Lawson said. "She is just really tough and when you need someone to come up with an out in crucial situation, she is the one you want on the mound. There is nothing more that she would want than to be in the circle and get the big out. In that regard, she is special and you know what she does well I can't teach. If she starts to figure some things out and gets a dominant out pitch, she is going to be pretty awesome."
Not only has Cumbess been impressive in the circle, she leads Kentucky in hitting (.429), homeruns (two) and runs batted in (10). The junior has become a force in the middle of the Cats' lineup and has already garnered opposing pitcher's attention, forcing them to pitch around her.
"It is getting to the point late in the game where they won't even pitch to her," Lawson said. "Once we can tighten up some hitters behind her, she will do even better."
This weekend, UK travels to Spartanburg, S.C., to face Georgetown, Howard and USC Upstate. The Wildcats will not be facing the quality of opponents from a rankings standpoint compared to their first two tournaments. However, as Lawson says, this weekend will allow the Cats to focus on some situational hitting and an opportunity for the players to get more action under their belt.
But Lawson doesn't want to look past this weekend and will approach the games like any other.
"The goal is always to win the softball game, so first and foremost we have to win," Lawson said.
Kentucky veterans are already decorated performers, but this weekend caries extra significance to some of them, particularly junior Emily Holsopple.
"(This weekend) means a lot in terms of getting ready for the NCAA Championships," said Holsopple. "We want to go out and perform our best. Honestly, I've never won a conference championship, so it would be great to do to build momentum going into nationals."
Ultimately, though, for a program like Kentucky, as well as the West Virginias and TCUs of the rifle world, the focus is to prepare for the NCAA Championships.
Having split its meets with TCU and West Virginia so far this season, UK will get a rematch with the Mountaineers after defeating WVU in Lexington just 20 days ago. The Cats will see them yet again in the NCAA Championships.
Last weekend, however, not facing either team, UK wasn't completely sharp in its NCAA qualifying round. With a chance to perform in that competitive environment and improve under pressure, UK didn't quite live up to the billing.
"Under the gun, some of our individuals struggled because they've been training hard and performing hard," said head coach Harry Mullins. "They've been right there at the threshold to get to that next level of performance as far as yielding the scores go. It's not like they aren't working hard, it's just that the hard work they are giving isn't yielding the scores."
With the postseason here and UK creeping closer and closer to that ultimate goal, the pressure only increases. From here on out, starting this weekend at the GARC Championships, it will be about who can handle that pressure moving forward.
"I'm hoping from an individual perspective we'll be able to do that," said Mullins. "Now it's more about who can hold up under the pressure. The pressure being that everybody wants to win and that everybody wants to put the highest score up possible so that the team wins and from an individual standpoint."
That pressure will loom large this weekend as a revenge-seeking No. 1 West Virginia team looks to overcome the No. 3 Wildcats. Though WVU likely poses the biggest threat to UK and its chances for a GARC title, it's important that Kentucky doesn't focus on their opponent, rather the course they will be competing in.
As Mullins often philosophizes about in his office and to his team, in the sport of rifle, there is no defense. So Kentucky must handle their own business if they hope to come away as champions this weekend.
"You can't just think about West Virginia," said Mullins. "Otherwise someone will come up and sneak up behind you. You've got to think about the course. When you start thinking about just West Virginia, not that you can take them lightly, but you want to use those types of things as motivators throughout the course of the season, and then from there on out, just work on working on the performance."
One of Kentucky's strengths this season has been composure. The Cats don't get too wrapped up in the hype of facing the top teams in the country. And they don't let down their guard when they face anyone else. Their highs are never too high and the lows never too low.
That's why last weekend's performance won't affect them at the conference championships. That's why this weekend, whether UK defeats the field that includes West Virginia or not, it won't affect the Cats heading into the NCAA Championships.
"It's important, but it's not make-or-break," said Holsopple. "If we don't do well, we still have the NCAA Championships, so either way, we're going to learn from it and move on."
UK, however, will not have the luxury of easing back into road competition with the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators awaiting the Wildcats Friday night in Gainesville, Fla.
After building up quite a bit of momentum when UK reached its highest score of the season in a tie at home with No. 7 Georgia, the Wildcats took a step back in their progression against the Missouri Tigers. Through the first two events against Missouri, UK was on pace to reach 196 for the first time this season after a solid performance on vault and a season-high score 49.150 on the uneven bars.
But then misfortune bit the Cats in a nearly disastrous way.
Kentucky had three performers fall during their beam events, allowing Missouri to stay in the meet and almost pull off the upset. Kentucky went on to perform well enough to hold off the Tigers by 0.125 points to earn the victory despite the Cats' lowest overall output of the season.
The beam, however, is one of head coach Tim Garrison's lesser concerns. Instead, he's looking toward another event, one that has been so-so but far from their standards they've set in the practice gym.
"We need to get to the point of being precise enough to stick the vault and be able to compete it well," said Garrison. "If you look at what we've done just on that event alone, we've given away so many tenths this year. That can totally change our ranking right now."
UK, currently ranked No. 23, has had a very successful season by any measure. Garrison - and he hopes his athletes would agree - believes his team is capable of much more. Uneven bars have been a staple in meets so far this season, but it's the vault that is continuing to give the Cats trouble.
In UK's 42 (counted) vault performances, the Wildcats have only stuck four of those routines, a tick less than 10 percent
"That's not good enough," said Garrison.
By comparison, the impact of not sticking vault landings is equal to each floor exercise performer stepping out of bounds on each routine during a meet, costing a tenth of a point. While that may not seem like much, those tenths add up quickly, especially when a few tenths can mean the difference between a 195-plus and the first 196 of the season, a score that Garrison feels should come almost routinely.
"The potential of our team is 196.5 just on a normal day when the scores are normal and we do what we're supposed to do, we're a 196.5 team," said Garrison. "If they're scoring well, we could approach 197. We really could."
In order to do that, UK has to get off to a faster start. In home meets, Kentucky starts off on vault. A strong performance in the event could set the tone for the team's first "complete performance" of the season. Garrison says his team is still in search of that moment.
While UK is less concerned with beating Florida this weekend than handling its own business and putting up the best score of the season, if Kentucky makes the necessary jump on vault and continues to execute on bars, they could put some serious pressure on the top-ranked Gators.
On the road, UK will start on uneven bars, which may be beneficial to them since leading off with vault hasn't been the Cats' greatest strength the last four weeks at home. If UK can get through the first two events unscathed, it just might give the Cats a puncher's chance Friday night.
"You go over and rock bars at an away meet, like this weekend, if we go over and hit bars and then stick vault, now we're putting pressure on some of these other teams," said Garrison. "We've done a decent job of putting pressure on teams this year anyway, but we could be ahead. We could have better overall scores.
"It's not just the Missouri meet because I think beam has been great for us all year. We've been getting part, but not all of the events that we're doing, and that's not good enough. I said if we don't challenge, we could very easily miss out on some of our goals."
What Kentucky has going for is this weekend is the experience of performing in this type of environment already once this season. The Cats traveled to defending national champion Alabama before starting their four-meet home stand. It was a struggle for UK, but an experience the team needed.
Garrison believed his team was fully prepared to head into that environment technically, but the results proved otherwise. Now, with that experience in the Cats' back pocket, Friday night's atmosphere should be less of a factor.
If Kentucky finds itself in the situation where the Cats have to come from behind, well, they've been in that position this season already too.
"Unfortunately we've been in the position a couple of times this season where we've had to come back, and they've never given up on a competition regardless of what happened," said Garrison. "We're going to go down there and we're not going to lay down for anybody. I don't think this team will ever do that."
The Wildcats will need to get off to that fast start to hang with Florida Friday night. It will be a challenge, but one that UK is looking forward to. The Cats know what they are capable of; now it's time for them to execute on the big stage.
"If we start coming along on vault, our potential is greater as a team," said Garrison. "If we could start sticking our vaults, because our vaults are so much stronger than they were at the beginning of the year, we're capable of 49.2-49.3."
Jones organized the event after he met Lexington Wildcats head coach Dave Wickstrom in a Special Eduction class. He was joined by 15 of his teammates, including Jalen Whitlow, Tristian Johnson, Daron Blaylock and A.J. Legree.
The football players and athletes scrimmaged, with the Division-I student-athletes getting all they could handle. Afterward, the football players took questions and posed for pictures.
Though the Special Olympians certainly enjoyed having their visitors, the football players felt like they got even more out of the experience. The Special Olympics of Kentucky website has the story:
Jones found the experience humbling.
"I know (the Special Olympics athletes) are excited," he said, "but just to see what those guys go through on a daily basis and to be able come out here and smile and laugh and enjoy themselves, it's a very humbling experience for us and we're tickled that they're glad we're here."
Jones was asked by one of the media members who came out to cover the appearance what it was like to be looked up to as heroes by the Special Olympics athletes, but he wasn't so sure who was looking up to whom.
"It was feeling more like celebrities when we walked in," Jones said. "But these guys are the real heroes. The stuff they go through every day and just come out here and live their life the way they do? They're the real heroes."
The group of UK players that came out was a mix of older faces and newcomers. In fact, even in a group that included quarterback Jalen Whitlow, with many of the Special Olympics athletes being pro wrestling fans, Steve Borden -- a junior college transfer tight end who hasn't played yet for Kentucky, but whose father is former professional wrestling champion Sting - may have been the most popular guy in the building.
There are many more details about the visit in that story, so make sure to check it out. Also, here's a photo gallery.
Link: Members of football team visit Special Olympians
Would you believe Ryan Harrow (with eight)?
And after two scoreless games last week in losses at Florida and Tennessee, Harrow says a meeting with head coach John Calipari led to a different mindset going into Wednesday's matchup with Vanderbilt.
"I was just more aggressive. He told me he needed me to take shots because when I'm aggressive, everybody else is aggressive and the flow of the game is better," Harrow told reporters after the Vandy win.
Harrow was replaced in the starting lineup at Tennessee but after urging from his teammates and others to be more assertive, he went to his coach to ask for his starting spot back.
"I called my mom before and told her I was nervous. My hands were sweaty," Harrow said of the anticipation for his one-on-one session with Cal. "He listened to what I had to say and he had the answers for me. I felt like I grew up a little bit."
Harrow says Calipari can be intimidating because "he has the final decision."
Cauley-Stein's shooting improving with confidence
Willie Cauley-Stein has displayed a much-improved free-throw shooting stroke recently and even knocked a jumper from the high post in the Vandy game. Calipari says there's no secret to improving a flawed skill.
"They have to build their own self-esteem and their own confidence. It doesn't matter what I say; it's what they believe in their minds. If a guy is confident, there's nothing anybody can say to take that away," Calipari said on a recent UK radio network pregame show, "because it's been built over time, with hard work. It's hard to have confidence when you haven't put in the time."
Former Cat Bogans a Nets favorite
During a pregame chat with CBS' Ian Eagle last Saturday at Tennessee, I learned that former Wildcat Keith Bogans is a big hit with the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, because of his team-first attitude.
"What really stands out about him is he's a 'glue guy,' " Eagle said on "The Leach Report" radio show Monday. "Teams like having them around. They're good for chemistry. They can relate to the superstars and the young guys. He (Bogans) has been the bridge for this team."
'68 Cats a model for late-season surges
Coach Cal is preaching a message to his team that the Cats can still write their own story on this season - and make it a memorable one with a strong finish.
And the 1968 team would be a good source of inspiration.
In late January, the '68 Cats lost by 20-plus points at Tennessee (UK's worst loss ever to the Volunteers until last weekend). That defeat was the second in a row and third in four games for a Kentucky relying heavily on youth, with three players on their first year with the varsity serving in starting roles (Dan Issel, Mike Pratt, Mike Casey).
All they did was respond to that blowout loss in Knoxville with 12 straight wins, taking them all the way to the Mideast Regional final, where they missed out on a Final Four berth because of a last-second shot by Ohio State.
The legislation, which received broad bipartisan support, authorizes the University of Kentucky to move forward with $275 million in self-financed projects that will help accelerate the transformation of Kentucky's flagship campus.
In all, 11 major construction projects at six state universities, including dormitory renovations, new student centers, and athletic facility improvements will soon be underway thanks to the quick passage of a bill that allows the schools to issue bonds for project financing - all at no cost to Kentucky taxpayers.
In total, the law authorizes $363.3 million in agency bonds by Kentucky's public universities for campus improvements supported by university revenues.
The bonds will have an estimated economic impact of nearly $623 million and will support 5,110 jobs. Each university will issue the bonds over the coming months.
"Because of our universities' continued good stewardship during tough financial times, approving the use of agency bonds makes good sense for our schools and for our taxpayers," said Gov. Beshear. "The bonds will meet the growing needs of our universities with no impact on the General Fund, as they will be paid for through existing revenue streams such as student fees and athletic revenues. Our students need adequate classrooms, housing and facilities, and the issuance of these bonds will accelerate those projects."
The University of Kentucky plans to issue bonds for three separate projects, and will utilize athletic revenues to help pay for construction of an academic building, which is a first for a Kentucky university. Athletics will fund $65 million of a $100 million, 263,000-square-foot Academic Science Building, where Donovan Residence Hall currently sits. The current Chemistry-Physics Building is the second most used facility on campus, but is not equipped with modern or technology-rich classroom and laboratory space. Private fund-raising efforts also will be utilized.
"With their strong show of faith in the creative approach we are taking to funding our future, Governor Beshear and our legislature have signaled support not only for three building projects, but for the University of Kentucky's pivotal role in helping create a brighter tomorrow for our Commonwealth," said UK President Eli Capilouto. "We will honor their support by using this investment to earn our way forward so that we educate even more of tomorrow's leaders and extend groundbreaking discoveries in ways that enhance communities across Kentucky."
Legislators who supported the new law were effusive in praising the bipartisan support and the creative approach being taken by universities:
"House Bill 7 is a wonderful example of how bipartisan governing should work. The bill is a result of consensus and will benefit both higher education and taxpayers," said Senate President Robert Stivers.
"House Bill 7 shows what can happen when we all come together to move Kentucky forward," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo. "These projects will go a long way to modernizing our public universities, and I want to thank Gov. Beshear and the college presidents for their work in helping to make this possible."
"I was proud to sponsor House Bill 7 and work alongside Gov. Beshear, Kentucky's college presidents, and my colleagues in the House and Senate to get this passed as quickly as we did," said Rep. Rick Rand, of Bedford. "This will help our students, and provide some much needed job development and growth."
Read more about the projects at: www.BBNunited.com; Follow @BBNunited on Twitter; Like BBNunited on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/BBNUnited.
Before practice on Tuesday, players were summoned to individually read sets of lines in front of a camera.
"Tonight...is the biggest game on our schedule," Ryan Harrow said.
"Tonight...is the biggest game on our schedule," Willie Cauley-Stein repeated.
Each player had something to say based around that theme. Each player had to say something that would be shown at Rupp Arena to rally fans behind the Wildcats for Wednesday's game against Vanderbilt. What exactly the footage was to be used for, they weren't sure.
The only thing Cauley-Stein was sure of was that he felt "silly" doing it.
"I just got out of class an hour before that and I was fresh off a nap and I was just like, 'Man, are you serious?' " Cauley-Stein said. " 'I gotta try to do this with emotion? You can't catch me after I wake up?' I felt like I was goofy when I was doing it."
He felt a whole lot less goofy when he saw the finished product (see the video above) along with his teammates and 22,287 fans in Rupp just before UK's starters were introduced.
"Our video guys, they're good at what they do because, honestly, I got so excited after we saw it," Cauley-Stein said. "I started like tearing up I was so excited."
If Cauley-Stein knew how it came together, he would likely have an even greater appreciation for those responsible for creating the concept of the video, directing it, filming it and editing it.
Before Tuesday morning, not a single word had been spoken about changing the old intro video - the one that spliced highlights and footage of players in uniform over the Glitch Mob Remix of "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes. But in a meeting of athletic department staff at 10:30 a.m. ET, ideas for how to energize the home crowd during the season's stretch run were discussed. A new intro video became the goal before long, but time was of the essence because filming would have to take place in just three hours.
After Fannin and Part-Time Editor Derek Kirk filmed each Wildcat at 1:30 p.m., they had all the footage they would need and it was then turned over Production Coordinator Greg Gorham. With Kirk adding effects, the video took shape just after noon on game day but the work was far from finished. All the way up until 6:30 p.m. - just 90 minutes before tipoff - the sports video staff worked feverishly before handing the finished product off to Rupp personnel and eagerly awaiting fans' response.
After injured star Nerlens Noel closed the video by saying, "Let's fight - like Wildcats," they had their answer. The Rupp crowd - especially students in the eRUPPtion zone - roared in approval. It was the kind of reaction that those behind the video had hoped for, but what they didn't quite expect was the effect it had on the players.
"I think it got us boosted," said Cauley-Stein, who rode that boost to a career-high 20-point performance. "After talking to Julius (Mays) and stuff, that video...got me hyped and the music was just--everything was just crazy."
Archie Goodwin - who scored in double figures for the first time in almost two weeks as UK notched a crucial 74-70 win - saw the video as a perfect illustration of the Cats' mentality over the season's final weeks.
"It was just, we're starting over," Goodwin said. "We're missing a key person, this is just another road block that was in our way and we feel like that was another way of us showing that we're turning over a new leaf, starting over like it was the beginning of the season for us. It was a great video, I actually liked it better than the last one, but it was just a video about motivation, and we all liked it."
In the days following a blowout loss at Tennessee, the Cats held team meetings, individual meetings with John Calipari and even a players-only meeting. On the eve of the Vanderbilt game, UK even played a game of dodgeball in an effort to inject some fun back into the season. But after all of that, it was an intro that went from a brainstormed idea in a meeting to a white board concept to the video boards in Rupp in less than a day and a half that helped give the Cats and their fans the edge they needed.
"Every game is our biggest game on the schedule, I think, because we need to finish the season off and make a statement against all the rest of the teams that we have," Harrow said.
On Wednesday night, news broke that former Wildcat star Patrick Patterson would become a member of the Sacramento Kings in a trade. The Houston Rockets shipped him west along with Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and $1 million for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt.
In Sacramento, Patterson will join fellow former Cats DeMarcus Cousins and Chuck Hayes in a frontcourt with a distinct Kentucky flavor. In his third season as a professional, Patterson is averaging 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds.
A former Cat who doesn't figure to be traded anytime soon is rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. the Charlotte Bobcats drafted him largely based on his intangibles and motor. Dunks like the one shown in the video below over Greg Monroe are a nice bonus.
They had team meetings. They had individual meetings with Coach Cal. They even had a players-only meeting. Out of that meeting came a mandate for point guard Ryan Harrow.
"The players had our own meeting and they just was telling me they needed me to be out there to make plays," Harrow said.
Harrow was coming off - like many of his teammates - a performance he'd rather forget. His scoreless performance at Tennessee was preceded by another zero the scoring column against Florida. The Harrow who had bounced back from an early-season absence to become one of UK's more consistent performances had been replaced by a player whom Calipari wasn't even comfortable with starting in Knoxville, Tenn.
But on Tuesday, Harrow decided he wasn't going to accept that. For the good of his team, he made up his mind to tell Coach Cal he wanted to return to the starting lineup.
"I just felt like I needed to go to Coach Cal and tell him I was going to do whatever he needed me to do just so I could be out there to play," Harrow said.
Talking about approaching Calipari and actually approaching Calipari are two different things though. As Harrow made the short walk to the coaches' offices at the Joe Craft Center, his sweat glands told him so.
"I called my mom right before and told her I was nervous," Harrow said. "My hands were sweating. When people were trying to give me high-fives, I had to wipe my pants first and give them high-fives."
But his mind was made up and Harrow went through with it. Once he started talking, it got a lot easier.
"When I got in there, we were able to talk and he listened to what I had to say and then he had the answers for me already," Harrow said.
The answer was yes.
"Any time guys come at me with stuff like that, it's easy for me because it takes it off my plate; now it's on their plate." Calipari said. "You want to start, okay, great, here you go."
It wasn't quite that simple though. In granting Harrow's request to start, Calipari made sure to tell Harrow it was down to him follow through.
"I said, 'Okay, you've got a responsibility though if you're going to start,' " Calipari said.
On Wednesday, Harrow held up his end of the bargain. He scored 12 points in a 74-70 win for UK (18-8, 9-4 Southeastern Conference), 10 of which came in the first half. He made 6-of-9 field-goal attempts and grabbed a season-high-tying five rebounds against Vanderbilt (10-15, 4-9 SEC). He committed zero turnovers against four assists in piloting a UK offense that shot 29 of 56 (51.8 percent) from the field.
"I thought he was terrific today," Calipari said.
