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Kentucky looks to advance to its first Final Four in Elite Eight rematch with Connecticut on Monday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kentucky looks to advance to its first Final Four in an Elite Eight rematch with Connecticut on Monday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It would already be an intriguing matchup for Kentucky, the Bridgeport Regional's No. 2 seed, to face the region's No. 1 seed Connecticut in the Huskies' home state.

Kentucky just defeated the fifth all-time leading scorer in women's college basketball history in Delaware's Elena Delle Donne while snapping the Blue Hens' 27-game win streak. Meanwhile, Geno Auriemma's UConn squad just dismantled Maryland 76-50 in its regional semifinal.

A one vs. two matchup in the Elite Eight is about as exciting as it gets when it comes down to the top teams in the regional battling for the right to earn a Final Four berth.

For Connecticut, it would be its sixth straight trip to a national semifinal. For the Wildcats, it would be the first in program history.

Intriguing enough... but it gets better.

Samarie Walker, a junior forward for the Wildcats who transferred from Connecticut to be closer to home and play for Matthew Mitchell at Kentucky, will get a chance to compete against her former program.

Jam-packed with storylines, this matchup has one more important one that just might pique your interest: This is the second straight season that UConn and UK have tangled in a regional final as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

Mind blown? Hopefully not because you'll need to tune into this one Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN as Kentucky looks to accomplish something the Huskies have made seem routine. Since the beginning of the season, Mitchell and his team have been focused on taking the necessary steps to making this a Final Four-caliber team by adopting their "40 Minutes" mantra which has led to program record 30 victories.

Ironically, and as fate would have it, all that stands between Kentucky and that goal is another 40 minutes of basketball. And UConn. Again.

Understanding that much could be learned from last year's matchup with the Huskies even before Kentucky learned its NCAA fate, Mitchell showed his team game film from last year's Elite Eight game. He showed the Cats two crucial four-minute clips where the game got away. He didn't want to see that that same type of collapse happen again.

"It was a three-point game coming out of the under-16 media (timeout) in the second half, and they really went on a big run," said Mitchell. "When you go back and look at that film, they did a lot of good things, but the thing they did better than us during that eight-minute period was to rebound."

Mitchell said that Connecticut also played with a much greater competitive spirit in the second half, which allowed the Huskies to pull away when Kentucky had pushed the Huskies to the brink in the first half.

While Kentucky seeks its first Final Four appearance and sees Monday as a great opportunity, the players still look back to last season's game as one that got away.

"We watched (the tape) as a team and it was more so a missed opportunity," said senior guard A'dia Mathies. "We were there in the first half. A mental lapse and like a couple four-minute segments where it wasn't like they just poured on points. It was little by little.

"We believe that if we stay focused that can definitely happen this year."

The Wildcats have been focused on Kentucky, and that's exactly what Mitchell wants. While they will prepare for Connecticut just like every other team they've met so far in the NCAA Tournament, UK needs to continue to do what's brought it this far. Kentucky's 40-minute style has helped the Cats wear down teams and outlast them.

At this point, even though Kentucky's next opponent is Connecticut, Mitchell just wants his team to be its best self.

"I think the opponent in the NCAA Tournament for us has been for us to try to play our best," said Mitchell. "That's who we've been trying to measure it against.

"Now, our opponent is outstanding and excellent and you should be playing someone like that to go to the Final Four. I think anybody we would play in this round was going to be really good and have our respect."

With last season's experience in their back pocket, the Wildcats feel more prepared this time around with a stronger supporting cast.

"We got very close. Last year is last year, but we realize we have another opportunity to take it to the next level," said Mathies. "We got great players in addition to our team last year such as DeNesha Stallworth, Janee Thompson and Jelleah Sidney. We're just looking forward to playing the game tomorrow."

And Jennifer O'Neill - who sat out last season while recovering from a foot injury - has taken over the role of starting point guard to help solidify Kentucky's dynamic back court along with Mathies.

Though Kentucky is completely confident in its ability to beat the Huskies and finally "punch through" to the Final Four, to borrow a phrase from Mitchell maybe not everyone else is. Maybe not everyone else ever cares.

The networks and media have made a big deal covering Kentucky's last opponent Delaware because of Delle Donne's success over the past four years. After the game, much of the discussion was about her career and the game that she played.

After Connecticut's win, the discussion shifted to the Huskies moving on to yet another Elite Eight for the opportunity to advance to yet another Final Four. Very little was Kentucky mentioned the major media outlets.

But for Kentucky, that's just fine with them. It's been that way most of the season.

"I think we are under the radar," said O'Neill. "I think a lot of people don't expect us to beat UConn. I was watching ESPN and they weren't really talking about us or anything like that, but that's fine. We don't mind playing under the radar because we know what we're capable of. We know that if we come out to play and play our best that it's hard to for people to stay with us and stop us."

Kentucky is battle-tested as well. Already this season Kentucky has faced No. 1 Baylor and four other teams that reached the Sweet 16. So when Connecticut brings its style of play, one similar to the one that the Wildcats use themselves, they should be well prepared.

"Because of the way that we play, that's something that we face during practice as well," said O'Neill. "You talk about them putting pressure on people, but we play the same way. We play with a lot of ball pressure and are in the passing lanes. I don't really think it's going to be a challenge because it's something we face every day in practice. A lot of us have grown as players because of the way that we practice."

A while back, Kentucky may not have been ready to handle this pressure and the atmosphere they will see at Webster Bank Arena in front of roughly 8,000 UConn fans. Mitchell has no doubt that Monday his team will be ready, not scared, to take Kentucky to the next step.