The reason he was so much better boils down to aggressiveness. Calipari needs his point guard to set the tone with an attacking mentality. Without that, the offense looks how it did in last week's two road losses.
"He told me he needed me to take shots, 'cause when I'm aggressive everybody else is aggressive and the flow of the game is better," Harrow said.
That assertiveness extends beyond driving and shooting. Learning to speak up for himself both on and off the court has been a process for the self-professed squeaky-voiced Harrow, but he said "he grew up a little bit" by asking for a starting spot. His teammates agree.
"That was a big step for Ryan," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who scored a career-high 20 points and came up with a pair of clutch blocks in the final 34 seconds to preserve the victory. "We need him to be more vocal like that, get it within himself and express how he feels to coach. It's all about growing up and starting to be a man like that."
Ironically, the topic that dominated postgame talk centered on a game that doesn't exactly scream "grown up."
Immediately after UK's pregame walkthrough on Tuesday night, players and coaches split into separate teams for a round of gym-class favorite dodgeball. Though the Cats must play like men, they have to do it while maintaining a sense of fun and the torn ACL that Nerlens Noel suffered last week sapped any such good spirits. Coach Cal and his staff had to do something to rectify that.
"We just were talking, and what can we do?" Calipari said. "We've got to lighten this mood up. These guys are with the weight of the world on their shoulders, let's do something."
The latest in a series on nontraditional coaching ploys Calipari has tried this season worked wonders.
"When he came out with dodgeball, everybody was like, 'Oh! This is kind of like childhood here. We're playing dodgeball again,' " Cauley-Stein said. "It was just real fun."
Riding Cauley-Stein and Jon Hood - who both have "an absolute cannon" according to Calipari - the players won. There will be a rematch before Saturday's Missouri game in a sport Coach Cal believes will allow the coaches to reverse Tuesday's outcome.
"We're going to play wiffle ball Friday," Calipari said. "I promise they will lose Friday."
A lot of programs get good for a short time. Fewer successfully manage the transition to what comes next.
"We're kind of starting a new era with Kentucky softball," Lawson said.
At least the Wildcats are easing into it. Or not.
Kentucky's schedule in the first two weeks was as ominous as any in the nation. First at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., and this past week at the Campbell-Cartier Classic in San Diego. Opponents have included Arizona State, California, Cal Poly, Oklahoma, Oregon State, San Diego State, Stanford and Washington. The Wildcats stand at 8-3, including wins against four Pac-12 teams and San Diego State on its home field.
They took their lumps against Arizona State and Oklahoma, two teams likely to apply them with regularity this season, but they also answered the skepticism that left them unranked to start the season.
"It was a very tough schedule, but it's exciting to get to play those teams," senior shortstop Kara Dill said. "We are in one of the best conferences, so we play Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Georgia. We play them all the time. So to get to play some Pac-12 teams and some Big 12 teams, it's a different game. We understand SEC softball, but it's just a different game playing those teams. It's exciting.
"You want to be where those teams have been. We want to be in the World Series, and they've been there."
Next up for the Cats are four games this weekend in Spartanburg, S.C. Look for a longer story later in the week here on Cat Scratches, but check out Hays' full notebook in the meantime.
Link: UK leads off espnW's College Softball Notebook
The 88-58 defeat was the largest of John Calipari's tenure as Kentucky head coach and the Wildcats had to battle just to avoid a 40-point final margin.
So, three days later, are Coach Cal's priorities or goals any different? Not so much.
"Now the issue for me as a coach is: Just keep coaching them," Calipari said. "I'm not going to change; just keep coaching them."
As long as there is still season left, Calipari is going to try everything within his power to turn the potential he's certain his team has into production. With his youngest UK team to date, he hasn't always been rewarded by his persistence. It's not that his players are willfully not following Calipari's coaching; it's that they don't have the capacity to execute all the time.
"All of a sudden: Why are you out there?" Calipari said, relaying a familiar scenario from practices and games. "I thought we were ... 'Oh, my fault.' We have more 'my faults' this year than I can tell you."
Making things even more difficult is the fact Calipari doesn't have a deep bench on which to rely. He has made a conscious decision to carry fewer rotation players in an effort to do right the kids he recruits, which presents a unique challenge.
"It's just a lack of concentration and discipline and, again, when you don't have the bench to just say, 'Boop, out, can't do it,' and force them to concentrate a little bit more, it makes it tougher," Calipari said.
Calipari's tone might come off to some as negative, but it's really a simple statement of fact - one accompanied by a reaffirmation of what he still believes the Cats can become.
"All that aside, we can make what we want of this season," Calipari said. "Whatever we want to make of this season, we can do. We could be the story of the year - of recovery and all that. We can do that if they choose to do that."
Therein lies the key: As much as he wants to, Coach Cal can't choose his team's fate.
"It's not just about him; it's about us," guard Julius Mays said. "We gotta have belief in each other. It can't just be him having the belief. We're the guys out there playing and players make the plays. The coach can only do so much."
Along with fellow guard Jarrod Polson, Mays was one of two players Calipari singled out for showing consistent fight in UK's first game without injured star Nerlens Noel. With time running short on his college career, Mays has scored in double figures five straight games. He essentially has as much experience as the rest of his teammates combined and he took it upon himself to let his younger teammates know the effort at Tennessee was unacceptable.
"We know we gotta come and fight," Mays said. "Like I said, if anybody's not going to fight, then we don't want them to be a part of it. We need everybody that we have here and it's going to take all of us. We can't have not one player not on same page as us. I let it be known and I think guys accept it."
Heading into a home rematch with Vanderbilt (10-14, 4-8 Southeastern Conference) at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Mays knows his words only carry so much weight. After stops at three different schools, Mays has seen his share of adversity and has learned that the only true way to learn is to go through it.
"So this is good life lessons for all these guys, that everything isn't all peachy," Mays said. "You're going to have adversity in life. Things aren't going to always be like you want them to be."
A two-game February losing streak and 17-8 overall record certainly isn't what the Cats want, but there's still time to change it around. With just six games left in the regular season and the term "must-win" being bandied about, that time is beginning to run shorter now. Mays doesn't want to go too far with that talk though.
"I don't like to have the mindset of your back against the wall because when you play with that much pressure, you're liable to play bad," Mays said. "I just want guys to play with a free mind but to know that we got work to do."
That work can only be undertaken one step at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time.
"You've got to prepare yourself to play great and that means go knock out a practice, go unbelievably hard, talk to one another, have great energy," Calipari said. "In all my years, that's how you do it, there's no individual meetings or meetings so hopefully today we'll step on the gas."
After playing six of their last nine on the road, the Cats are happy they get to begin that process at home.
"We're looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd," Mays said. "We definitely want to rebound off of a two-game losing streak, so we're looking forward to a home game."
There are approximately 1,200 unsold student tickets still available for Wednesday's game against Vanderbilt. To buy tickets, call the UK Ticket Office at (800) 928-2287, the Rupp Arena Box Office at (859)233-3535 or visit TicketMaster.com. http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/16004949939849A3?artistid=838134&majorcatid=10004&minorcatid=7
Ted Hautau took over the UK diving program in the 2008-09 season and had only two divers in the program. Since that time, Hautau has rebuilt the program from the ground up, currently has 10 divers on his roster and is looking for his athletes to make a splash on the national scene.
Last season, Hautau tailored his training regimen to allow for his athletes to be in prime condition at the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championships. After the success his team has had so far this season, Hautau has tweaked his plans for 2013.
"We're not exactly tapering for SECs," said Hautau. "We're shooting for NCAAs. I just told the team early on before the season that we're going to train through SECs. That doesn't mean I don't think we can perform well there; they perform well every week. So I expect they'll do well at this meet."
The Wildcats will receive a huge boost as the 2013 SEC Championships will mark the return of All-SEC performer junior Greg Ferrucci. A six-time SEC Diver of the Week winner including twice this season, Ferrucci was limited by a thumb injury heading into the Louisville meet. He was then held out of competition in the final dual meet of the season at Cincinnati.
With eight individual wins prior to the injury, Ferrucci left a big hole in the diving lineup. Kentucky's depth, however, was more than enough to make up for Ferrucci's absence. UK got strong performances from Corey Cowger, Zachary Zandona and junior captain John Fox, who all earned victories in Ferrucci's stead.
"He's a little bit of the engine of our program in the sense that everyone gets excited and he's a phenomenal diver," said Hautau of Ferrucci. "He's always great in big meets, and just having him back is a relief for him and fun for everybody else. Obviously from a points standpoint, he was the high scorer on the whole team."
Though Ferrucci will be back in competition, it's been nearly a month and a half since he dove at full strength. Ferrucci will be forced to dive through the pain this week, so he'll have to battle through the it if he hopes to get back to his winning ways at the SEC Championships. The time off, however, may have given him a chance to improve in other areas.
"His thumb, it is what it is," said Hautau. "He's going to have to tape it up and it might hurt a little bit. He's really strong right now, he's getting his air awareness back, so we'll see where he's at (this) week."
Fox - described by Hautau and his teammates as the heart and soul of the diving team - was a key component in holding the divers intact while Ferrucci healed. But Fox knows the importance of his teammate to the overall team's success moving forward.
"It's good to have him back," said Fox of Ferrucci. "I don't think it necessarily takes any pressure off the team, but having him around is great because he's incredibly talented and he just brings us up as a team, like our competitive level and everything."
With the whole unit finally back on the boards, Kentucky will have the opportunity to compete against top-notch competition before Zone Diving qualifying in March. The SEC Championships is just another opportunity for UK to really show who the best of the best is.
"The SEC environment is different than any other meet we go to," said Fox. "It's extremely competitive. The talent in our conference is amazing, so competing against those athletes is pretty special."
Though Kentucky expects to do well this week in Texas, they are more worried about being in top form for the Zone Diving event to qualify for the NCAA Championships
Last season, Ferrucci was the lone diver from UK to make it to the NCAAs. This season, UK will be training throughout its time at the SEC Championships with the hopes of qualifying a few more athletes for NCAAs. While that might make success difficult to come by this week, it will allow the Cats to be at full strength when the Zone Diving qualifying meet rolls around.
"I've decided as a program that we've got some depth on our team, we've got talent, they all kind of push each other, so we're at the point now that we're going to start grooming and shooting for NCAAs as a program and putting multiple kids there," said Hautau. "We've got a good shot this year to get more kids into NCAAs. So we're trending in the right direction."
Though the plans have changed this year, UK divers are looking forward to the challenge. Training through an event instead of preparing up to it makes a big difference physically. If UK can get over that hump mentally, the Cats can still enjoy success at the SECs while preparing for NCAA qualifying at the same time.
"It makes it difficult, but you just have to rely on your meet adrenaline," said Fox. "When you've got that going, you don't really feel anything in your body. It's more of a psychological thing. If you can just forget about it and go out there and trick yourself into thinking that you're feeling really good, you tend to dive pretty well. I don't think it's going to affect us too much. It will ensure that we peak at the right time at the end of the season."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 17:
Baseball: Jerad Grundy
Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy had a great season debut, pitching UK to a win over Niagara on Sunday ... Grundy worked six innings without allowing an earned run, walking one and tying his career high with nine strikeouts ... Grundy allowed only four hits and held NU to a .167 batting average ... In the middle innings, Grundy struck out five consecutive hitters, not allowing a hit the second time through the order ... Grundy retired In his two-year UK career, Grundy has started 17 games with a 7-3 record and a 3.53 ERA.
Softball: Lauren Cumbess
- Led the team in hitting against some of the best teams in the nation, helping the Wildcats defeat No. 16 Washington and San Diego State, who was receiving votes in one poll. Cumbess hit .500 over the weekend, going 8-for-16 with two homers, one double and five RBI.
- Cumbess leads the team overall in batting average (.429), hits (15), homers (two), RBI (10) and slugging percentage (.657). She had a hit in every game throughout the tournament, including two against Keilani Ricketts, who pitched two no-hitters the opening weekend of the season to earn National Player of the Week honors. She is currently on a five-game hitting streak, the longest of the season by any Wildcat
- The native of Normal, Ill., also pitched well over the weekend, going 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA. She threw a complete game shutout against Cal Poly, going seven innings, allowing only four hits while striking out seven. Cumbess paces the team in ERA with a 2.04 mark and is second in strikeouts with 22.
Softball: Kelsey Nunley
- Pitched beautifully for the Wildcats in the second tournament of the season, posting a 2.21 ERA with wins against San Diego State, who was receiving votes in one major poll, No. 16 Washington and UC Riverside. She threw a complete game shutout against San Diego State, allowing only three hits while striking out seven and only walking two. Also went six innings the next day against highly ranked Washington, allowing six hits and one run - none earned - striking out three with no walks.
- Nunley came on in relief against UC Riverside after UK just captured a 4-3 lead and shut the door, allowing the highlanders only one hit over her three innings in the circle while striking out two batters.
- In her two starts over the weekend, Nunley went 13 innings, allowing nine hits and no earned runs with 10 strikeouts. In her four starts this season, Nunley is 4-0 and 6-0 overall. In those four starts Nunley has thrown 25 innings, allowing only three runs - two earned - while striking out 27 and walking seven.
Women's basketball: Jennifer O'Neill
- Redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill led Kentucky to a 78-74 come-from-behind victory over No. 16/14 South Carolina.
- Scored 19 points, including 10 in the decisive second half as Kentucky came back from a 16-point deficit to record its largest comeback in the Matthew Mitchell era and tie the fourth-largest comeback in school history.
- Pulled down a season-high six rebounds and hit 6-of-7 from the charity stripe in a season-high 36 minutes.
- With the game knotted at 72 with 25 seconds remaining, O'Neill found open teammate Kastine Evans under the basket for a layup to give UK a two-point lead. She later iced the game by sinking two free throws with 16 seconds to go, giving the Wildcats a four-point advantage.
- Ranks third on the team in scoring at 10.2 points per contest, including 12.5 points in league play.
- Has reached double figures in 12 games this season, including nine of 12 SEC contests.
- Ranks tied for second on the team in 3-point field goals made (43) and 3-point percentage (.387). Her 3-point percentage also ties for fourth on UK's single season list.
Baseball: J.T. Riddle
Junior J.T. Riddle had one of the most prolific weekends in Kentucky baseball history, batting .786 (11-for-14) to open the year, with three doubles, one triple, one homer and six RBI ... Riddle collected 19 total bases, charted a 1.357 slugging and a .824 on-base percentage ... In a win on Sunday, Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6, three runs, three RBI game at the plate, including ripping a triple off the centerfield fence, finishing a homer shy of hitting for the cycle ... In the season opener, he pelted doubles off the left and rightfield walls in a 3-for-5 game ... In the finale of the weekend, Riddle went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs ... He had a walk and two hit by pitches, belting his first homer of the year as a no-doubt blast to spark a dramatic UK comeback win on Monday at USC Upstate.
"I've known him for the last 12 or 13 years and I've just always appreciated how competitive he is--and I think it's infectious. I think it affects his staff and it affects his players," Herbstreit told "The Leach Report" radio show Monday. "I do think his leadership will affect his team. And I think people that play for him are going to believe he's giving them the best plan (to succeed)."
Herbstreit said he and Stoops talk on a weekly basis and Herbstreit says being in the Southeastern Conference plus having the talent-rich state of Ohio on the northern border of Kentucky means Stoops has the ability to upgrade recruiting. We certainly saw that happen in UK's latest signing class but Herbstreit says the thing that really validate all of this enthusiasm for Kentucky football is to have success on Saturdays this fall.
"I think it can happen within a year," he said. "Number one, you get a great recruiting class. Then, that's got to carry over into spring and summer. And the best way I've seen coaches be able to change the culture is to have success on Saturdays in the fall. It makes it a little easier to say, 'We told you if you do this, you're going to see if pay off for you.' I've seen it happen within a year and I've seen it take two or three years and sometimes they're never able to turn it around.
"It's one thing to hire a coach like Mark Stoops, who gives you that initial wave of interest, but now you gotta win football games--and Mark would be the first one to tell you that," Herbstreit added.
Recruiting is the fuel of any improvement in college football and Herbstreit says landing those players and then being able to successfully coach them requires a coach to undertake a balancing act.
"We are in an era that is unprecedented when it comes to the way high school basketball and football players are pampered and exposed to so much and treated as if they're above the rules. What I've seen from coaches is understanding that those are the rules of engagement. If you're going to be a top-25 program, you've got to be able to go out and recruit these prima donna type of athletes and maintain a culture of not just winning but having a selfless approach to how you do it," Herbstreit explained. "You can around the country, there's not a set of rules for (star players). You have to make sure everybody follows the same rules. You make it tough, you make it demanding, you love on them but you make sure they don't walk around with a sense of entitlement. If they can't deal with that, goodbye. I think Mark has that (approach). He's been around great programs and he's been around programs that have struggled and he knows what it takes."
He said that balancing act is evident in the success that John Calipari has had with Kentucky basketball.
"That's why they win and that's probably why they come back in the offseason. They're so used to 'yes men' that when they get a guy that actually pushes their buttons and challenges them, they appreciate it," he noted.
Herbstreit says turning a program around starts with the staff the head coach hires.
"Every great head coach that I know has a great staff, that gets his philosophy and goes out and helps that become a reality. And Mark gets that. He knows what it takes," he said.
Herbstreit also likes the fact that Stoops followed the game plan of his brother, Bob, at Oklahoma - a defensive-minded head coach who found a branch of the Hal Mumme/Air Raid offense coaching tree to direct that side of the ball.
"I think it's tough to defend," Herbstreit said of that system. "When you have a quarterback that understands it and can get the ball out of his hands with some accuracy and good reads, you've got a chance to pick apart defenses."
And Herbstreit says the next evolution of that system is seen in what Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is doing at Texas A&M.
"You've got to have a guy who can throw it and is just as dangerous running it. If you do that, unless you dress 12 or 13 on defense, I don't think you can stop it. I think that's the next wave of that offense and it'll be interesting to see if Kentucky can find a guy like that," he said.
"I think today, it (that offense) gives you a chance. It spreads out the defense and it makes them tip their hand, as far as where the pressure is coming from. (But) without the trigger man there, it's not going to work."
And Herbstreit believes Stoops will be a perfect fit with Big Blue Nation.
"When he took the job, I said 'Have you ever been to Keeneland? With the city of Lexington, you hit the bonus. Your wife and your family are going to love Lexington,' " he said. "They're going to fit in there just perfectly on a personal level."
Record Last Week: 3-0
Friday, Feb. 15 - defeated UNC Asheville, 9-2
Sunday, Feb. 17 - defeated Niagara, 20-3
Monday, Feb. 19 - defeated USC Upstate, 11-10
Upcoming Schedule (times eastern)
Friday, Feb. 22 - vs. Elon - 12 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 23 - at No. 35 Coastal Carolina - 3 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 24 - vs. Kansas State - 11 a.m.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE
6-3 - Jr. * 2B - Frankfort, Ky. (Western Hills)
Week Stats: .786 (11-for-14), 3 2B, 3B, HR, 6 RBI, 19 TB, 1.357 SLG%, .824 OB%
Notes: Junior J.T. Riddle had one of the most prolific weekends in Kentucky baseball history, batting .786 (11-for-14) to open the year, with three doubles, one triple, one homer and six RBI ... Riddle collected 19 total bases, charted a 1.357 slugging and a .824 on-base percentage ... In a win on Sunday, Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6, three runs, three RBI game at the plate, including ripping a triple off the centerfield fence, finishing a homer shy of hitting for the cycle ... In the season opener, he pelted doubles off the left and rightfield walls in a 3-for-5 game ... In the finale of the weekend, Riddle went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs ... He had a walk and two hit by pitches, belting his first homer of the year as a no-doubt blast to spark a dramatic UK comeback win on Monday at USC Upstate.
PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE
6-1 * Sr. * LHP * Johnsburg, Ill. (Heartland/Miami, Fla.)
Week Stats: 1-0, 1 GS, 6 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO
Notes: Senior southpaw Jerad Grundy had a great season debut, pitching UK to a win over Niagara on Sunday ... Grundy worked six innings without allowing an earned run, walking one and tying his career high with nine strikeouts ... Grundy allowed only four hits and held NU to a .167 batting average ... In the middle innings, Grundy struck out five consecutive hitters, not allowing a hit the second time through the order ... Grundy retired In his two-year UK career, Grundy has started 17 games with a 7-3 record and a 3.53 ERA.
Eighth-ranked Kentucky completed a three-game weekend trip to Spartanburg, S.C., on Monday with a dramatic comeback win at USC Upstate, 11-10, also picking up wins over UNC Asheville and Niagara on opening weekend. UK returns to action on Friday, traveling to Coastal Carolina to take on Elon, Kansas State and the Chanticleers.
Kentucky (3-0) opened up the year with a 9-2 win over UNC Asheville at Wofford, getting five strong innings on the mound and a four-hit game from A.J. Reed. UK then plated 20 runs in a 20-3 rout of Niagara on Sunday, with junior second baseman J.T. Riddle making history with a 6-for-6 game at the plate, finishing a homer shy of hitting for the cycle.
After its game with USC Upstate was snowed out on Saturday, the contest was scheduled for a Monday matchup, with the Wildcats staying over a night in Spartanburg. UK opened up to a 6-2 lead before the Spartans rallied with eight unanswered runs to take a 10-6 lead into the eighth inning. UK started rallying with a Riddle solo homer, then plated three more runs to even the game in the eighth. With a runner at second base, UK turned to Thomas Bernal to pinch hit, with Bernal lacing a game-winning RBI single up the middle to score the go-ahead run. UK junior Trevor Gott closed out the game with the final six outs for the win.
A native of Frankfort, Ky. Riddle paced UK's offensive attack with a historic weekend, batting .786 (11-for-14) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and six RBI, drawing a walk and getting hit by two pitches. Bernal finished opening weekend with a .500 average (4-for-8) with two doubles, while All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino batting .385 (5-for-13) with a homer, four RBI and four steals.
On the mound, Reed, Gott and Jerad Grundy picked up the wins for the Wildcats, with UK starter Corey Littrell getting the nod in the USC Upstate contest. UK also used Walter Wijas, Chandler Shepherd and Jeff Boehm as veterans out of the bullpen, with freshmen Dylan Dwyer, Kyle Cody, Zach Strecker, Tyler Cox and Ryne Combs each seeing their collegiate debuts on the bump.
Kentucky will face Elon on Friday at 12 p.m. ET at Pelicans Park in Myrtle Beach, with the event hosted by Coastal Carolina. UK will face Coastal Carolina on Saturday, before finishing the weekend with an 11 a.m. ET matchup with Kansas State on Sunday.
- The Kentucky men's basketball team dropped an 88-58 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer led the Cats with 18 points and six rebounds.
- Senior Julius Mays scored 12 points and has logged 10 or more points in five straight games.
- Junior Jarrod Polson contributed a career-high 11 points.
- Kentucky has won its last three games and looks to keep its winning streak alive when it faces No. 11/13 Texas A&M on ESPN2's Big Monday in the second meeting of the season between the teams.
- The Wildcats charted their 10th SEC win last week with an impressive come-from-behind victory over No. 16/14 South Carolina. Trailing by 16 points early in the second half, the Wildcats used a four-guard set to chip away at the Gamecocks' lead and win 78-74 - the largest comeback in the Matthew Mitchell era.
- Four players scored in double digits led by redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill with 19.
- Then-No. 17 Kentucky defeated Missouri 194.250-194.125 on Friday night in Memorial Coliseum.
- Audrey Harrison was the lone all-around competitor posting a 39.3, which tied her career-high set last week.
- The junior also won balance beam, and shared the honors on uneven bars and floor exercise.
- The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has 12 individual event honors this season and 19 in her career.
- Her five all-around wins in 2013 have all come against Southeastern Conference competition.
- Shannon Mitchell tied Harrison for the floor title, her second of the season and the third of her career.
- The Kentucky rifle team shot a 4697 on Saturday at the NCAA Qualifiers.
- Sophomore Elijah Ellis and senior Stacy Wheatley delivered personal bests in smallbore, with Ellis posting a 583 and Wheatley shooting a 586.
- Senior Henri Junghänel led the team in smallbore and air rifle, shooting a 588 in smallbore and a 594 in air rifle.
- The No. 22/24 UK softball team continued where it left off last weekend by defeating another ranked team en route to a 4-1 record in the 23rd Campbell/Cartier Classic in San Diego. The Wildcats posted wins over No. 16 Washington, San Diego State - who is receiving votes in one poll - Cal Poly and UC Riverside.
- Junior pitcher/infielder Lauren Cumbess paced the Wildcats throughout the weekend at the plate, blasting two homers for a .500 average (8-for-16) at the event with five RBI. Cumbess also went 1-0 in the circle, while freshman hurler Kelsey Nunley went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA over the weekend. Nunley defeated San Diego State and Washington, throwing a complete game shutout against the Aztecs allowing only three hits.
- UK has now defeated three ranked teams this season in then-No. 3 Cal, No. 16 Washington and No. 20 Stanford. Coach Rachel Lawson and Co. have also taken down Oregon State and SDSU, who both were receiving votes when UK posted wins against them. After two weekends of play, UK is 8-3 with its only losses coming to No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Arizona State and unranked Portland State.
- Kentucky began the season 2-0 with wins over UNC Asheville and Niagara in Spartanburg, S.C. UK wraps up play at Wofford on Monday against USC Upstate.
- Junior second baseman J.T. Riddle set a new program record with a 6-for-6 game at the plate and starter Jerad Grundy tied a career-best with nine strikeouts in six innings in the win over Niagara.
- Sophomore All-America southpaw A.J. Reed worked five innings on the mound and went a career-best 4-for-5 at the plate with three RBI, leading No. 8 Kentucky to a 9-2 season-opening win over UNC Asheville.
- Kentucky advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 ITA National Team Indoor Championships this weekend in Seattle, recording wins over No. 10 Mississippi State (4-0), and No. 6 Georgia (4-2).
- UK's No. 90 Anthony Rossi went 2-0 in singles action, defeating No. 12 Raymond Sarmiento of Southern Cal and knocking off No. 21 Nathan Pasha of Georgia 6-4, 7-6 (7) on Sunday.
- With the wins this weekend, UK recorded their seventh win of the season over teams in the top 25 of the ITA rankings, as the Wildcats are now 3-1 versus teams in the top 10.
- Tom Jomby also went 2-0 in singles play this weekend, collecting two straight-set wins. On Friday, Jomby ran past No. 43 Malte Stroppe of Mississippi State 6-2, 6-0 before giving UK a crucial point in its match with UGA, collecting a 6-
4, 6-4 win over No. 92 over No. 92 Ben Wagland at the two slot.
- The Kentucky women's tennis team knocked off No. 55 Ohio State and No. 54 Indiana throughout the course of the week, taking both matches 4-3.
- Freshman Nadia Ravita recorded two singles win in the No. 1 slot to go along with two doubles wins in the No. 1 slot, paired with junior Caitlin McGraw.
- Senior Jessica Stiles went 2-0 on the week in the No. 2 singles spot, taking both matches in straight sets.
- The UK women's golf team began their 2013 spring season with an eighth place finish in the 15-team field at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic Feb. 10-12.
- Senior Ashleigh Albrecht was the low finisher for the Wildcats, tying for 14th at 7-over-par.
- Junior Liz Breed and freshman Sarah Harris were tied for 28th at 12-over, while freshman Cylia Damerau placed tied for 34th at 13-over.
Tuesday, Feb. 19
Women's tennis hosts Miami (OH) - 4:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Men's golf at Mobile Bay Intercollegiate (Mobile, Ala.)
Wednesday, Feb. 20
Men's basketball hosts Vanderbilt - 8:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Thursday, Feb. 21
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Friday, Feb. 22
Baseball vs. Elon - Noon (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
Softball vs. Presbyterian - 2:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Gymnastics at Florida - 7:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College, Station, Texas)
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Saturday, Feb. 23
Softball vs. Georgetown - Noon (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Women's tennis at Kansas - 1:00 p.m.
Softball vs. USC Upstate - 2:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Baseball vs. Coastal Carolina - 3:00 p.m. (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
Men's basketball hosts Missouri - 9:00 p.m.
Swimming and diving at SEC Championships (College Station, Texas)
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Rifle at GARC Championships (Oxford, Miss.)
Sunday, Feb. 24
Softball vs. Howard - 10:00 a.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Men's tennis at Samford - 10:00 a.m.
Baseball vs. Kansas State - 11:00 a.m. (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
Men's tennis vs. Jacksonville State - 2:00 p.m. (Birmingham, Ala.)
Women's basketball at LSU - 3:00 p.m.
Track and field at SEC Championships (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Rifle at GARC Championships (Oxford, Miss.)
The skinny: For most of the season, Matthew Mitchell's Kentucky Wildcats have been the ones making the comebacks. Four times this season, the Cats have rallied from second-half deficits of seven points or more and won.
On Monday night, No. 10 Texas A&M tried to flip the script. Trailing 60-46 after A'dia Mathies hit a jumper with 8:31 left, the home-standing Aggies mounted a furious rally looking to avenge a January loss in which the Cats came back from seven points down in the second half to win. They mounted a 10-0 run and closed to within 68-66 when Courtney Walker (20 points) scored inside while being fouled with less than five seconds left.
After an A&M timeout, Walker missed the ensuing free throw intentionally, but Bria Goss grabbed the loose ball and calmly drained a pair of free throws to ice a 70-66 victory and allow the eighth-ranked Cats to move to 23-3, 11-2 in Southeastern Conference play.
The difference: Taking care of the basketball. For the second time in as many games against Texas A&M, UK was outrebounded. In spite of the best efforts of DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker - who combined for 23 rebounds - the Aggies held a 41-38 advantage on the glass. Additionally, Texas A&M outshot UK from the field - 47.4 percent to 40.6 percent.
The reason the Cats were able to survive all that was the way they took care of the ball. A&M committed just 18 turnovers - nearly seven fewer than the average for a UK opponent coming into Monday - but the Cats picked up an extra eight possessions by committing just 10 turnovers all night. For just the second time in conference play, UK had more assists (14) than turnovers.
Player of the game: Stallworth. Days ago, the California transfer had her worst game as a Wildcat. After a lackluster first half against South Carolina, Mitchell opted to play the talented junior just one minute in the second half of the comeback win. Her coach said afterward he wasn't trying to send a message and was just trying to win a basketball game, but Stallworth still responded in a big way.
She was one of three players to score in double figures for UK with 12 points, but that's not what made her performance so special. She had 12 rebounds, including six on the offensive end, and set a school record with seven blocks. Her defense was a big reason why Kelsey Bone - the SEC's leading scorer - managed just nine points on eight shots while committing seven turnovers.
Turning point: With the clock ticking under six minutes and the Aggie crowd very much into it, Texas A&M had the ball down just 60-56. With her team's confidence being put to the test, Mathies (13 points) came away with a steal and raced to the other end of the floor for a fast-break layup. Texas A&M wouldn't quit from there, but the play steadied UK's ship enough to propel the Cats to victory.
Key stat: Points off turnovers. The Cats may not have forced as many turnovers as they are used to, but they made the most of the ones they did. UK scored 29 points off 18 Aggie miscues for an average of 1.61 points per possession.
Unsung hero: Kastine Evans. The all-around performance by Stallworth and Mathies' late-game heroics will grab headlines, but Evans played a huge role in the Cats building a big lead, especially with Mathies limited to five first-half minutes by two early fouls. The junior guard played a team-high 35 minutes and scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Since moving to the starting lineup at Arkansas, the always-steady Evans has taken her game to another level. Over her four games as starter, she's averaging 8.5 points on 56.5-percent shooting. Before then, she was averaging 3.7 points on 31.2-percent shooting.
They said what? "I thought that was a great basketball game. Two really good teams going at it, played well tonight. We were fortunate to win. We have a lot of respect for Texas A&M and their program. They are a very talented team."- Mitchell
"When you lose your best player and your senior leader, you're certainly concerned, but we had a lot of confidence in our team. And I think that goes to show you that we aren't really a one-player team. We have some really tough-minded players, and I just thought it was a beautiful first half of basketball by our team." - Mitchell on losing Mathies to first-half foul trouble
"Players have to make plays in this kind of game. This kind of game to me is more about players than it is about any coaching you can do. I'm just really impressed with our players tonight." - Mitchell
"We just tried to swarm her and tried to get as many defenders. She's big, and she had a good day against us in Lexington, so we wanted to push off the block as much as we can and tried to get some little guards for when she dribbled to try to swipe the ball out of her hands." - Mathies on UK's approach to guarding Bone
"I thought it was really important for me to step up, and I thought I did a good job. Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to do it because they never gave up and always believed in me." - Stallworth
What this one means: In short, a lot. Coming into Monday, UK trailed A&M by a half-game for second place in the SEC. The victory not only vaults the Cats into sole possession of second place behind Tennessee, but it also gives them a season sweep of the Aggies and therefore the tiebreaker for SEC Tournament seeding.
With just three games left in the season, UK needs only win its next two to set up a showdown with Tennessee on Senior Day to clinch a share of the SEC regular-season title, at minimum. Oh yeah, the victory is also UK's second over a top-10 team on the road, an achievement the Selection Committee surely won't overlook when seeding the NCAA Tournament.
With the rematch set for Monday, the Aggies still figure to have a little retribution on their mind. But neither team will be too focused on the past and that previous matchup. There's just too much to play for in the present.
"It's a big game," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said succinctly.
For the Cats, their defense of their first Southeastern Conference title in three decades is still completely in their hands. For it to remain that way, the game with No. 10 Texas A&M (20-5, 10-1 SEC) on Monday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN2) is a must-win.
No. 8 UK (22-3, 10-2 SEC) currently sits in third place in the league standings, just a half-game behind A&M and a full game behind first-place Tennessee. A win on Big Monday in front of a national television audience would give UK sole possession of second place as well as another impossible-to-ignore resume-building win.
"It's two of the best teams in the country, two of the best teams certainly in our league and it'll be a tremendous matchup," Mitchell said.
The first time around, it was a struggle for the Cats on defense in the first half. The Aggies shot 58.6 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes before UK buckled down and held A&M to just 25 points on 32.3-percent shooting in the second half. Mitchell was happy with his team's effort throughout, but will be looking to channel it more effectively this time around, particularly against a frontcourt combination of Kelsey Bone and Kristi Bellock that combined for 43 points and 25 rebounds against the Cats in Memorial Coliseum.
"We'll have to learn from that game," Mitchell said. "I think it's probably important for us to figure out a little bit better way to defend them. They got a lot of easy buckets in that game although we won, and they didn't score a ton. I think we need to make them work harder to score."
Even after UK settled in on defense and got its transition game going to build a second-half lead, the Aggies - playing their first season as members of the SEC - hung around and actually had a chance to tie the game with a last-second 3-pointer that missed.
"I thought it was a very even game," Mitchell said. I don't think we're going to go in there and just smash them. I don't think it's that kind of game. We'll have to be prepared to play 40 minutes and you can't let them run off and hide from you."
Teams have tried all season to run off and hide from the Cats, but it's been no guarantee of victory. Four times this season, UK has faced second-half deficits or seven points or more and come back to win - including that first A&M game. The Cats have even done it twice on the road - at Louisville and at Arkansas - but they'd surely rather to get it done a little more traditionally on Monday.
"We will certainly go down there with the intention of winning and we'll prepare to win," Mitchell said. "I think this team will have a strong desire to win so it'll be a terrific game. They're a terrific team, well coached, and it should be a real test for us."
One meet specifically, however, may have propelled the Wildcats into this week's competition in College Station, Texas.
The Kentucky and Louisville rivalry is as simple as it is complex. While both universities are within just an hour's drive from one another making the proximity the main culprit for the ferocity of the rivalry, it has many layers to it that have turned it into what it is today.
That rivalry does not exist in basketball and football alone. Each varsity sport that Kentucky and Louisville share has an element of that rivalry, and their swimming and diving programs are no different.
For Kentucky, their recent meeting with the Cardinals in the pool may have struck a nerve with the Wildcats and served as a momentum-shifting turning point for UK as the Cats head into the always-crucial SEC Championships.
"The Louisville meet was by far the most exciting I've ever been a part of," said senior captain Mandy Myers. "My freshman year we won against them and it was a really great meet, but this was the first time in a really long time that I've seen everyone up and excited and ready to go, just focusing on each other.
"I think Louisville was an extremely important meet for us mentally."
It hasn't been an easy season for Kentucky. The SEC is arguably the strongest swimming conference in the country and the Cats have faced several ranked teams - SEC and non-conference alike - along the way.
Head swimming coach Gary Conelly knew his team had a difficult schedule ahead of them, but with that in mind he decided that he would use the regular season as one long training period. Though UK might take some lumps lumps during the season, the Wildcats would grind through the regular season with the intent to make a splash at the SEC Championships beginning Tuesday in College Station, Texas on the campus of Texas A&M.
Since their opening meet of the season against Tennessee and Indiana, the Cats have made improvements on a meet-to-meet basis.
"Every dual meet is an opportunity to practice and get better," said Myers. "I think every meet we've gotten better. Our first meet was against Tennessee and Indiana. It wasn't a great meet, but every meet since then, there have been things that we've worked on and improved."
As the regular season wound down, Kentucky ramped up its performance, and it was evident as the Cats took Louisville to the wire on UK's senior day in late January. Louisville's men were ranked No. 14 heading into the meet while the U of L women ranked No. 17. Each was pushed to the limit on that day as UK's men and women were neck and neck for most of the afternoon. The men's battle went all the way to the last few races before it was decided, but Louisville managed to pull it out down the stretch.
Despite the loss, Kentucky was encouraged by the performance as it signified that everything that they had been doing during the season was starting to payoff.
Kentucky traveled to Cincinnati the following weekend and proceeded to dominate the Bearcats in UK's final dual meet of the season.
Since that day, Kentucky's swimmers have had their total attention aimed at this week, even though the SEC Championships have been circled on their calendars all season long.
As their last two performances of the season would indicate, the Wildcats are peaking at the right time.
"I think we're pretty excited about it," said Conelly. "Everybody looks pretty good in the water right now.
"We've put in a good year of training. We've been focused on this as our primary meet. All of our marbles are in one jar and everyone's excited as we get ready to go."
The last two meets have not only produced some of the strongest results of the season for the Cats, but it's built their confidence up as they head into their most important meet of the season. As they head into action this Tuesday for the conference championships, UK has left no page left unturned.
"This is my fifth year on the team and this is for sure the most confident we've been as a whole," said Myers. "Personally, I feel the same way. I don't really have any doubts going into SECs, and I don't think anyone else does either, so I'm excited to see what happens."
The 2013 SEC Championships will be special for Myers and her fellow seniors. But for Myers, it will be particularly rewarding.
After sitting out all of last season as she rehabbed her shoulder from surgery, Myers, a fifth-year senior, hopes to go out in a big way.
"This year is especially important to me to give everything I have to my teammates because I owe it to them for allowing me to stick around an extra year to get better," said Myers. "I definitely want to leave on a good note for my team."
Kentucky hopes to have its best showing of the season in Texas this week with the prospects of knocking off some of the top-ranked teams in the country. Though winning the event will be a tall task, UK can gain several small victories with a strong team showing as well as seeing individuals qualify for the NCAA Championships during this meet.
While Kentucky has been looking forward to this opportunity all season long, success in the SEC Championships would not only validate the Cats' hard work all season, but it could bring strong returns for the future of the UK swimming program for years to come.
"It's enormous," said Conelly of having a strong performance this week. "It's clearly the toughest league in the country. Any time you're moving up through that conference, that's a good perception everywhere.
"To get the athletes to the NCAAs makes it even better. Fortunately, we've had a really good recruiting class this year, so I have a pretty strong sense we're going upward anyway, but this would just get the ball moving even more."
On the upcoming week ...
"Two good teams. Vandy beats Texas A&M. They played Tennessee to two great games. (Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings) is doing a great job with his team, putting them in positions to have a chance to win every game they play. You look at Missouri's guard play, which means they have a chance any game they are in. They've got big people inside that can do damage, so they're a top-20 team. Two teams that are going to be rough games for us right now.'
On what a player's responsibility is to be "coachable" ...
"First of all, let's go to the context. During a game, on the bench, there are a lot of things I say that, if a guy is not listening, is not playing rough enough, isn't coming up with 50-50 balls, there's a lot of things I say. But this team is a team of a bunch of good guys. They want to do well. Some of this is overwhelming. We just lost our best player. And why a guy wouldn't listen or why he is going out and not doing what we ask him to do, we're just trying to say, 'Hey man, listen to what we're saying. You can't play the way you're playing.' But like I said, I've got a group of good kids. We are very young. We are treading new water. It wasn't like a postgame tirade. That's not what this was. This was during the game that we're talking about. Guys got to listen better."
On what he can do to get some of those guys to listen in the aftermath of something like Saturday ...
"First of all, it's one game. I told them after the game, I've had teams get beat up like this, but I want to see how you respond, how you come back. That's the measure of who you are. It's not that this doesn't happen occasionally. I think Ohio State just got smashed by somebody (Wisconsin). I've done this 20-something years. It's about your response. Do you take responsibility for how you're playing, and let's begin to understand how we have to play. But see, there is something added here. We just lost our best player with six, seven games to go. Now we have to go on the road, play an inspired Tennessee team who played great, as good as any team we've played this year. They played great, we're trying to figure out who we are, and it becomes what it becomes there. Now, we're coming back saying let's figure out how we have to play with this new group. We had to go through a game to figure it out. Some of the stuff we were running with the old team we are going to have to run a little different. It doesn't take away from what we've done before this, but now there is maybe things we have to do defensively that are different. We have been a good defensive team all year until this last game. And so now, OK, maybe we are going to have to do this a little different. But it's like hey guys, we're still where we want to be. You got bashed, now take responsibility and let's move on."
On what he is talking about changing on defense ...
"Well, I'm not going to tell you everything we're trying to do because what I'm trying to do is give this team the best opportunity to win games, to put themselves in a position when the game is winding down, we have our chances, and it's on both offense and defense. Aside from X, Y, Z, that's what we have to do and that's what we're trying to figure out. And it's obvious without Nerlens we are a little different. It doesn't mean we're 40 points different, but we're a little different, and we're going to have play stronger, we're going to have to cover for each other a little more because you can't just let people shoot layups, which is what happened last game."
On Jarrod Polson playing more going forward ...
"We got two practices here. We'll evaluate that and see what we do."
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings
On this week's games ...
"We're coming off a pretty good performance against a good Texas A&M team on Saturday and it's a game I thought our team played pretty well in. We were happy to win that and now we know we've got a big challenge in front of us. Had a great game against Kentucky the first time around and would anticipate that's what we'll have again. But anyway, I know they're coming off of a disappointing game but I'm sure they'll be raring to go on Wednesday night. So we look forward to the challenge of going up there and playing and hopefully we can go and play well."
On what can be learned from UK's game against Tennessee about how UK will play without Noel ...
"I don't know. Tennessee would have beaten probably anyone in the country the way they played on Saturday. So I don't know how much you can really look into that. They still have really good players, still have a bunch of guys that are projected to be very high draft choices. So they lost a key guy for sure, but they're still very, very talented and very, very good. I'm sure that was a case of bad timing on Saturday and I'm sure they'll be a lot better by Wednesday."
On Rod Odom's emergence and the difference that has made ...
"It makes a difference for us when anybody plays well and I would say three out of the last four games, Rod's probably played pretty well for us. So we need for that to continue he certainly makes us a better team when he plays well like he did in the second half on Saturday against Texas A&M. So that's something that we need and we want and is necessary for our team to be as good as it can be."
On what his team has improved the most in recent weeks ...
"Oh gosh, I don't know. There are times when we're scoring the ball a little bit better. Maybe our offensive play has gotten somewhat better. I wouldn't call us an offensive juggernaut yet, but at times we're a little bit better offensively than maybe we were a month or two ago. I still think that the thing that's been consistent about us that's given us a chance to win has been our defense."
On Kentucky's offense and how it changes without Noel ...
"I can't really talk to you that much about it because I don't know. Obviously John would be the one to talk to about that. I don't think they ran a lot of plays for him to begin with and they didn't run a lot of plays for Anthony Davis and Anthony Davis still scored a lot of points against you. But again, they still have really good players and guys that can shoot and guys that can post and guys that can drive and they're good in transition. It's still a very potent offensive team even without Noel and he certainly is an outstanding player."
Florida head coach Billy Donovan
On Calipari using embarrassment over the loss to Tennessee as a motivating tool ...
"I didn't see the game, so it's hard for me to comment. I didn't see one second of it. We were obviously playing and then traveling. Listen, we played Arkansas a couple weeks ago and they played a great basketball game and had us down by a lot of points. The biggest thing is how you're motivating your team. Obviously John knows what he's doing, knows his team better than anybody, he's a heck of a coach and he understands the direction he needs to take the team. He understands roles, personnel and how guys need to play. I think more than anything else, to me the bottom line in all this stuff from game to game is: Are you getting better? You need to get better and I don't think we're any different or any other team in the country is any different. You want to get better and you want to improve however you do that. Whether it's through a difficult loss, if it's through guys being overconfident after a great win, trying to get them focused on where they need to improve and get better. If John feels like coming through that situation at Tennessee could be used as a motivating factor, I'm sure that he's got great reason to believe that and I think he'll get that point across to his team however he chooses to do that."
Make no mistake about it, we are still in a great position to do whatever we want to do. We can still write our own story.
The only way to do that is to fight back, to fight our way out of this. We can blame whoever we want to - fate, luck, whoever - or we can take it upon ourselves to choose our own path and fight our way back. If we don't fight, we don't have a shot.
I refuse to believe they don't have the fight in them to do this. I refuse to believe they aren't coachable. I refuse to believe either one of those because we've got good kids.
There has to be a reason why guys are walking out of timeouts and not doing what they are supposed to. I may say publicly they are "uncoachable," but I refuse to believe that because I believe in these guys and I believe they can change. I say it to get them to change, to prove to themselves and others that they can do this.
I've had teams get beat like we did (Saturday) that came back a little mad, a little ticked off and said they weren't going to let that happen again. They didn't win every game, but they didn't let something like that happen again. Are we really going to let go of the rope after one loss like that? It is just one game.
Link: I believe in this team and I believe in its fight
Indeed it is just one game. The final margin and the general lopsidedness of the entire game was clearly disappointing, but the Cats are still 17-8. Without Noel, UK still has to prove itself as a team, and that process begins in the practice gym. The Cats will then have a chance to show their progress on Wednesday in Rupp Arena in a rematch with Vanderbilt.
You see, Hood had a clear view of Noel landing awkwardly. He plainly saw Noel's left knee bending in an unpleasantly unnatural angle and he was almost certain what had just happened.
"I knew because that's what happened to me," Hood said.
When the official diagnosis came down, Hood was proven right - though this is one time he would have been ecstatic to be wrong. Noel has a torn ACL and will undergo reconstructive surgery soon, the same surgery Hood had after he sustained the same injury as Noel in similar fashion. The injury - which happened in a summer pickup game - and the rehabilitation that followed cost Hood the entire 2011-12 season, which means the two teammates are members a fraternity into which no athlete wants to be initiated.
"When I see the footage of him go down, the picture of him go down, my knee hurts," Hood said.
Hood couldn't help but recall the emotional pain of his own injury, too. He can remember appreciating the flood of well wishes, but he also remembers that there was a part of him that just wanted to be left alone to process it all. That's why Hood sent a text message to Noel offering support but has not yet visited him in person.
"I think it was you don't want that pity from somebody," Hood said. "The biggest thing is, yeah it happened, let's not remember it. Don't make me remember it again because it hurts."
In a cruel twist, the misfortune that has befallen Noel has opened up the possibility of an expanded role for the now-healthy Hood.
The junior guard has seen spot duty so far this season, averaging 4.4 minutes over 14 games as UK (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) prepares for a rematch with Tennessee (13-10, 5-6 SEC) at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday. With Noel and his team-leading 31.9 minutes per game removed from the rotation, Hood will in all likelihood be asked to step up.
"One guy's misery is another guy's opportunity," John Calipari said.
The circumstances are different, but Hood says his approach will remain the same.
"I'll be ready to play just like I always have been," Hood said. "I'll come in and do what I'm supposed to, whatever that may be: defense, rebound, shoot an open shot, whatever it is."
Calipari has consistently praised Hood for his effort level on the practice floor and that was no different Friday. The next challenge is making it translate to games.
"Jon Hood in practice yesterday, he's competing his butt off," Calipari said. "So I can see him going in. I said, 'It's not us believing in Jon; it's Jon believing in Jon.' But you've got to go on that court, demonstrated performance is the only way to build self-esteem, self-confidence."
Adversity has a way of testing a person's mettle. Noel's injury will do that for Hood, and Calipari believes he can rise to the occasion. Hood believes his team will do the same.
"It's more of a thing that now we really have to come together," Hood said. "That's all. We weren't fully together and I think this is the thing that will bring us to that point."
Calipari looking for help from Cats in doling out minutes
Coach Cal certainly doesn't have as much depth with which to work in Noel's absence. He will have to operate with a shortened rotation, but don't think for a moment that means he will stop using the bench as a means to motivate.
"We don't talk enough, we don't play for the team enough," Calipari said. "And what I mean by that is, if they make a mistake, if things don't go right, they just, a couple guys - it's two - when they hang their head, they got to come out. The minute you see it, 'Get out. You're zapping us.' "
As poorly as UK responded in many ways during a loss at Florida on Tuesday - especially in the backcourt - there was one notable positive development. Rather than leaving it to Calipari alone to identify when players needed to be removed from the game, the Cats began to speak up. As he normally does when players step out on a limb and make suggestions, Coach Cal listened.
"One of the things they did I loved in the game is, they subbed a guy or two," Calipari said. "They just came over to me and said, 'Get him out. Scared to death. Get him out.' And I took the guy out. And I said, 'You got to hold each other accountable.' "
That's no easy thing for a young team though, which has forced Calipari into the "bad cop" role. If the Cats begin policing themselves though, that's when real change could begin to happen.
"And I think they know it, and I think you'll see guys be subbed out by their teammates," Calipari said. " 'Get 'em out.' Because it's just: Let's be an effort team. Let's be an energy team. If you can't play that way, then don't play."
Calipari weighs in once more on 'one and done'
Anyone who has actually listened to Coach Cal knows of his distaste for the "one-and-done" rule. Nonetheless, since he continues to reel in top recruiting classes and send players to the NBA in short order, the opposite perception is still out there.
On Friday - after Noel's injury re-sparked the debate over when players should be able to turn pro - Calipari spelled out his feelings yet again.
"In my case, I don't like the one-and-done rule," Calipari said. "I'll deal with it, but it's not what I like. I seem to be the only one speaking out about it, unless you say, 'I can't get those kids; let them go directly to the (NBA).' "
Calipari, clearly, can get those kids. Because of that, few have spent more time thinking about how best to structure college-to-pro rules. Foremost among his priorities is the well-being of the athletes.
"Let's do what's right for the kids," Calipari said. "Let's make sure we're putting education on the front burner here."
Many have suggested in the wake of Noel's injury that high schoolers should be allowed to bypass college altogether. Calipari disagrees, saying instead that rules should be put in place that incentivize youngsters to attend college - from better disability insurance to stipends to loans.
"Now if we want this to two years, let's do something to make that happen," Calipari said. "Let's work with the (NBA) Players Association; let's get those guys in a room to try to figure out how we do it."
That's what the Kentucky Wildcats now must face in the aftermath of the season-ending injury Nerlens Noel suffered Tuesday night at Florida.
Without Noel, the Cats not only lose the top shot blocker in the country and their leading rebounder, they lose the credibility they had built with their NCAA Tournament résumé the last few weeks in winning seven-of-eight games.
In the days after the devastating loss of Noel, UK has not only fallen off sturdy ground and onto the NCAA bubble, some even believe the Cats are on the outside looking in without Noel.
In the NCAA's annual mock tournament selection exercise that has been going on Indianapolis the past couple of days, members of the media and NCAA Tournament analysts have the Cats now out of the NCAA Tournament, if it were to start today.
"This team has a clean slate," John Calipari said Friday. "It's a blank canvas. It's whatever they want it to be."
Mike Bobinski, the selection committee chair for the NCAA Tournament, all but confirmed that earlier in the week in an interview with ESPN's Andy Katz. While the selection committee will still take Kentucky's previous body of work into consideration - which appeared to be more than strong enough to get into the field of 68 - Bobinski said UK will be evaluated on how it plays without Noel going forward.
With seven regular-season games and the Southeastern Conference Tournament left, just how good can the Wildcats be without Noel? Are they good enough to make the NCAA Tournament?
"We can be as good as we want to be," freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. "It's all just depending on if we're going to come together as a team and focus on what Coach is telling us and executing it."
For Coach Cal, nothing has changed. His players still need to come together as a team, buy in and play for each other.
"I'm not afraid of it," Calipari said. "I've been here - not where I've lost a player, but I've been here where you're up against it and you're not playing well. I've done this long enough. My thing and the whole vision is, let's try to make this special and unique."
If losing a player the caliber of Noel doesn't force the Cats to rally together and play for each other in the final leg of the season, nothing will, Cauley-Stein said.
"It makes you have no choice but to come together," Cauley-Stein said. "He was such a strong force on the team that his presence just impacted everybody. Without it, more people just got to step up and do their jobs and really start focusing on what the team needs them to do to win the next games that we need to win to make it to the tournament."
Fueling their fire will be a line of doubters circling the Joe Craft Center that believes Noel's loss will be too much for the Cats to overcome. After all, Noel was not only the nation's top shot blocker and UK's go-to guy in the paint, he was the first player since David Robinson in 1986-87 to average at least 10 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and two steals per game.
His value, his worth and his energy to the Cats was positively immeasurable.
"You've got to accept the challenge now," Cauley-Stein said. "I like proving people wrong, and I hope our team feels the same way. We don't have a target on our back no more ... People are already writing us off. Now it's one of those things where we can be the aggressor coming into a game where people don't think we're going to win without him. We've got to step up as a team like Coach is telling us to."
If Kentucky is able to regroup and march on with Noel, it will largely be because of Cauley-Stein.
Without the services of Noel, Cauley-Stein's minutes (20.0 per game) figure to get a significant increase. The hope is that his points (7.8 per game), rebounds (5.5) and blocks (1.7) also increase in the process, but both Calipari and Cauley-Stein cautioned from putting too much of the focus on Cauley-Stein to fill the void.
Whether it's Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer grabbing a few more rebounds down low or the guards playing better defense to limit drives, Cauley-Stein said that "everybody's equally important" now and "everybody's got to step up in (their) own different way."
"Nothing really falls on me," said Cauley-Stein, who noted that his surgically repaired knee is fine but his conditioning needs work. "It falls on the whole team."
Based on Cauley-Stein's consistent effort and contributions this season, Coach Cal isn't worried about Cauley-Stein stepping up. The only thing Coach Cal wants Cauley-Stein to focus on is being himself and not trying to be someone he's not (ahem, Noel). Sub yourself when you get tired, Calipari told him, know what you do well and "be you."
"Exactly," Cauley-Stein said. "That's exactly what it is. I'm not Nerlens. He does things that are just uncanny. His ability to block shots, I don't have that ability, but what I do have is athletic (ability), be able to play out on a guard, just simple stuff like that. And hustle. That's all I've got to take care of."
Will the Cats have to play differently? Almost certainly. Without a shot-blocking presence like Noel in the paint, Cauley-Stein said they will have to play better perimeter defense and not take so many gambles.
As Coach Cal said on his radio show Wednesday, everyone will have to do 3-4 percent more to make up for Noel's production and hustle. He also said there is a chance the Cats could go to the zone they've worked so much on to make up for Noel defensively.
But while adjustments will have to be made and adversity faced, no one else is going to feel sorry for UK. With a physical Tennessee team up next (Saturday at 1 p.m. on CBS), it's up to the Cats to create their own path into the postseason.
Cauley-Stein said he's seen signs of leadership in the last few days from a guy like Archie Goodwin, who is being more vocal, but it's going to take a collective effort from everyone to stop mourning, come together and move forward without Noel.
"It's time to go back to work," Cauley-Stein said. "It's tragic that it happened, but at the end of the day we've still got a season and we've got to take care of business."
Calipari often says that "fate intervenes" and that the Cats must play for each other. There has never been a better time to do just that.
In life after Nerlens, it's next man up.
"Look, this is a great opportunity," Calipari said. "One guy's misery is another guy's opportunity. And that's for all these guys. They have their own picture they want to paint. Let's paint it. You can look at this in one of two ways: Like, OK, can we be better? Well, let's see. Why not chase it?"
Kentucky tennis players were fed up. They would no longer accept losing as an option.
"At the beginning of the year, we laid out our goals for the season and we fell short a little bit," said sophomore Grace Trimble. "Now that we are holding each other accountable, we know that we can perform at the level to beat teams like Ohio State on their home court and beyond that."
The Wildcats are off to 4-2 start including a win over No. 55 Ohio State on the road last weekend. In the not-so-distant history of this program, a win over the No. 55 team in the country would be routine, but as head coach Carlos Drada looks to rebuild this program, last weekend's victory served as a byproduct of all the hard work his team has put in.
"That was kind of a game-changing win," said Drada. "It's going to help our momentum. I can see our ladies; they've never played against that kind of adversity."
That adversity was sparked by their loss of the doubles point at the beginning of the match, placing themselves behind the eight ball from the start. And playing on the road against a higher-ranked, more experienced team with a raucous crowd on top of them.
The Wildcats would need four singles victories to come back and clinch a win.
And they did, 4-3.
"They were able manage all that adversity and everybody on the court competed," said Drada. "We had chances to win all six singles matches, and that is rare when you're the underdog and are going against a more mature team."
While Kentucky's attitude had changed going into the season, the win helped validate the efforts that they Cats have made in the preseason and in these first six matches of 2013. Drada has talked extensively about bringing constant and consistent effort and focus to the practice court every single day.
Now, especially after seeing the fruits of their labor manifest on the court against Ohio State, UK players are starting to buy in to what Drada and the staff are selling.
"It's great to see that everyone is invested into what we're doing," said Drada. "In years before, they were not buying into it fully, but right now, just from their actions, they don't mind asking what they can do to get better. Some of them are asking that for the first time.
"It's just a great feeling. I know it's early in the season, but they are going to do what they can to have the best season possible for this team."
Part of the attitude adjustment can be directly attributed to the talent adjustment on the roster. Drada brought in a couple of highly touted freshmen to come in and compete immediately.
Nadia Ravita and Kirsten Lewis have been consistent performers for the Wildcats so far in their rookie seasons and have made immediate contributions. Ravita, the No. 67 player in the country, took down Ohio State's No. 53 Kelsey Dieters in the top match of singles competition. Their early play and ability to buy into the program has provided for a seamless transition.
"Nadia and Kirsten have added so much," said Trimble. "We know that when they step on the court, they are going to give 110 percent and come out with a win. Nadia has been wonderful, and Kirsten has too, to our team dynamic and they have just brought us all to a higher level."
The push to change hasn't only been an effort from Drada, but it's been a mission of the players to hold themselves accountable for their actions. Times are changing in Lexington, even if that means the Cats are looking for the type of success this program has had in the past.
"We are starting to develop a culture on our team where it's about winning and about doing it for our teammates," said Trimble. "It's happened in our relationships with each other and how we push each other to hold each other accountable, and that has made the difference."
What might be most impressive and most important to Kentucky's culture is that this is a very young team. With just one senior and three juniors on the squad, UK doesn't have to rely on the way things used to be, but more the legacy the Cats want to leave for the future. The leadership hasn't come primarily from upperclassmen, but it's been a collective effort that's helped create the change for UK tennis.
"We have captains on our team, but everyone is acting as captains," said Drada. "Right now, we have two freshmen, and they're still very young, but they're committing to what we're trying to do and they're really following through on the court, and we're hoping they can maintain that constant focus because they're doing a great job with that."
As players continue to buy in and success follows, results like last weekend will continue to happen. Since that win, Drada can already sense a change in the environment around his team on the practice courts. The challenge now is to maintain that same focus heading into this weekend's matches with Indiana and Northern Kentucky.
The Wildcats can't spend too much time being excited about one win over Ohio State with No. 54 Indiana waiting in the wings.
"We cannot just celebrate and (the season's) done," said Drada. "You celebrate that one day for a bit and then you're ready to move forward and get better."
If Kentucky has moved on from last weekend with the intent of carrying that momentum back home, the Wildcats will give themselves a chance for more big victories this spring.
"Our players, if they perform to their capabilities, we're going to have the best chance to do well," said Drada. "Having a real crowd this weekend is going to help us a lot. What I'm looking for is that focused energy that is going to help us give our best effort."
Jarnell Stokes has posted six consecutive double-doubles for Tennessee, including a 17-point, 10-rebound performance in a win at Vanderbilt Wednesday night. And the Volunteers have won four of their last six, including the last two - both of which were on the road.
Coach Cuonzo Martin says two elements of Stokes' game stand out as the reasons for his improved performance.
"He's rebounding balls out of his area. That's something he didn't do last year, going and get big rebounds. And he's improved his ability to score with his back to the basket," Martin told reporters in Knoxville earlier this week. "It's also the work that he's putting in and I couldn't have said that at the beginning of the season. And when he's making free throws, I just don't see many guys that can stop him (one-on-one)."
Martin says they have started bringing Stokes away from the basket, to get away from double-team situations. And the coach says Stokes now needs to embrace the role of being this team's anchor, the way Martin's former Purdue teammate, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, did.
"That's one of the things that Glenn Robinson did at Purdue. It didn't matter who was guarding him, he was a major threat every time down. And the guys around him became better," Martin added.
'78 team celebrates 35th anniversary
UK honored the 1978 national championship team last weekend and Friday marks a noteworthy anniversary for that squad.
On this date, the Wildcats defeated Tennessee 90-77 at Rupp Arena, in a game that had been postponed from January 28 because of an ice storm.
The win snapped a streak of five consecutive victories in the series for the Volunteers, matching their longest winning streak against the Big Blue. Rick Robey's 18 points and James Lee's 17 paced the Cats.
Ten days later, UK beat the Vols in Knoxville, something a Kentucky team had not done since 1972.
Former Cat Anderson supports Noel after injury
Kudos to Derek Anderson for paying a visit to Nerlens Noel on the day he learned about his torn ACL. Anderson suffered a season-ending knee injury in 1997, but came back to have a long and successful NBA career. That's no doubt a good story for Noel to hear.
The '97 team lost Anderson on January 18 and struggled to beat a mediocre Vandy team into its first game without "D.A." four days later. But soon, the Wildcats began to reinvent themselves and they made a run to the second of three national title games in a row. That was a much more experienced UK team, led by Ron Mercer, who was a key reserve on the '96 championship squad, but the message of every player contributed a little more is a good one to remember.
Also on that '97 team, a little-used walk-on named Cameron Mills made the most of the opportunity Anderson's injury presented. Two games after Anderson went down, Mills played 16 minutes and scored 12 points in a win at Arkansas and Mills became a key reserve on that team and the title squad that followed the next year.
And in 1976, Kentucky lost starting center Rick Robey to a midseason injury, only to regroup and finish strong, including an NIT championship in the days when the NCAA field was less than half as big as it is now.
Poythress's role set to change
With Noel's injury, Alex Poythress may no longer spend much, if any, time at the '3' spot. And that could serve him well.
"Alex's circumstance is tougher than people realize," noted Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy, in a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show. "Being a big small forward in college basketball is very rare. Those players usually have the most difficult transition, having trouble figuring out how to contribute. In reality, he's not really a college small forward - he's a power forward."
With Noel, Kentucky needed Poythress to play some '3,' although less lately than earlier in the season.
Nonetheless, when his team found itself down double digits and searching for answers at halftime against South Carolina, he couldn't help but pull a throwback move in Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.
"We just felt like if we could change it up a little bit and get some energy out there, so we went four-guard lineup - sort of went back old-school Kentucky there and went four guards and one post," Mitchell said.
The Cats had just delivered their worst performance in a half since November and were down 44-30 at the break. South Carolina shot 56.3 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes with many of the Gamecock makes coming on wide-open layups off dribble penetration. Thanks to the Mitchell-mandated four-guard set, Kentucky rallied from 16 points down to win 78-74 - the largest comeback of Mitchell's UK tenure.
"We had a hard time in the first half, but you have to give our kids a lot of credit for hanging in and overcoming a significant deficit to earn what will be a great, great victory," Mitchell said of the win, which allowed the Cats (22-3, 10-2 Southeastern Conference) to maintain sole possession of third place in the SEC well within striking distance of Texas A&M and Tennessee.
Mitchell knew he had to something drastic. At first, he considered going with five guards - radical relative even to UK's small-ball roots - but his assistants eventually sold him on starting with forward/center Azia Bishop on the floor alongside Jennifer O'Neill, Bria Goss, A'dia Mathies and Kastine Evans. The next decision he had to make was how he would deliver the message.
In her four years playing for Mitchell, Mathies has seen all sides of her head coach. Even she wasn't sure what to expect after such a poor effort.
"We didn't know what he was going to do when he came in," Mathies said.
Oftentimes, such a substantial locker room lineup switch is accompanied by a, shall we say, animated, halftime speech. The Cats, however, pleasantly avoided their coach's ire.
"Coach Mitchell came in with a great attitude at halftime, which I think helped us more than hurt us, and just told us what we needed to do to get it done," Evans said.
Mitchell opted for the calm, pragmatic approach because he knew his team had seen the same thing he just had. He decided to postpone figuring out why it happened until later and address how to rectify it then and there. Mitchell listed what the Cats needed to do better and how they were going to get it done and that was that.
He believed going with four guards would immediately inject energy, and he was right. He thought the smaller lineup would combat the dribble penetration that had been the source of so many of the Cats' ills, and he was right about that too. He saw openings in the SEC's top-ranked defense that could be created by the spacing with more shooters on the floor, and - you guessed it - he was spot on.
Mitchell deserves credit for recognizing all of that - though he says he should have done so sooner - but his players deserve even more credit for executing. Occupying the post, DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker have been central to UK's success this season. Because of that and the depth behind them, the Cats had logged essentially no practice time with the four-guard lineup he was turning to. Thanks to past experience and two uniquely adaptable players, UK pulled it off.
"I do have a comfort level with it because you have some smart kids like Kastine and A'dia that don't have to take a thousand reps there and you can plug 'em in," Mitchell said.
UK quickly began to chip into the lead. After South Carolina scored the second half's first basket to put the Cats in a 16-point hole, they outscored the Gamecocks by seven over the remainder of the first four-minute segment. By the under-12 media timeout, UK trailed just 58-52.
South Carolina, buoyed in part by the confidence of a home win over the Cats three weeks ago, wasn't going to wilt though. The Gamecocks answered when UK cut their lead to four points and led 68-60 with 7:19 left. The Cats' next push, however, finally put them over the top, and the two central players were the ones on whom Mitchell relied to make the four-guard lineup work.
Mathies hit four free throws in a row to highlight six straight points by UK. Then, trailing 68-66 with 3:53 left, she trailed on a fast break and O'Neill found her for a wide-open look from 3. Even though she was just 3 of 16 from the field at that point, she confidently shot. Her teammates were confident too.
"Bria was just saying the play was just too perfect," said Mathies, who had 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals. "She knew it was going in so she already started getting back (on defense)."
On the other end, Ashley Bruner hit 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game. Evans had the answer, draining a 3 to give UK a 72-69 lead, just as when she hit a go-ahead basket with 25 seconds left to give the Cats a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Counting the two free throws she hit with less than 10 seconds left to ice the win, Evans scored seven of her 11 points in the final 193 seconds.
"We're really fortunate that she decided to come to Kentucky because she's one of these kids that helped us change the culture here," Mitchell said.
Much of that culture was established playing a smaller lineup, but the two-big look has had plenty of success as well this season. How much Evans is asked to muscle up and play power forward at Texas A&M on Monday and beyond remains to be seen.
"Tonight's good to know that we can shake it up a little bit and we can do something a little bit different and throw something different at you," Mitchell said. "That's a positive, but it's too early to tell what we'll do there."
The No. 3 Kentucky rifle team (10-1) is coming off a match in which the Wildcats took down the most decorated team in the sport, No. 1 West Virginia, defeating the Mountaineers in Lexington, 4704-4695. The win, while impressive, is just that: another win.
Well, it meant a little more than that, perhaps. The victory gave Kentucky the Great American Rifle Conference regular-season championship too. While that's an impressive honor, the Wildcats have their sights set on returning the NCAA championship trophy to the Bluegrass.
Defeating West Virginia in the first of likely three meetings this season is just UK's first taste of what they are hoping is yet to come.
"If you break it down to a three-course meal, we got the appetizer," said UK rifle head coach Harry Mullins. "Now we're kind of looking at the main course and then we'll get dessert at the end, because that's the sweetest one."
Mullins knows it's the sweetest because he's tasted it that success before. In 2011, Kentucky climbed the summit of the rifle world and won its first national championship.
Now firmly entrenched as one of the top rifle programs in the nation, the Wildcats are battling the likes of fellow powerhouses No. 1 West Virginia and No. 2 TCU.
Though Kentucky took down No. 1, the Cats fell to TCU earlier in the season. While a loss is always disappointing, the nature of the sport allows for moral victories if you lose and still shoot well. After all, the rankings are based on the average of each team's top-three scores of the season.
Despite the loss, Kentucky never wavered on continuing its path to its long-range goals.
"Obviously the TCU loss in the fall was disappointing, but we still had a good performance," said Mullins. "I don't think their attitude has changed any, though, because we're looking toward that end goal, training so that we have a great performance for the NCAA Championships."
And the win against West Virginia, even though it came against the top team in the country, hasn't changed the Cats' attitudes either.
"It didn't change the way I think," said junior Aaron Holsopple. "West Virginia's still ranked No. 1 last time I checked, TCU's still ranked No. 2 and we're still in the same spot. We shot a good match that day. They didn't shoot up to their reputation and the expectations of themselves, and we did."
That attitude and mentality has Kentucky near the top of the sport, and has kept the Cats there for several years. Now, UK is annually in the hunt for national championships, though they may not come with the frequency as the Wildcats would like. It's an attitude that is a combination of the state of the program, the success speaking for itself, and what Mullins looks for when recruiting his athletes to Kentucky.
"The type of people we look for in the program," said Mullins, "sometimes it's learned and sometimes it comes natural. Part of it is it's not one particular area. Part of it comes from our sport because we're constantly striving for that perfect number."
The 4700 mark is one that Kentucky has reached on three separate occasions this season. It's a mark the Cats strive for, but it's hardly their ceiling. UK is still looking for its perfect number, but the Cats are more than OK with the fact that they haven't found it yet.
Kentucky's high score on the season is a 4716, which came way back on Oct. 21 against Army. Since then, the Cats scored a 4705 to defeat Alaska-Fairbanks and the 4704 that propelled them past West Virginia. When the Cats dropped their lone match of the season to TCU, the Horned Frogs shot a 4718. As the Cats appear to be trending up, they look to build on that 4704 mark they shot against West Virginia with designs on an uphill ascent heading into conference and NCAA championships.
"I really feel like the West Virginia match was a stepping stone," said Holsopple, who shot a career-best 588 in smallbore. "It was just the foothills of what's to come. We haven't peaked at all this year. We're still working up to it on a gradual slope and I think it's going really well."
That gradual slope is going to have to lead to Kentucky stringing back to back performances together, specifically in the conference championships and heading into the NCAAs. So far, Kentucky is yet to string consecutive performances of 4700-plus.
"That's a challenge that we have to overcome and an evolutionary part of our program," said Mullins.
This weekend, UK heads into the NCAA Qualifier, scheduled for Feb. 16-17 in the Cats' home range once again. Though Kentucky is a virtual lock to make the NCAA Championships, this weekend is another opportunity for UK to build on the momentum and the confidence it gained by defeating the Mountaineers.
"It's important," said Holsopple. "The West Virginia match was the first step. I feel like this one should be somewhere around the same level. If we dip here, it might affect our confidence a little bit. I think if we shoot at the same level it will boost us into the championships."
Kentucky will then see West Virginia again in the GARC Conference Championship for a second time. That match will carry a bit more importance, but knowing that UK has already knocked the Mountaineers off once will only help the Cats going forward as they continue to their quest up the mountain for the ultimate prize.
"Coming up with a win against West Virginia helps solidifies that confidence that we're marching toward that goal," said Mullins. "For our team to be able to see that they can compete with West Virginia, especially shoulder to shoulder, I think definitely helps strengthen their confidence moving on to the next phase."
It's about Lou and Ella Marie "Ree" Karibo, a couple that met at the University of Kentucky and will soon celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary. Lou came to UK to play football for Paul "Bear" Bryant while Ree was a cheerleader. Both were from Louisville, but never met until they saw each other at the Student Union at UK.
Watch the video below to hear more about their story,
The injury he sustained in Kentucky's loss at Florida was diagnosed as a torn ACL in his left knee and Noel will be forced to miss the rest of the season. The UK medical staff said Noel is expected to undergo surgery in the next two to three weeks and that recovery from this type of injury normally takes between six and eight months.
"I've been coaching for 22 years and this is the first injury we've had of this kind during the season, which makes it even more devastating," John Calipari said on CoachCal.com. "I met with Nerlens earlier today. The meeting was really positive, and I loved his attitude. The way he is already dealing with this injury lets me know that he is going to come back stronger than ever. "
Noel's injury came on a play that defines what made him UK's best player and, in many ways, its heart and soul. After a turnover by the Wildcats, Noel set off in furious pursuit of Florida's Scottie Wilbekin. Making up ground in a matter of a few seconds with his quickness and long strides, Noel came from behind to block Wilbekin's shot out of bounds and save a sure two points. It was then that Noel landed awkwardly near the basket support and went down in pain.
Through 24 games, Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals, leading his team in the latter three categories. His 106 blocks are still the most in the NCAA and just of Anthony Davis's record-setting pace of last season.
Much of Noel's impact, however, cannot be quantified. On a team that otherwise has battled consistency issues, Noel delivered the same energy and defensive presence every time he took the floor while starting all 24 of UK's games.
There will be plenty of time in the coming days and weeks to discuss UK without its star forward, but the focus now should be on sending well wishes to Noel. It's always scary to hear of a major injury for a player with a player of Noel's skill and potential, but his future remains bright no matter what path he chooses next. Those who saw the injury live were immediately fearful of it affecting him in the long term, but many other athletes have made comebacks from similar diagnoses.
"The good news is he is insured, so he would have been fine even if the injury would have been worse," Coach Cal said. "Obviously this is not a career-ending injury and it's one that athletes bounce back from all the time."
UPDATE: Noel's disability insurance noted by Coach Calipari was purchased through the NCAA Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program.
Noel is in for a long road to recovery, but if his first public comment is any indication, it's one he's more than capable of traversing.
Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback!I love you all and can't thank y'all enough for the prayers.-- Nerlens Noel (@NerlensNoel3) February 13, 2013
Unfortunately, the Cats just didn't react as well as they needed to and their first Southeastern Conference followed. Three weeks later, they will have another chance.
"When we went into Columbia we won 17 in a row and they came out extremely aggressive, very, very physical, and we just never responded," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It was a disappointing game for us, but now we have the benefit of that experience and we've had much tougher practices and we should be at least aware of what is coming (Thursday) night."
This time around, it will be the No. 16/14 Gamecocks (20-4, 8-3 SEC) who have to travel as No. 9/7 UK (21-3, 9-2 SEC) wears pink Nike uniforms for its annual Play4Kay game in Memorial Coliseum at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Just a week and a half removed from a disappointing home loss to Georgia, Mitchell had already ratcheted up the intensity in practice as the Cats enter the final five games of conference play. Things have been taken up another notch with the rematch looming.
"The thing for us is we've tried to highlight the hustle plays that South Carolina defeated us on," Mitchell said. "That was really all it was. We got a ton of stops in the game. We disrupted them a bunch of times. It was not a masterpiece from South Carolina from an offensive execution standpoint. They just flat out wanted the game more."
UK held South Carolina to just 37.7-percent shooting for the game, but shot 32.2 percent from the field and failed often to finish through contact. The Gamecocks grabbed 14 offensive rebounds for a 42.4-percent offensive-rebounding rate and repeatedly beat the Cats to loose balls. Because of how solid South Carolina is defensively, UK can't expect to explode offensively even though the Cats are more than capable of doing just that against most any opponent.
"That's what you try to say is that this is a mindset," Mitchell said. "It's not a talent issue. We have plenty of talent. It is a mindset: Are you going to get pushed around or are you going to get knocked down? Are you going to try to really, really be strong; stay on your feet, stay on balance? You have to be real tough in this game because they are extremely physical."
Due in part to an inability to match intensity with intensity Columbia, S.C., Mitchell opted to move to a 2-3 zone. It was effective, as UK cut an once-eight-point deficit to two with less than 30 seconds left before losing 55-50. That doesn't mean the home crowd should expect to see more zone in its second-to-last opportunity to see the Cats play in Memorial.
"That's generally more dictated by the flow of the game and what we feel like will be important," Mitchell said. "I think we can be very disruptive to them and our man-to-man defense, if we work hard at it and hustle, I think we can do some things there. We'll use whatever we can to try to get the victory tomorrow night. It's a very important game."
Among other reasons, it's important because both the Cats and Gamecocks are in the thick of a conference race. UK is in sole possession of third place. South Carolina, meanwhile, is tied for fourth at 8-3 with a chance to pull into a tie with UK by sweeping the season series.
For Kentucky, games against first-place Tennessee and second-place Texas A&M are still on the horizon. Those will be big no matter what, but how big depends largely on what the Cats do before then as they defend last season's SEC title.
"Trust me, I want to win it," Mitchell said. "I want to win the league. We've made no bones about that. ... It's gonna be a grind to do and that starts with a 40-minute grind (Thursday) night."
South Carolina, as pretty much every UK opponent in SEC play has, will be ready to play. Mitchell said last week that he is finally beginning to understand what his coworker across the hall - John Calipari - means when he talks about Kentucky being "everybody's Super Bowl." That makes every game hard, but it makes the wins all the more rewarding. What Mitchell wants is for his team to rise to the occasion every time, much like Coach Cal's Cats did en route to a 2012 national title.
"I think if you embrace and if you understand it and you don't shy away from it and back down from it, I think it's tremendous," Mitchell said. "Because it's really what I've tried to tell our team: If we will play with maximum effort and maximum intensity and we'll play together, we're hard to beat. I don't care who it is in this league or this country."
Conwright's recovery from knee injury 'ahead of schedule'
On Dec. 26, Maegan Conwright was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Just over a month later, she underwent surgery to repair her knee. Today, she's off crutches and wowing doctors and trainers during the recovery process.
"She is ahead of schedule and that's a credit to how hard she's worked and her attitude," Mitchell said. "These first few weeks out of surgery are so difficult, painful physically, taxing mentally and emotionally and she has just done a fantastic job."
The topic is a timely one after Wednesday's news that Nerlens Noel had sustained the same injury. He will hope to move similarly quickly through the recovery process and Jen Smith of the Lexington Herald Leader has a story about Conwright planning to reach out to her fellow Wildcat. Check it out here.
X-rays taken Tuesday night at the University of Florida Shands Hospital were negative, showing no fractures or breaks. Noel was cleared to fly back to Lexington with the team. On Wednesday morning, an MRI to further assess Noel's knee was scheduled, but no results are available as yet. Stay tuned to Cat Scratches and follow @UKAthleticsNews on Twitter for the latest.
UPDATE (1:45 p.m. Wednesday) - Noel has been diagnosed with a torn ACL. He will miss the remainder of the season.
Following a turnover, the freshman forward furiously pursued Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin. Making up ground with his long strides and characteristic hustle in the open court, Noel saved a sure basket with his 106th block of the season. But that's when things took a turn.
After landing awkwardly around the basket support, Noel lay in visible pain clutching his left knee. He remained on the floor for a few minutes, receiving medical attention from Kentucky's training staff. Eventually, he was carried off the floor by his teammates in a moving display of camaraderie in the face of awful circumstances.
"We're all brothers," said Julius Mays. "Win, lose or draw, we always got each other's back."
At the moment Noel went down, UK had cut a Florida lead that had ballooned to as many as 19 points to just 57-45 with 8:03 left. Perhaps still reeling from Noel's injury and certainly without his tone-setting presence, chances of a comeback were eliminated as the Wildcats (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) fell to the No. 7 Gators (20-3, 10-1 SEC), 69-52.
The thoughts of the Cats and UK fans alike are surely more focused on the fallen star, who was taken to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida for examination after the game. As of Tuesday night, no update on his status was available.
"We just all as a team got together and prayed for him for a minute and then sent him to the hospital," Calipari said.
"We don't know yet."
While he awaits word on the extent of his injury, all Coach Cal can do is hope and pray for the best. He's not alone in that sentiment.
"I'm physically sick right now for him, and if it were a walk-on, I'd be sick for that young man, too," Calipari said. "What I'm hoping is it's not the extreme. Hoping it's some sort of twist, but again, we don't know."
Calipari went on to say that he expects Noel to travel with the team back to Lexington on Tuesday night, which UK later confirmed in a statement. He didn't see Noel's injury up close, but reported that he was told it "looked ugly." Before a final diagnosis, speculation is futile though.
"We're not thinking about playing without Nerlens right now," said Mays, who scored 10 points. "We're just hoping for the best."
No matter what, the season will go on. Calipari said the Cats will have more physical practices to prepare for whatever comes next even though future opponents don't figure be as tough as the Gators in the O'Connell Center.
"We need to learn from this the best we can and just stay positive and just be ready to work hard in practice and improve as a team," Kyle Wiltjer said.
Calipari's postgame press conference
To sum up Bradley Dale Peveto's 20-minute Signing Day interview with Dick Gabriel, here are some memorable words from Kentucky's new safeties and special teams coordinator: "With Mark Stoops, if he says it's Easter, you dye your eggs."
- Kentucky earned a hard-fought 72-62 win over visiting Auburn on Saturday to push its win-streak to a season-long five games.
- The Wildcats received another double-double effort from freshman Nerlens Noel who posted 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
- Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer led five players in double-figures with a team-best 14 points. Sophomore Ryan Harrow and freshman Willie Cauley-Stein both notched 12 points, with senior Julius Mays pitching in with 10.
- Kentucky improved to 21-3 overall, 9-2 in the SEC with hard-fought road wins at Arkansas and Vanderbilt last week.
- Against the Razorbacks, the Wildcats rallied from an 11-point first half deficit for an 80-74 overtime win. Sophomore guard Bria Goss scored 16 of her team-high 17 points in the second half and overtime after not starting the game for the first time in her career, a stretch of 57 consecutive starts.
- On Sunday vs. Vanderbilt, A'dia Mathies put on quite the show by charting a season-high 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. She also dished out a game-high five assists and three steals. She has now reached double figures in 22-of-24 games, including 15 in a row. The 28 points moved her up to No. 3 on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,815.
- No. 18 Kentucky tied No. 6 Georgia 195.825 on Friday night in Memorial Coliseum.
- The team score was a season-high for the Wildcats.
- Audrey Harrison won the individual all-around title for the second straight week with a career-high 39.3.
- Harrison also won floor exercise, and she now has eight individual titles this season.
- Harrison has four all-around crowns this season, and they all have come in SEC competition.
- Jill Chappel, Shelby Hilton and Shannon Mitchell all tied or set new event career highs on Friday.
- The UK softball team started its 2013 season in style, going 4-2 against some of the best teams in the nation at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. UK got the season started fast with a nine-inning, 3-2 victory over No. 3 California in its season opener before defeating No. 20 Stanford in the weekend finale. UK also defeated Oregon State - who was also receiving votes in both preseason polls.
- Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess was the difference in the huge UK victory, pitching all nine innings, allowing only six hits and two runs while striking out six. Cumbess also went 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI - including the game winner.
- Five Wildcats closed the opening weekend with a batting average well over .350, including freshman Nikki Sagermann, who leads the team with a .429 mark. Junior Ginny Carroll leads the team in RBI with six, while senior Alice O'Brien has scored a team-high seven runs.
- On top of Cumbess' pitching performance against Cal, freshman hurler Kelsey Nunley was UK's star pitcher on the weekend, going 3-0 with wins against WMU, OSU and Stanford. In all, Nunley threw 17.1 innings, allowing seven earned runs while striking out a team-high 19.
- The Kentucky men's tennis team climbed to No. 7 in this week's ITA rankings, after starting out the season 6-0. The Wildcats dropped their first match of 2013 in a back-and-forth affair 4-3 on Saturday night at No. 19 Illinois.
- In the loss, No. 94 Anthony Rossi upped his record to 6-1 on court one singles with a 6-4, 6-4 win, while
Charles Minc improved to 4-0 on the season with a 6-3, 6-3 win on court five.
- The Wildcats won the doubles point for the seventh time in seven tries with wins on courts two and three.
- The Kentucky women's tennis team fell to No. 59 Tulane 6-1 on Saturday in New Orleans.
- Freshman Kirsten Lewis recorded Kentucky's lone win of the match, defeating Caroline Magnusson 0-6, 7-6 (1-0) (7).
- Freshman Nadia Ravita lost her first match of the season, falling 6-0, 6-4 to Klara Vyskocilova in the No. 1 slot.
Track and field
- Cally Macumber won the 3,000 meters at the Husky Classic on Saturday.
- Macumber's time of 8:59.98 set a new indoor school record.
- Chelsea Oswald took eighth with a PR 9:06.64, third-fastest indoor time in school history.
- The rest of the Wildcats spent the weekend competing at the Tyson Invitational on the Arkansas campus.
- Bradley Szypka finished second in the shot put with a PR-tying throw of 18.50m/60-08.50.
- Keffri Neal took second in the men's 800-meter final with a PR, team-best time of 1:49.79.
- Allison Peare ran a season-best, team-leading 2:09.04 in the women's 800 meters to finish fourth
- Keith Hayes produced a season-best time of 7.79 in the 60-meter hurdles finals to place fourth.
- The UK women's golf team began their 2013 spring season at the Lady Puerto Classic in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico at the Rio Mar Beach Resort River Course.
- The Wildcats opened up the invitational on Sunday carding a 13-over-par, 301 and are currently in seventh place. Senior Ashleigh Albrecht recorded the low round for UK with a 2-over-par, 74.
- The tournament will resume on Monday at 7 a.m. ET and the tournament is scheduled to wrap up with a final round on Tuesday beginning at 6:30 a.m.
Monday, Feb. 11
Women's golf at Lady Puerto Rico Classic (Puerto Rico)
Tuesday, Feb. 12
Men's tennis hosts Notre Dame - 1:00 p.m.
Women's tennis at Ohio State - 4:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at Florida - 7:00 p.m.
Men's tennis hosts Eastern Kentucky - 7:00 p.m.
Women's golf at Lady Puerto Rico Classic (Puerto Rico)
Thursday, Feb. 14
Softball vs. Cal Poly - 6:30 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)
Women's basketball hosts South Carolina - 7:00 p.m.
Softball at San Diego State - 9:00 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)
Friday, Feb. 15
Baseball vs. UNC Asheville - Noon (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Softball vs. Washington - 2:15 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)
Gymnastics hosts Missouri - 7:00 p.m.
Men's tennis at ITA National Indoor Championships (Seattle, Wash.)
Saturday, Feb. 16
Softball vs. UC Riverside - Noon (San Diego, Calif.)
Men's basketball at Tennessee - 1:00 p.m.
Baseball vs. USC Upstate - 4:00 p.m. (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Softball vs. Oklahoma - 4:30 p.m. (San Diego, Calif.)
Rifle hosts NCAA Qualifier
Men's tennis at ITA National Indoor Championships (Seattle, Wash.)
Sunday, Feb. 17
Women's tennis hosts Indiana - 11:00 a.m.
Baseball vs. Niagara - Noon (Spartanburg, S.C.)
Women's tennis hosts Northern Kentucky - 6:00 p.m.
Rifle hosts NCAA Qualifier
Men's tennis at ITA National Indoor Championships (Seattle, Wash.)
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Feb. 10:
Softball: Lauren Cumbess
Outstanding opening weekend for Cumbess, sitting first in ERA with a 2.50 mark and fourth in batting average on the team. Her season started with a bang when she threw nine strong innings against No. 3 California, getting the win over the highly ranked squad. Against Cal, Cumbess went the distance, allowing only six hits, two runs, two earned runs while striking out six. Her performance at the plate against Cal is what won UK the game, going 2-for-4 with two RBI, including the game-winning hit in the ninth inning against Jolene Henderson, who is the two-time defending Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year. Ended the weekend with a .368 batting average with seven hits, including one double and five RBI.
Gymnastics: Audrey Harrison
Audrey Harrison won the individual all-around title for the second straight week with a career-high 39.3 on Friday inside. The junior also took the floor exercise crown after posting a career-best tying 9.9 to help spark an improbable comeback as the Wildcats would tie then-No. 6 Georgia. The Knoxville, Tenn., native now has eight individual event honors this season and 15 in her career. Her four all-around wins in 2013 have all come against Southeastern Conference competition.
Track and field: Cally Macumber
Cally Macumber won the women's 3,000 meters at the Husky Classic on the Washington campus in Seattle on Saturday. Her time of 8:59.98 smashed three-time 5K NCAA champion Valarie McGovern's school record of 9:05.74. Macumber set a new personal-best by more than 10 seconds, and the time currently leads the SEC. The performance is also third-fastest in the nation this season, and she is in elite company as one of just three collegiate women in America to break nine minutes at 3K this season.
Women's basketball: A'dia Mathies
- Senior guard A'dia Mathies led UK to road wins at Arkansas and Vanderbilt last week.
- Averaged a team-high 21.5 points, along with 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals in the two wins.
- In a tough, come-from-behind overtime win at Arkansas, she scored 13 of her 15 points in the decisive second half, including four in overtime play to give the Wildcats their first win in Fayetteville since 2010.
- Hit four of her last six shot attempts in the overtime win and grabbed a season-high tying nine rebounds and team-high five assists.
- Had an all-around impressive performance vs. Vanderbilt by netting a season-high 28 points on 10-of-17 from the floor, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
- Holding just a slight five-point lead with seven minutes to play in the first half, Mathies scored the final nine points for the Cats, giving the Cats a nine-point 31-22 advantage at the break.
- Concluded the first half with a game-high 15 points.
- The 28 points marked the third-largest point total in her career and the most since scoring 34 points vs. Tennessee on Jan. 12, 2012.
- The 28 points moved her up to No. 3 on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,815 career points.
- Mathies became just the third player in UK history to score over 1,800 career points.
- Tied her career high with five 3-pointers and dished out a team-high five assists against the 'Dores.
- Has reached double figures in 22-of-24 games this season, including 15 in a row.
- Leads the team in scoring (15.8 ppg), including 18.8 points per game in SEC play ... Also leads UK in 3-pointers made (50) and assists per game (1.3) this season.
Men's basketball: Nerlens Noel
Freshman Nerlens Noel helped lead UK to a pair of wins at home this week to run the Wildcats' winning streak to five games. Noel logged double-doubles in both outings and has now put together a career-long three-game double-double streak. Noel had 10 points and 10 boards in a win over South Carolina to couple with five blocks. Against Auburn, he logged 10 points on a career-best 8-for-13 day at the line to go along with a game-high 12 rebounds. He continued his streak of at least one block in every game this season.
Softball: Kelsey Nunley
Impressive in her first collegiate action, going 3-0 with wins over Western Michigan, Oregon State - who is receiving votes in both major preseason polls - and No. 20/21 Stanford. Nunley's first action of the season came against Western Michigan, where she posted a complete game, allowing only one run and four hits with nine strikeouts. She also came on the next day in mid-innings against Oregon State, throwing 2.1 scoreless innings with two strikeouts, allowing UK to take a late lead and get the win. Her most impressive performance of the weekend came against Stanford, where she limited the top-20 Cardinal to four hits and one earned run while striking out eight. In fact, Stanford's leadoff batter reached on an infield single but Nunley would not give up another hit until the bottom of the fifth inning. In her two starts against Western Michigan and Stanford, Nunley went 12 innings, giving up only eight hits and two earned runs while striking out 17.
Southeastern Conference play, however, has been a challenge for the talented freshman guard. Five times since the calendar flipped to 2013, Goodwin has scored fewer than 10 points. During that time, he's seen his scoring average dip from 16.5 to 14.2.
He has had some big games along the way, but opponents have begun to adjust. Goodwin, however, is trying to keep it all from affecting him.
"If I let things like this frustrate me, I'll never be the player I want to be," Goodwin said.
Goodwin is just 8 for 24 from the field over his last three games, including a 1-for-6 performance on Saturday against Auburn during which he played a career-low 17 minutes. In trying to diagnose the reason for his recent woes, Goodwin mentioned his tendency to "overthink," an understandable problem given that the college game has forced him to completely alter the way he plays. His confidence hasn't waned though.
"A lot of great players have stretches where they don't play the games that they expect," Goodwin said. "It's just something they work through and that they get over."
It's good that Goodwin isn't short on self-belief, because Kentucky is going to need him and its other guards in top form come Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. The Wildcats (17-6, 8-2 SEC) - who returned to the AP Top 25 for the first time since November by coming in at No. 25 in Monday's poll - will take on No. 7 Florida (19-3, 9-1 SEC) then with a chance to pull into a tie atop the conference standings.
"These are the type of games I feel like I was made for and I know this team was made for," Goodwin said. "I feel like we're going to go out there and get a win."
The Cats have already showed some of that big-game worth. In two matchups with top-10 opponents this season, UK took No. 9 Duke and No. 4 Louisville all the way to the wire despite the fact that John Calipari's February team is much better than the November/December version.
This test is still a unique one. Outside of a loss last week at Arkansas, Florida has won nine conference games by double digits. Seven times the Gators have won by 20 points or more, four times by 30 or more while piling up an average margin of victory of 26.3 points. Florida is also a perfect 11-0 at the O'Connell Center on the season.
"They play well in their building," Calipari said. "It'll be a hard game for us to win. They defend. Let's put it this way: They were an Elite Eight team last year that should have been in the Final Four, one game short of that. And they got everybody back."
UK swept three games against Florida last season, but each was closer than the one before it. The last was in an SEC Tournament semifinal, when UK came back from an eight-point first-half deficit for a 74-71 victory. Calipari watched that game as a refresher on how Billy Donovan's team will play, but something else jumped out at him, and it had everything to do with Goodwin even though he was months removed from arriving on campus at the time.
On that afternoon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had been unusually quiet as UK trailed 56-51. But when his team needed him most, he ignored his own struggles and came through with four points, three rebounds, a block and a steal over the final 10 minutes. That's really all Coach Cal wants out of Goodwin.
"He played awful," Calipari said of Kidd-Gilchrist. "He played as bad as Archie played last game, but he fought and tried and came up with the two winning rebounds. He turned it over, missed every shot, missed free throws, but he had lost himself in the team, like Anthony (Davis) did. You don't worry about it, you just keep playing."
Goodwin is still trying to reach that point.
"That's where he's not yet," Calipari said. "Anything that he does out there, it's him doing it versus you're doing this for the team. Lose yourself in the team. If you turn it over, run the guy down and block it. If you miss a shot, don't worry about it."
To Goodwin's credit, he is trying. Despite the fact that Goodwin has played some of his worst basketball, his team is playing better than it has all season. Goodwin is saying the right things and working as hard as ever in the practice gym.
"I just try to find different ways that I can improve myself and help get a win," Goodwin said. "As long as we're getting wins, that's the only thing that really matters at this stage, just getting wins."
Getting another win against the Gators won't be easy, but the Cats aren't going to be star-struck. They're appropriately impressed by what Florida has accomplished, but there isn't anything to suggest they will blink on the big stage.
"I could care less that they're beating other people by 30 and 20 because we're not the team that they beat by 30 and 20," Goodwin said. "We're a different team. And if we let something like that intimidate us then we wouldn't be that confident in ourselves and that would be a thing we'd do. So we don't worry about that. We just go into the game with our game plan, try to execute the best that we can."
They were asked to participate in an exercise in which each analyst would draft four teams that they thought could win the championship come April. DeCourcy went first and chose Indiana. Jackson countered with Florida and then Michigan State. Back to DeCourcy for Duke and Arizona, followed by Jackson picking Kansas and Gonzaga.
That left one pick and I was wondering whether DeCourcy would go with Louisville or Michigan. But to my surprise, DeCourcy said "the Kentucky Wildcats," noting that the last 10 NCAA champs ranked in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and that the Cats were an under-the-radar team that could well fit into that category by March.
Kentucky gets a chance to give that opinion a shot of validation tonight when it faces Florida on the Gators' home court. This time two years ago, the Cats were struggling through a series of close losses that would lead to a 2-6 road record in SEC play and yet that team made it to the Final Four. Coach John Calipari's latest team is off to a 4-1 road start as it heads to the O-Dome in Gainesville, Fla.
In UK's lone SEC road loss, it surrendered a nine-point halftime lead, the only time in the past 57 games in which the Cats have led at halftime and then lost. My UK radio network partner, Mike Pratt, says the way a team start each half is a big key to success on the road.
"Listen to the scouting report and really get off to a good start, in the first half and the second half. When you're on the road, you don't have the crowd to lift you up. You have to be as focused as you were to start the game. Maybe in high school, you can get away with that. In AAU ball, nobody cares. You gotta bring the same focus and concentration to start the second half as you did the first half," Pratt said on "The Leach Report" radio show.
Before becoming a radio and TV analyst, Pratt was a longtime head coach and assistant at both the college and pro levels and he says the guys at the next level understand how serious a player has to be about the opponent.
"All day long, you gotta be thinking about your opponent, who you're guarding. Know what everybody on the team is doing, so you can help your teammate. In college, you gotta know everything that's going on and that is all learned by focusing. Don't lay around and sleep, play games and watch television but do some thinking about what's going to go that night," Pratt said.
A short walk from where the Cats face the Gators tomorrow is the former Florida basketball venue, affectionately known as "Alligator Alley." Pratt says that was the toughest road environment for the Wildcats when Pratt was a player from 1967-70.
"Gator Alley was a tough place to play. They were good, had Neal Walk and Andy Owens. That was a 5,000-seat place and they had windows on one side where the sun would come in. I think Gator Alley, given the level of talent Florida had at that time, was the most difficult place to play. They were used to it. They practiced in the afternoon (with the sun coming in)," Pratt recalled. "It was a big deal then and the fans were right on top of you--and they were not kind."
Tennessee's Stokely Athletic Center, soon to be demolished, was always a tough arena for the Cats, too. Pratt recalls one game when, as the players were coming from the locker room onto the court, they were pelted with orange slices from the UT fans.
"At Stokely, they always put the football team behind you," Pratt remembered. "That was quite a rivalry, too."
Originally aired during our Signing Day live stream, this interview with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart is the first of many videos we'll be posting in the coming weeks.
Before we get to the transcript, Kentucky has made its return to the AP Top 25 for the first time since Nov. 26, checking in at No. 25 in the latest poll released on Monday.
This week, John Calipari fielded questions about his team's matchup with Florida on Tuesday and talked yet again about what he's asking of his Wildcats. Here's what he had to say as well as some relevant quotes from a pair of other SEC coaches.
On the upcoming week ...
"Well we have two hard road games. Neither team loses many games at home. They're both - Tennessee's coming off a win, Florida's coming off a win. Both will be hungry teams and hard games for us. Florida's a top-five team and deservedly so. They've got basically the team they had a year ago that went to an Elite Eight and they're playing better together and playing harder, playing great defense. Billy's (Donovan) doing a great job with his team."
On the importance of guard play vs. Florida, especially since he has been down on Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow of late ...
"When you say down on them, I'm not down on them. We're just raising the bar and asking them to reach higher and play to the best version of themselves for our team. So they have to play a certain way that makes us have success and at times they're doing it and other times they're not. They have to be more consistent, but I'm not down on them. You want them to be at their best all the time and you want to raise that bar and help 'em try to change that."
On whether there has been a game where guard play has been more important than vs. Florida ...
"Yeah, you know you got the Louisville game, you had the game with Duke and with Notre Dame when Ryan wasn't even there and we had to go with guard play and do it anyway and hung around for most of those games. But every game we play, in college basketball guard play is vital and for us to be what we need to be, they've got to keep striving for the best version of themselves. They gotta keep striving to, 'What do I have to do for this team?' When you talk selfishness to any player, it's not, 'You're taking all the shots.' It's, 'Are you doing what the team needs you to do? And if you're choosing not to, that's selfish.' And so we're continuing on, 'Here's what the team needs you to do.' Even yesterday, I went through the room and said, 'Is there any question, does anybody have any doubt of what I'm looking for from each player for our team? Do you guys know what we're asking Kyle (Wiltjer) to do? Do you guys know what we're asking Julius (Mays) to do? Do you know what we're asking Nerlens (Noel) to do? Is there any doubt?' So there should not be any doubt with the individual player. So now it becomes a choice: 'Are you going to do what we're asking (you) to do or not?' That is - again, it comes back to what I've said all along is when you have players trying to establish who they are, we gotta get those same guys now losing themselves in the team. Just lose yourself in the team. Whatever they need me to do, I'm doing. Me missing shots, turning over, it's not about me; it's about our team. And we're not making every shot, we're not making a game without any turnovers. It's just how it is. But if lose myself in the team, I'm not so wrapped up in my own play, which affects my body language and my effort throughout the game."
On Florida's defense and what makes Florida such a good defensive team ...
"It starts on the ball. Defense always starts on the ball, and that's why when Jarrod (Polson) goes in the game, he will change the complexion of the game for us at times. They really play the ball good. As you're bringing it up, they've got a guy that can play pick-and-roll defense and also put great pressure on the ball and make that first pass - your entry into offense - very difficult. So it starts right there. The second thing is, they're doing a great job of scrambling up the other team from three-quarters court where they just, they're running at the ball, taking chances, taking opportunities, using their athleticism. But when they run at the ball, I come back to the point guard is playing the point so hard that it makes it tough when that other guy defends him. If you don't play the guard and my eyes aren't occupied, when you're running a man, I'll find an open man. But they're not letting you do it. They're doing a terrific job there, and they're a good rebounding team on top of it."
Florida head coach Billy Donovan
On the upcoming week ...
"We're starting this week with Kentucky, a team that is obviously very talented and continues to get better. I think John has done a great job with the development of their team. And then obviously at the end of the week, going to Auburn, tough place to play. Tony's (Barbee) teams just, they may be undersized, but just the way they play hard and change defenses. A tough place to play, another challenge for us. So we obviously have two very challenging games this week."
On the status of Erik Murphy, who injured his ankle recently, and Nerlens Noel ...
"Murphy's fine. He practiced yesterday. He just went back, I think, during the game just more (for) precautionary (reasons). But he was full-go yesterday. He practiced the entire time. I think it was more precautionary him going back into the locker room, but there's no problem with him. Obviously Nerlens is a terrific shot blocker. I had a chance to watch him in high school, and he's one of those few and rare guys that's very, very gifted blocking shots and altering and changing the game around the basketball. He's got a great talent and a great ability to do that."
On the loss of Will Yeguete to injury ...
"Well he's just a very, very versatile guy because he can play, one on offense he's played three different positions for us on offense and he's played three different positions for us on defense. I think he's just one of those rare, unique guys that--he takes a lot of pride and gets a lot of pleasure in doing things that for a lot of players are very uncomfortable. He really enjoys defense, he's an active guy on the glass, he can offensive rebound, he's a good post defender, he's a good perimeter defender. So he just adds a different element all the way around for our team. He's a very likable guy on our team. Our guys enjoy playing with him. He's about the right things. He's not a high-volume shooter. He's not trying to do a lot of things he can't do. He's figured out and carved out a way to impact the game of basketball without scoring in a lot of ways. I think every coach for every team loves having guys like that on our team."
On Florida being a system team and the disruption to the system of losing Yeguete ...
"I think every team plays to a system, whatever your principles are or things that you want to do. You're always going to play to a role or whatever your responsibilities are when you're playing both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively. So I think for us, inside of our system in terms of things that we do - pressing, different things defensively - yeah, he was an important cog into that, as is a lot of other guys that are on our team. But he has fit in just because of the way we've tried to play defensively, the way we've tried to play offensively. He's figured out how to kind of carve his niche so to speak inside of our system."
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin
On what it takes for UK or anybody to stay with and beat Florida ...
"Guard play. Your guard play better be good because Florida is going to force you - they never give you anything easy through their defense, so your guard play has to be extremely good so it doesn't turn it over, so your offense doesn't take bad shots. Because if you do either one against Florida, they just make you pay. And then your guard play just has to be extremely strong and disciplined in its approach because Florida tests your will with their defense. If your will is weak, then they just jump all over you. So your guard play is probably most important when you go up against Florida."
With the No. 8 Kentucky baseball season just days away from opening in Spartanburg, S.C., here is a nifty recap of all the preseason coverage leading up to the lidlifter.
* UK backstops catching on quickly to new roles in 2013 (Ryan Suckow; 2/7/13)
* Baseball having no trouble fiding edge with season around corner (Guy Ramsey; 2/5/13)
* Enough me, let's talk we: Well-decorated Cousino looks for team success in 2013 (Ryan Suckow; 2/4/13)
* VIDEO: Henderson previews 2013 season (2/5/13)
* VIDEO: Cousino, Littrell preview 2013 season (2/5/13)
* Shepherd carries prep success into SEC (Brent Ingram; 2/1/13)
* Littrell dominates way into record book (Brent Ingram; 1/31/13)
* Riddle helps anchor dynamic defense (Brent Ingram; 1/30/13)
* Cousino looking to build on historic collegiate debut (Brent Ingram; 1/29/13)
* Reed ready for do-everything encore (Brent Ingram; 1/28/13)
* Zellers helps lead outfield (Brent Ingram; 1/26/13)
* Grundy returns for senior season (Brent Ingram; 1/25/13)
* Reida captains record-setting defense (Brent Ingram; 1/24/13)
* Wijas helps lead versatile bullpen (Brent Ingram; 1/23/13)
* Gott emerging as NCAA's top closer (Brent Ingram; 1/22/13)
* Kentucky Kernel: Cousino ready to lead a successful season (Nick Gray; 2/10/13)
* Baseball America: SEC Preview (Aaron Fitt; 2/7/13) // UK Scouting Report
* KY Forward: UK not shying away from lofty preseason hype after record-setting season (Jon Hale; 2/5/13)
* Lexington Herald-Leader: UK sets sights on Omaha (Mark Maloney; 2/4/13)
* Louisville Courier-Journal: Times have changed for Kentucky baseball (Kyle Tucker; 2/4/13)
* Gott named to Stopper of the Year Watch list
* NCBWA Ranks UK No. 12
* Cousino tabbed preseason SEC Player of the Year
* Seven initial national TV games announced
* Five baseball standouts among NCAA's top prospects
* Cousino named Baseball America preseason All-America
* USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll has UK No. 15
* Baseball America ranks UK No. 11
* UK ranked No. 13 in Perfect Game
* Keith Vorhoff presents at ABCA Convention
* Cousino, Littrell named second-team preseason All-America
* Baseball ranked school-record No. 8 in preseason
* Three baseball standouts named preseason All-America
* Baseball America tabs UK's recruiting class No. 18
* Collegiate Baseball ranks recruiting class No. 11
UKathletics.com ranked eighth in traffic among all schools with websites hosted by CBS. CBS hosts most Division I collegiate sports websites, including more than 40 of the 68 schools that play in BCS conferences.
Additionally, UKathletics.com's annual Signing Day live blog had 9,042 live readers, setting a record for any UK Athletics live blog previously set at Big Blue Madness 2012.
Thank you to UK fans for helping to make our Signing Day coverage a success!
Ostensibly, Coach Cal was at the podium to talk basketball. The Wildcats had just won their fifth game in a row - 72-62 in a bruising rematch with Auburn - but he was more interested in talking about the life lessons he's been trying to impart to his players.
"When you make life about everybody else instead of yourself, life becomes easier," Calipari said. "If your whole life is trying to satisfy yourself...life is hard. Every morning you're up and it's anxiety, but if every time you wake up, it's about everybody else in your life, it's not about you, life is easy."
Jarrod Polson is already there, and it shines through on the court.
"Jarrod is just doing whatever the team needs him to do," Calipari said. "Other guys are worried about how they're playing."
According to the box score, Polson played a pedestrian game. In 20 minutes - his most in more than two months - the junior guard managed just three points, three rebounds and two assists. Kyle Wiltjer led the Cats in scoring with 14 points and Nerlens Noel posted his third double-double in a row with 10 points and 12 rebounds, but don't tell Coach Cal either one meant anything more to their team than Polson did, or Willie Cauley-Stein for that matter.
"We're so happy with Jarrod Polson, so happy with Willy Cauley, and it was nothing but energy," Calipari said. "That's all it is. Just come out and ball. Quit worrying about how you're playing for yourself, worry about our team and just bring energy."
Though he was a high-school star at West Jessamine, all Polson has ever done has been to think about the team more than himself. During his first two seasons, his role didn't extend far beyond the bench and the practice gym, where he had the unenviable task of tirelessly dogging future NBA Draft picks as a member of the second unit. Now he's getting the chance to showcase his unselfish approach in meaningful in-game situations.
"(Calipari has) been telling me to bring energy in the games," Polson said. "I've been trying to guard Ryan (Harrow) in practice with that energy and that's helped me. I really just tried to bring energy and that's what he wanted from me."
Polson came to Kentucky knowing nothing more than an opportunity to compete would be guaranteed. He knew his fellow guards would McDonald's All-Americans, which would make it unlikely he would even play himself into a featured role. It took a certain degree of humility to seek out that situation, sending him further along on that path to putting team before self.
His teammates are behind, but not because of warped egos or anything like that. They're just going through a natural process.
"They're not selfish guys - I come back to this," Calipari said. "This isn't selfish; it's human nature to establish yourself first before you worry about anybody else."
Calipari, however, isn't overlooking the fact that the Cats have made progress, both as team and as individuals. UK is in the middle of its best extended stretch of the season and, sitting at 8-2 in Southeastern Conference play (17-6 overall), is just a game behind first-place Florida with a trip to take on the Gators coming up on Tuesday. Alex Poythress is doing things he's never done before and Wiltjer's evolution over the last month is nothing short of amazing, while Noel is making a case for the title of the nation's best defender.
"Now, we're fine," Calipari said. "We're getting better. Are we getting better? Yeah, we're getting better. We're winning games, we're getting better, all that stuff."
It's just that he wants more.
"But to break through what I want them to feel, joy, the only way you have joy is if it's about everybody else," Calipari said. "You're grateful to them for having your back and you're complimentary all the time to everybody else. You just brought joy to your life."
Until the Cats, to a man, match the team-first mentality of Polson, Calipari isn't going to stop with all the life lesson talk. He's not going to stop because he knows what it will look like if it works.
"We do it, we're going to have some real fun," Calipari said. "We don't do it, every game is going to be a grind. I just hope we still win them anyway. But they'll be grinds."
Freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein
Freshman center Nerlens Noel
1978 champions honored
But at least for this moment, Garrison knows that this is just the beginning of something special.
While greedy might not be an appropriate term after Friday night's historic result, Garrison continues to ask more of his gymnasts. He thinks there are even brighter days ahead.
"We're excited, there's no doubt about it," said Garrison. "But what I told the athletes was we've closed the gap, but we haven't closed it entirely. We've made some strides. We're doing a lot of the big things well, but we're doing a lot of the little things not so well."
You could take Garrison's stance on his team's performance tonight a couple of different ways.
One: Garrison will never be happy with the way his athletes perform and good is never good enough.
Or two: Garrison strives for greatness, sees untapped potential in his athletes, and he feels it's his duty to bring the best out of them every day.
If you haven't figured it out, it's the latter.
Garrison has high hopes for his team, and he'll tell you straight up that he sees remarkable performances from the gymnasts every day in the practice gym. The progression of the team so far this season would suggest that Garrison is onto something.
Even the athletes are taking note of the progress they've made.
"We are definitely going in the right direction," said sophomore Shelby Hilton. "We've worked really hard, especially for tonight. We've been doing one rounds and preparing for our routines to hit and not make the little mistakes, so I think we really accomplished that tonight."
Last week against No. 6 LSU, Kentucky struggled on uneven bars. The Wildcats were forced to count a fall in the event and it ended up costing UK an opportunity to catch the Tigers. On this night, UK had no critical missteps, and as Georgia struggled mightily on the vault, Kentucky capitalized on the floor to pull within tenths of a point of the Bulldogs.
Tiarra Phipps led off with a 9.775 to get the ball rolling. Alexis Gross, who had a huge meet up until this point, lost a tenth when she stepped out of bounds. But the Cats ran off four straight scores of 9.8 or better to pick up their teammate like they've done all season.
Kenzie Hedges hit a 9.8. Shannon Mitchell a career-high tying 9.825. Audrey Harrison - no surprises here - shined with a season-high and career-high tying 9.9.
Needing a 9.825 to tie, floor anchor Kayla Hartley came up with her best performance of the evening.
The team swarmed Hartley knowing that she had just done something special. How special was still the question each member of the Memorial Coliseum crowd was left asking.
As the judges submitted their scores, Hartley earned an average of 9.8, falling just .025 points shy of pulling even with Georgia.
As both teams went to the floor for the final score announcement, Kentucky was proud of what it had done on the night, but the Cats knew they had missed an opportunity yet again to beat one of the best teams in the country and Southeastern Conference. Harrison, for the second week in a row and the fourth time in SEC competition, earned the all-around title with a final score of 39.3.
Not sold on the final outcome, Garrison and the staff made a final inquiry to the judges to review Hartley's final performance.
The judges went back to review the video. After further review, Hartley was awarded the addition .025 points she needed to help the Wildcats pull even with Georgia at 195.825 and give UK its best overall team performance of the season.
Still, Garrison thinks his team is only scratching the surface.
"In fact, we could be a lot better than this," said Garrison. "If we look around and we look at some of the things we've done, which we do every Monday after a meet, we look at mistakes and 'this we can fix, that we can fix.' There are a lot of things we can clean up and make a heck of a lot better."
A few varitions in the Kentucky lineups Friday night may be a contributing factor to as to why UK turned in their best night of the season. Garrison decided to tweak the lineups and move some athletes around to try and put them in better situations to succeed.
So far, even if it's just one night, the payoff has been huge. But he may be not done just yet.
"We might even play with it a little bit more," said Garrison. "I have a few other ideas with some athletes that are coming on in some events that they aren't even in right now. I think they paid off for us."
One of the athletes that seemed to benefit from the tweaks was Hilton. Garrison removed her from the floor lineup Friday, but stuck her on the anchor of the vault. She came up with an important 9.825 to finish the event, and then went over to uneven bars and gave UK a career-high-tying performance with an impressive routine that garnered a 9.825.
"We took her out of the floor lineup this week, but she performed outstanding on bars and she performed great on vault," said Garrison. "I think putting her in the sixth spot on vault has helped her tremendously."
For tonight, Kentucky can relax and live in the moment.
The Cats will enjoy their performance, spend time with friends and family and then Monday start preparing for Missouri trying to capitalize on the momentum they built against Georgia Friday night.
Garrison and his team will look back on this night when the season is over and see it as a huge night for their season and for their program, but the team's memory will be short when they get back in the gym next week.
"We'll smile a little bit about it tonight," said Garrison, "But it's a 195.825 and a tie of the number six team in the country. But it's just that: a 195.825. We're capable of 196-plus and that's where we're headed."
The Wildcats have already handily beaten the Tigers, delivering arguably their best performance of the season in a 75-53 road win. Auburn is 9-13 on the season and in the bottom half of Southeastern Conference standings with a 3-6 league mark. Next up on the schedule for UK is a trip to second-ranked Florida, the team the Cats are chasing in the conference race.
Besides, Kentucky has already proven itself more than capable of overlooking an opponent.
"Personally, we have a problem with that," Willie Cauley-Stein said on Friday. "It started with the Notre Dame game, Baylor game. We have a problem with taking people lightly."
Of course, the Cats (16-6, 7-2 SEC) would go on to lose both of those. With Auburn coming to town for a 4 p.m. ET Saturday showdown, UK is trying to avoid another such letdown.
"Everybody's real hyped to play them again because they just came back against Alabama and Coach (John Calipari) said we can't take them lightly," Cauley-Stein said. "They came back and won a big game, so they're going to be extra hyped coming into our place and playing us. We just gotta take it like we never played them before and go out and play hard."
As worried as Coach Cal is about the way Tony Barbee's team switches defenses and a guard who "could score 40" in Frankie Sullivan, he's much more concerned about a different sort of trap entirely. Calipari is focused on avoiding the trap of individual thinking.
"A lot of it is they're trying to establish themselves, so the only thing they know is a four-foot circle around their own body," Calipari said. "That's what they live in. They know all that stuff in there, but outside of that, it becomes a little dicey."
It's been a constant theme this season, the inexperience of this Kentucky team. Calipari has coached youth-laden teams before, but never one with this little returning talent. More than that, the members of his latest top-ranked recruiting class, though supremely talented, arrived with identities that were very much works in progress.
The result was that players spent almost all of their time focused internally; they spent all of their time trying to figure themselves out. That process, though unique relative to the last three years at UK, is not without precedent. Calipari cited the examples of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant, all players who first locked in their own games before pursuing team success.
How long that takes varies by player and by team, but it's what Calipari is zeroing in on with the Cats in the midst of a four-game winning streak. And he's trying everything he or anyone else can think of to get it done.
"I do it all," Calipari said. "I talk to (sports psychologist Bob) Rotella, I talk to (author and management expert) Ken Blanchard. I'm reading three books a day. I'm taking stuff from everything I'm reading. Praying in the morning. Hard. Just for strength to keep going for these kids, because they deserve to feel the joy of doing something unique."
Seeking that joy, Calipari has morphed into a sort of basketball coach/motivational speaker/life counselor, with a heavy emphasis on the final two-thirds of that hybrid.
"I'm not watching game tape with them," Calipari said. "None. The staff is doing that. I don't want them to see me in a basketball sense right now. I'm just teaching life skills. That's all. How to deal with this, how to deal with adversity."
Before every practice - really the only time he is directly coaching the game- Calipari imparts three "life lessons" to his team. His endgame, other than preparing players for the rest of their lives, is to build the Cats toward what his first three Kentucky teams were, but not in a strictly basketball sense.
"Those guys loved each other," Calipari said of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and the rest of the 2009-10 UK team. "What about last year's team? They loved each other. What about the year (before)? They loved each other. See, if you love - and truly love - that means it's more about the other guy than you. Then you have discipline. The reason you have discipline is you're playing for him because you love him and you got his back."
They might not use the word "love" as much as their coach, but the Cats are starting to speak Calipari's language.
"We struggled in the beginning," Cauley-Stein said. "We was trying to establish ourselves (as individuals) and now we gotta start establishing the team. We're making strides establishing the team and not individual players."
Coach Cal says that a few of his players are still resisting the change and still haven't extended their focus beyond the dreaded "four-foot circle" around each one of them. Whether the Cats ever completely buy in remains to be seen, but if it doesn't happen, no one will be able to say it was for a lock of trying on Calipari's part.
"Like I told my staff, 'Write this stuff down, because if it works, let's make sure we remember what the heck we did,' " Calipari said. " 'Cause this is all new for me now."
Ten games into the Southeastern Conference schedule and Mitchell is now a certified believer.
"I was very skeptical about that because I had never been through it," said Mitchell. "People can think I'm crazy. I thought people were crazy for talking about it, but I'm a believer now. It is unbelievable what our players are going through right now as far as what they're facing game after game from an effort level and an execution level."
Kentucky sits at 8-2 in the conference, 20-3 overall. Two of those SEC losses have come to top-15 teams in the country. So, in the grand scheme of things, the Wildcats are sitting pretty. But they've had to work at it, and they will continue to have to work at it to get where they are trying to go this season.
After a bye week in which the Cats played no weekday games, Mitchell gave his team the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate to get ready for the stretch run in the SEC.
The game after the resting period, UK hosted No. 13 Georgia. Kentucky seemingly had the game in hand before a late Georgia surge and failed execution down the stretch doomed the Wildcats in a 75-71 loss.
Mitchell looks back now and wonders if easing up allowed his team to lose a bit of its edge.
"We played like a really, really talented team on Sunday, but a soft team when it got tough and Georgia just wouldn't go away and smacked us there at the end," said Mitchell.
After the loss, Mitchell decided to shake things up a bit with two-a-day sessions including 6 a.m. practices to try and increase the intensity and urgency of his players.
Early returns were bleak Thursday night at Arkansas, but in the final 10 minutes it appeared Mitchell's message had finally gotten through.
"We just played as hard as we could down the stretch after we were able to withstand that poor play early and we were terrific," said Mitchell. "I just think that's what we need to get used to and it's probably something we're going to see the rest of the season."
Despite Arkansas' 3-7 record in the league, they brought their very best in a date with the No. 10 Wildcats. With a chance to make a statement and get a much-needed win at home, the Razorbacks played one of their best games of the season against top competition, further proof that the Wildcats are a hunted breed.
"I'm just telling you now," said Mitchell. "Arkansas is 3-7 in the league and has played real tough games against opponents, but they were unbelievable last night. From an execution standpoint they were so sharp.
"They made shot after shot that you put the tape on and you didn't see them making. It was an absolute battle last night and we embraced it."
While they embraced the pressure and competition on Thursday night, they wilted against Georgia. In fact, the two games were mirror images of each other. After a slow start against the Razorbacks, Kentucky stormed back, forced overtime, and earned a road victory in the SEC, an always-notable feat.
Sophomore guard Bria Goss played a large role in the comeback effort. In fact, the come-from-behind victory was just as important to the team as it was for the return of Goss to her old ways.
After struggling offensively over the last few contests, Mitchell opted to sit his talented sophomore to see if she would respond as a reserve. Goss exceeded expectations coming off the bench for the first time this season.
While Kentucky was quiet as a whole through the first 20 minutes trailing 33-28 at half, Goss torched the Razorbacks for 16 of her 17 total points after the midway point. While she shot the ball well (4 of 8 from the field), she made her biggest impression at the free throw stripe. Goss was rock-solid from the line knocking down 9-of-10 attempts.
The performance was critical in Kentucky's overtime victory, but it may have been even more important in terms of Goss' contribution to their postseason hopes in the near future.
"It's frustrating for our team because the reason you think we are capable of making a Final Four or being a championship-caliber team, you include Bria Goss playing well in that formula," said Mitchell. "You really need her to play well."
But as a coach, it's even more important to see a player who works so hard for her team and the program to have a successful night.
"It is a level of frustration but it really makes a night like last night very rewarding to see the kid hang in there and get rewarded with some good play and a very crucial victory," said Mitchell.
Kentucky will be in for a similar battle when its travels to Nashville, Tenn., to face the Vanderbilt Commodores. Vanderbilt has given UK trouble in the past despite Kentucky's four-game winning streak in the series.
The Wildcats are in the midst of a difficult stretch where they will play five of their last seven games on the road, including Thursday at Arkansas. They've past their first test, but chances are good that UK will see the same type of effort from the Commodores that they have from every other SEC team this season when they square off Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
"We'll need to go out and play real, real hard," said Mitchell. "They are always a difficult team to go against with their defense. They really guard the ball well and make you make great decisions.
"It will be a tough game on the road for us and we'll need to prepare well over the next couple of days to have a chance to win."
Last year's primary catchers for the University of Kentucky baseball team were largely considered the heart and soul of the 2012 squad that came one win away an Southeastern Conference regular season crown. They also embodied most, if not all of the important qualities of a well-rounded catcher.
Luke Maile (eighth round) and Michael Williams (30th round) were each selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2012 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Maile and Williams accounted for 62 of the 63 starts made by UK catchers last season.
The tandem packed a potent punch in the middle of the Kentucky lineup as both Maile and Williams rotated between catcher, first base and designated hitter. In Maile's 33 games behind the dish last season he batted .357, clubbed eight home runs and 10 doubles, driving in 31 runs with an astronomical OPS of 1.101. Williams, though not as powerful, was very effective with the bat in games he caught. He played in just one less game at the catcher position than Maile (32) and batted .273 with six doubles and 17 RBI.
While they played a major role in UK's offensive production from last season, they were perhaps even more valuable as leaders in the clubhouse and working with the pitching staff on a daily basis.
One of Kentucky's biggest challenges and questions heading into the 2013 season will be how to replace those two key figures.
It sounds as if one player may already have an early leg up on the competition.
"We've got Micheal Thomas who is in front right now," said head coach Gary Henderson at Monday's media day. "We've got three other guys. Greg Fettes is a redshirt freshman. Zach Arnold and Casey Schroeder are freshmen. All three of the kids have been drafted so we have some talented kids back there."
It's been tough to break into the lineup with guys like Maile and Williams sitting in front of Thomas his whole career as a Wildcat. Thomas has battled physical issues and the challenges of a walk-on, but his head coach is proud of the improvements he's made over the years to get to this point.
"(I'm) Really happy with Micheal Thomas' progression and development, maturity and growth and all those things that you look for, he's done a great job," said Henderson.
While Thomas might be the catcher Henderson plans to run out there early and often in the season, with so many games to be played, it's likely another catcher will get an opportunity to be the second half of Kentucky's catching tandem.
"If anybody has followed the program at all during my time here, even before the time of being the head coach, you know that I'm a big advocate of two catchers," said Henderson. "It doesn't mean you have to do it that way, just means I like to do it that way for a couple of reasons and that's exactly what we'll shoot for this year."
Fettes logically seems to be the guy who might best fit that role to play Williams to Thomas's Maile. He's been around the program for a full season now and has already had a chance to work with each pitcher. While neither has played in huge games for Kentucky, that doesn't mean they haven't gained valuable experience..
"They were around us last year," said closer Trevor Gott. "They've been around big games, they just haven't played. They know the electricity of SEC games. Micheal Thomas has been here four years, so I think them not playing last year and gaining all that knowledge is going to help them a lot."
Thomas's four years of experience and Fettes's one season already give them the upper hand over the two true freshmen catchers on the roster. Even if both prove to be more viable offensive contributors, the relationships Thomas and Fetter have built with pitchers during their time as Wildcats may play a bigger role than anything they can give at the plate.
It will also make the transition to working with new catchers in a game atmosphere that much easier.
"I had a strong relationship with Luke and Michael last year," said Gott. "But being out of the bullpen, I threw to Greg, I threw to Micheal Thomas all the time, so our chemistry's great. I love throwing to them."
Junior starting pitcher Corey Littrell has decided to approach his relationship with Thomas and Fettes much like he did with Maile in his first two seasons.
Chemistry between pitchers and catchers is as important as any relationship between two positions in all of sports. A catcher has the responsibility of knowing what all of his pitchers strengths and weaknesses are, what each pitcher likes to throw in what count, how to address mechanical flaws and be a secondary pitching coach when problems arise.
In order to strengthen that bond, sometimes the relationship has to carry over off the field.
"As the fall has gone on and earlier this year, our relationship has built," said Littrell. "Just hanging out with Micheal and Greg all the time off the field is another huge thing because I did that with Luke a lot last year. Just having that relationship and trust with another is a big thing for a pitcher and catcher."
While those two mashers will be missed, neither Gott nor Littrell is worried about the catching situation. Each has his strengths as receivers. Gott described Thomas as a "very vocal guy" that gets after it on the field, is hard-nosed and can block everything. He said Fettes is a bit shy, but serves as a big target and can be very intimidating. All are strong qualities of defensive catchers. After all, the main responsibilities of a catcher are being solid defensively and working effectively with the pitching staff. UK pitchers feel confident in their new battery mates to do that job at a high level.
"Their main job is to catch," said Littrell. "We want them to, and they're going to hit and do just fine at the plate, but they have a job of maintaining and controlling our pitching staff. Whether it's me, Trevor, the younger guys, or whoever, that's their one job is to control the pitching staff."
Even if both players happen to struggle at the plate, with their main focus on the pitching staff, that can only be good news for each individual pitcher. While Maile and Williams were counted on to be offensive leaders in last year's lineup, a catching duo that works solely with the pitchers could be a big plus for Kentucky hurlers this season.
"If I'm on the mound, like in the bullpens and everything, if I make a mistake, Micheal Thomas and Greg know exactly what I've done," said Gott. "They'll come out and talk to me, 'Stay strong on the backside.'
"They're like another pitching coach. If Henderson's not there, he won't be out with me when I'm in the game, so their knowledge of pitching is huge whenever we're in game situations."
For Kentucky's sake, the catching combination can't plead ignorance or lack of experience. They don't have any other choice. But if nothing else, they must bring the primary intangibles to and behind the plate every day.
While other players will be expected to shoulder their fair share of the offensive burden, the responsibility to maintain a staff that combined for a top-six earned-run average in the Southeastern Conference (3.41) trumps all. If Kentucky's catching unit can hold up its end of the bargain and keep pitching close to that number, another SEC championship run could be in order for 2013.
Head coach Mark Stoops and his staff have been out on the road since day one searching far and wide for the top prospects to help comprise their first recruiting class at Kentucky, one they hope will lay the foundation for years to come. Though recruiting never stops, the staff will finally get a chance to spend some time with their current players as they get prepared for spring practice.
This spring may be the most crucial timeframe of many of the returning Wildcats' careers. They will have 15 practices to improve their game and make an impression on their new coaches. Although they will have watched plenty of tape on their players, it will be the first time the staff gets a chance to lay eyes on them up-close and in person.
As the saying goes, you only get one chance at a first impression.
"The guys that are on campus now," said offensive coordinator Neal Brown. "We'll tell them, 'You've got these 15 practices to show what you can do. When we get into fall camp, the first two weeks of fall camp we're going to give these guys that are coming in an opportunity.'
"By the time we get to fall camp we're going to have a good idea of what these guys can do on campus. We'll have an idea of what their limitations are and what their strengths are."
After that, it's open season.
Out on the road, Stoops and co. used a particular pitch to prospects that would be particularly alluring. Though nothing was promised in terms of playing time, they made it clear opportunities would be plentiful.
"We always present an opportunity," said Stoops. "We're never going to guarantee anybody - that wouldn't be fair or be right to the players that are on our - in our program, but, you know, we always tell them they're going to have a great opportunity."
Every recruit is looking for something different. Each chooses a different path based on what he sees is a best fit for him. Some are looking for strong academics. Some look for immediate playing time. Some want to be part of a successful, championship-winning program and carry on that tradition.
Kentucky strives to be a place that provides all of those options in the future. But right now, they are in a position to sell to recruits that if they come to Kentucky, the opportunity to play is there, and when they get there, they won't be too far behind to catch up.
Those 15 practices in the spring will be as much about evaluating returning talent as it will be about installing Brown's spread offense and Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot's defensive packages. Each player has a completely clean slate, and for incoming freshman, that will be no different.
"The first two weeks of (fall) camps, the new guys, especially the skill guys, are going to have the opportunity to earn playing time," said Brown.
The opportunity for playing time is not just a sales pitch. It's a reality. Kentucky didn't just go out and find only guys who already liked UK, but they went out and changed many recruits and families' minds and perceptions about the program. While doing that, after identifying difference-making people for their program, they went all-in for the players they coveted most.
Those players were most coveted because the Kentucky staff believed they could immediately impact the roster. Brown's offense requires multiple weapons and skill players, so 2013 offensive signees Jeff Badet and Ryan Timmons figure to be guys that Brown will look to, provided they do what is asked of them before they arrive on campus, to be immediate-impact players.
Another offensive weapon UK will have is four-star running back JoJo Kemp out of recruiting hotbed Florida. Knowing that they wanted one more running back for the class, the staff identified him as the top prospect available at the position. Though Kentucky has six running backs returning for 2013, the staff expects Kemp to be in the mix from day one.
"JoJo Kemp had everything, and that's why we went all-in with him to be honest with you," said running backs coach Chad Scott. "He was the best one. He had such a diverse skill set and the complete package, a guy that can help right away."
Running back is a position that actually has quite a bit of depth. But overall, Kentucky lacks in numbers for several positions on the field.
When prospects are assessing their options and potential destinations, all things are considered. Immediate playing time is something that perks their ears up as much as any sales pitch, but they usually have an idea if that's a possibility even before they talk to the staff and make their decision.
"That's always something you talk to recruits about because that's something they want to hear," said offensive line coach John Schlarman. "Right now, we don't have the most depth in the world here, so the opportunity to play is there."
The fact that Kentucky has several players graduating or is thin at certain positions makes the chance to play immediately even closer to a reality for incoming freshman.
"Recruits look at those depth charts and they get online and do their research also," said Schlarman. "When they see that you don't have a bunch of guys coming back, that's something that they're going to pay attention to."
Kentucky wants those types of players. The staff wants players who love the game and want to play right away. Once coaches find those them, they make sure that they have the kind of work ethic and motor that will allow them to get to that level.
Internal competition is one of the best motivators and vehicles for improvement on any team, and bringing in new blood that pushes others for time on the field can only make this unit better. And at the end of the day, may be the best man win.
"If they are that talented to come in and play, play them," said Scott. "It also helps the guys here with the guys coming in, as competitive as they are, it makes those guys better. It brings out the best of those guys in here."
Though the signing period is still open and a few more additions to the 2013 class could still be made, Stoops can finally start focusing on what he was brought here to do: win football games.
As he settles into a more normal routine, he and the staff will finally get to spend more time getting to know and train the current players on the roster. That process isn't easy with so many new faces to get acquainted with, but it will be a critical task in talent evaluating for the 2013 season. Regardless of performances in the spring, however, everyone will get their fair opportunity to compete this fall.
"That's just the facts," said Brown. "They are our players regardless of if we recruited them or not. They are our guys. They've got 15 practices to get better, prove what they can do, and then when we get in fall camp, these new guys are going to get that same opportunity. Then two weeks into camp we'll know exactly who we're playing with."
The two left their mark on UK softball but it's time to move forward and juniors Lauren Cumbess and Ellen Weaver along with freshmen Katie Henderson and Kelsey Nunley are ready to shine.
Cumbess finished last year with a 3-4 record in nine starts but boasted a team-best 2.78 earned-run average in 45.1 innings pitched. The Normal, Ill., native will most likely get the nod in the Cats' season opener vs. Cal and showed signs of brilliance last year when she no-hit Georgia. Cumbess has been known to play first base when she isn't in the circle and her athleticism is maybe the one thing Lawson likes the most out of her junior hurler.
"It's funny because she is probably one of the best athletes that has ever come through here," Lawson said. "What gives me confidence is not only that she's a superior athlete but that she's proven she could do it on a national stage last year. I would argue that at the beginning of the season she was our top pitcher and then she certainly showed it when we played Georgia and no-hit them."
Weaver provides some experience for the Cats, appearing in 14 games last season and had three complete games to her credit. Henderson and Nunley will get a taste of collegiate softball when they stand in the circle for the first time this season.
Cumbess is confident in the rotation the Wildcats will feature this season and likes the rarity of a four-person pitching staff.
"I think four strong pitchers on the staff is a great thing to have and not every staff in the country has that so we are very lucky to have four strong pitchers," Cumbess said. "We all complement each other really well so it's going to be very fun to see us work game-to-game together since we are all so different."
Cats hit the road
Fans will get a quick answer of where the Wildcats stand against the top teams in the country as UK will challenge No. 3/3 Cal, No. 4/4 Arizona State and No. 21/20 Stanford this weekend in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz.
This weekend will also be a perfect time for Lawson to find out what her group of pitchers are made of as the Cats are slated to play five games in a span of three days. A lot of questions will be answered this weekend but this is just the start of a rough opening 20 games of the season for the Wildcats.
UK will hit the road for the first 20 games of the 2013 campaign, playing in four tournaments before returning home and introducing the renovated UK Softball Complex for the first time on March 6 against Marshall.
Lawson realizes this isn't the greatest situation for her Cats but there is only so much she can control and it's a hump the team will have to make it over.
"You never want to go on the road for the first 20 games," Lawson said. "First of all, it's nice sleeping in your own bed and second of all, we do have an unbelievable fan base which you can start to see that the SEC home-field advantage is really starting to take effect in the last couple of years in the sport of softball."
This is nothing new to Kentucky given its limited ability to begin hosting games in Lexington due to the weather in the month of February. What also prevented UK from hosting some early season tournaments was the UK Softball Complex.
With the upgraded stadium, Kentucky will host its first SEC Tournament this year and Lawson says fans will see a change in the schedule from here on out due to the luxurious new stadium.
"That's also why I'm excited about the new stadium because we'll be able to host," Lawson said. "Next year, you'll see our schedule is going to be a little different in that we can host a couple of tournaments at our own field."
Kentucky enters this season with just two seniors in Kara Dill and Alice O'Brien, who were both named team captains along with Cumbess.
Dill had a fantastic 2012 season posting team-highs of .351 average and 21 stolen bases, earning her way on the All-SEC second team. O'Brien had a fine year herself, finishing fourth on the squad by hitting at a .265 clip. Cumbess had success in the circle but was also productive at the plate and should see ample time at first base.
Although the team has a lot of youth, Lawson doesn't see a lack of leadership. She is very confident that her captains will step up and take charge but is also looking for her sophomores and juniors to lead as well.
"I believe there are a number of people on our team that step up in different situations," Lawson said. "I'm pretty fortunate that in this program, we year-in and year-out have brilliant student-athletes. They're good in the classroom, they're good on the field and they're blue-collar, level-headed people. I'm not worried from the standpoint that we have two seniors because what everybody provides collectively is pretty special."
Mark Stoops first Kentucky recruiting class came together on Signing Day and the 22-player group gave UK its highest-rated ever according to Rivals.com at No. 27 nationally. Stoops and his staff might not be done either. At his press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Stoops was asked whether the 2013 class could still grow in the coming weeks. He succinctly answered, "Yes."
Besides, Stoops and company are already working on next year's class and getting ready to work more closely with his current players:
Great day yesterday, already working on the 2014 class!-- Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) February 7, 2013
Ryan Suckow will have another Signing Day story later on Thursday, but make sure to check out the links below to see the features and videos we already have on Cat Scratches:
Stoops, staff put plan into practice with Signing Day haul
Video: Behind the scenes for Signing Day
Video: UK football Signing Day 2013 - Recruiting room updates
Video: UK football Signing Day - Early morning progress
Video: UK football Signing Day 2013 - First signee
Highlights of all 22 signees at Signing Day Central
A few other notes to pass on:
- In another sign of the resurgence under Stoops, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports used UK as the lede for his story about the dominance of Southeastern Conference in recruiting. Check it out.
- The list of invitees to the NFL Combine was released around midnight on Wednesday (for some reason) and offensive lineman Larry Warford will represent UK in Indianapolis. According to most outlets, he is among the top three or four guards in the draft class and is a likely second-round pick. Here's his NFL.com player page.
- Voting is still open in the Infinite Coaches' Charity Challenge. John Calipari has closed the gap in the South Region to one percentage point with Missouri's Frank Haith still leading. Vote for Coach Cal here.
- If you missed it elsewhere, UK will wear special Nike Hyper Elite uniforms for a game next Saturday at Tennessee. Kentucky is one of 12 programs to wear the uniforms. See what they look like here.
- Finally, Baseball America released its 2013 SEC preview. UK is picked to finish third in the SEC East and make the NCAA Tournament, while sophomore centerfielder Austin Cousino is the preseason Player of the Year.
Without hesitation, he explained that he and his staff would seek to "take care of our home" by attracting the top in-state talent to UK. Barely a week later, Stoops hired his first assistant - defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot - and it was immediately clear that wasn't just idle talk.
The first recruiting visits of a new era of UK football were to Ryan Timmons and Jason Hatcher, two of the state's top players - a clear signal that the Commonwealth's largest university would be a factor for its top talent going forward.
In an even clearer signal, Timmons - the nation's 28th-ranked athlete according to ESPN - and Hatcher - Rivals.com's No. 8 defensive end - officially became Wildcats by signing National Letters of Intent on Wednesday. They joined defensive tackle Jacob Hyde as the three members of UK's 22-player signing class from Kentucky, giving UK three of the state's top eight prospects according to Rivals.com - more than any other school.
"Tremendous. You know the importance of recruiting the best players in the state," Stoops said on Signing Day, reiterating a familiar message.
The task of convincing Timmons and Hatcher to join a recruiting class that set a school record with a No. 28 ranking according to Rivals.com was no easy one.
UK would have to compete with the likes of Southern Cal and Florida to land the two in-state stars. Neither was heavily considering becoming a Wildcat before December, but Eliot - the first face they saw from the new staff - was undeterred.
"I felt like it was going to be a challenge, but I felt like we had something to offer him that he was going to be interested in, so I kept going after him," Eliot said of Hatcher.
It wasn't long before Neal Brown joined the process. Brown signed on as offensive coordinator and brought a unique perspective to recruiting in-state talent since he was in the same position 15 years ago.
"It's a sell that I feel comfortable with," Brown said. "Being from here and having a personal investment, it's a sell that I'm easy with. Really what we sold Jason Hatcher or Ryan Timmons is, 'Hey, let's build this thing.' "
On Tuesday, Timmons elated the coaching staff by announcing he was buying into that vision at a ceremony at Franklin County High School in Frankfort. On Wednesday afternoon, Hatcher did the same at Louisville Trinity High School.
"Ryan and Jason, they both are Kentucky proud," Eliot said. "I think that when we were able to show them our plan to be successful, they felt good about staying and going to Kentucky."
Stoops lauded Timmons' "home-run" ability both as a receiver and out of the backfield and Hatcher's edge pass rushing. Both figure to push for playing time early with how well they fit UK's new offense and defense, but by no means will either be asked to carry too heavy a burden.
"We're going to sign a lot of good players. We signed a lot of good players today," Brown said. "In 2014 we're going to sign a lot of good players. In 2015 we're going to sign a lot of good players. So this wasn't a deal where you come in and you're going to be the savior."
That's where the other part of the recruiting plan Stoops laid out at his introduction comes in. Under the new head coach, UK will attack neighboring Ohio and spread into the South.
With just eight players from Ohio on the current roster, UK didn't have much in the way of Ohio roots prior to Stoops' arrival. Nonetheless, the Youngstown, Ohio native manage to ink players of Rivals.com's top 36 players from the state: cornerback Jaleel Hytchye, safety Marcus McWilson and offensive lineman Kyle Meadows.
To complete the class, UK signed 11 players from Florida, highlighted by defensive end Alvonte Bell, wide receiver Javess Blue and running back JoJo Kemp, all rated as four-star prospects by at least one major outlet. With Stoops and Eliot both coming from Florida State, it's no accident that there will be an influx of Cats from the Sunshine State.
"There are a lot of great players that come out of Florida," Stoops said. "It's probably the way it fell because of our relationships with some of them."
Whether UK continues to fill half its classes with players from Florida remains to be seen, but the staff is confident this strong overall class is no flash in the pan.
"To compete in this league, you've got to win some of those battles," Brown said. "And we were able to do it. I think in the future you'll see more of those battles being won by Kentucky."
UK beat out some of the most tradition-rich programs in the nation for some its 2013 signees, but lost a few too. The common thread in that is that Stoops and his staff aren't going to be afraid whether it's in Kentucky, Ohio, Florida or anywhere.
"We're not going to take a backseat to anybody; we're going to recruit hard," Stoops said. "We will win our fair share. We don't win 'em all, but we're going to work hard."