"We just keep showing up. We keep having these experiences," said Mitchell. "If scared is in our team's mind, it's not happening tomorrow. I don't think that's where we are at all. I think this team has competed well against some really tough teams. If our team's lacking confidence, then that's just been a failure on my part to get us ready for this point in time.

"I don't think that's really as big of an issue as maybe it would have been four years ago and so I think we're making progress in the area of feeling like we belong and we're a team that has a chance to punch through to the Final Four."

Calipari issues statement on Harrow's transfer

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Ryan Harrow averaged 9.9 points, 2.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 2012-13. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Ryan Harrow averaged 9.9 points, 2.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 2012-13. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
On Sunday, UK confirmed that sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow has decided to transfer to Georgia State. His new school is near his home in Marietta, Ga., and his father, who suffered a stroke before the 2012-13 season. UK head coach John Calipari issued the following statement on Harrow's decision.

"Given the health of his dad, we fully support Ryan's decision to transfer to Georgia State to be closer to his family in Atlanta," Calipari said. "Ryan was a vital part of this year's team and an important player in practice during our 2011-12 national championship run. I want to thank Ryan for his efforts and hard work and wish him the best of luck at Georgia State. I know the Big Blue Nation will keep a close eye on him and wish him well as he continues his basketball career and his pursuit of a college degree."

In speaking with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Harrow said he has already applied for admission at Georgia State and will petition the NCAA for a waiver to play immediately due to the health of his father.

Harrow spent his first season of college at North Carolina State before transferring to UK before the 2011-12 season. He redshirted and practiced with the Wildcats as they made a run to the program's eighth national championship.

In 2012-13, Harrow played in 29 games, starting 24 and averaging 9.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

Live blog: Men's tennis vs. Auburn

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Kentucky celebrates its 69-62 Sweet 16 win over Delaware. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kentucky celebrates its 69-62 Sweet 16 win over Delaware. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Of the 69 points that Kentucky used to defeat Delaware in the Sweet 16, 69-62, none were bigger than the three Kastine Evans provided with 2:21 left.

With the Wildcats clinging to a two-point lead after Delaware had fought all the way back from 16 points down, UK head coach Matthew Mitchell called a play to try and get the ball in the hands of star senior A'dia Mathies' somewhere near the basket. It was well-defended, and the player guarding Evans doubled down on Mathies leaving Evans wide open at the top of the key.

As Evans broke free off the stagger screen, only two things went through her mind.

"I just had to catch and shoot and then after that, I just got back on defense because there was still plenty of time on the clock," said Evans. "We had to keep playing still only up by five."

The basket provided Kentucky with a huge lift, but it also served as the final haymaker that spelled the end of Delaware's comeback bid.

"I thought Kastine hit the biggest shot of the game in that 3-pointer," said Delaware head coach Tina Martin. "That really, to be honest with you, broke our back from the standpoint of giving them enough cushion at the end of the game that that were able to sustain it and finish the game off."

Though it was only a five-point lead, it felt like much more after Elena Delle Donne had willed her Blue Hens into a one-possession game at 62-60. It was a shot that not only hurt Delaware's chances, but gave UK a much-needed boost to overcome the late Delaware rally.

Evans had struggled throughout most of the game finding her shot. She was just 2 for 8 from the field with five points before the big shot, but her assistant coaches continued to will her on from the bench to give her confidence the rest of the way.

When she hit it, not one person on the Kentucky bench was surprised.

"When Kastine came off the stagger at the top, I thought, 'I've seen this before,' " said Mitchell. "I felt really good about it because she's unbelievable in those moments. She's made so many of those in her three years, so I was not for one second surprised."

Though the play was designed for Mathies, she was glad that it was her teammate Evans taking the shot in a clutch situation.

"Kastine makes big plays. She hustles every second that she's out on the court," said Mathies. "You can just tell how confident she is in herself. We're glad that she made that 3 and took the 3."

While Evans was huge in that moment, Mathies came up big all day long along with fellow guard Jennifer O'Neill. Mathies become the fifth player in program history to reach the 2,000-point plateau with her 16 points, adding nine rebounds.

Mathies got most of her buckets in the interior and in transition, but O'Neill was getting her buckets on the perimeter. She knocked down four 3-pointers in the game on her way to a team-high 19 points.

The win, however, took a total team effort. Going up against a player like Delle Donne, the Colonial Athletic Association's Player of the Year who averaged 25.9 points per game going into Saturday's matchup, it was going to take a collective effort to get the job done.

Throughout the course of the game, Samarie Walker, DeNesha Stallworth, Jelleah Sidney, Azia Bishop and for even Mathies for a few possessions could be found guarding the Blue Hens' do-it-all forward.

The task was made even more difficult as Stallworth picked up two early fouls and found herself in foul trouble throughout the entire game, pressing Sidney and Brittany Henderson into important minutes. While Delle Donne led all scorers with 33 points, she was just 11 for 23 from the field and turned the ball over five times after averaging less than one per game for the entire season.

"She's a great player, so we just wanted to keep fresh bodies on her," said Mathies. "Just getting her out of her comfort zones and just trying to put as much pressure on her because we know as she goes, her team goes. We did a great job, I feel like, of just making her shoot tough shots and not just getting easy baskets."

With Stallworth out of the game so early, the pressure of guarding Delle Donne and providing an offensive post presence shifted to Walker. It was tough to see her teammate on the bench, but Walker knew it was up to her to carry the load.

"I was a little heartbroken because that's like my other half on the court," said Walker of Stallworth. "I definitely felt I had to step up on defense and get some rebounds."

Walker committed just one foul in 34 minutes while scoring eight points and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds while making life difficult for Delle Donne on both ends of the floor.

The Wildcats struggled mightily to grab rebounds in the second half, affording the Blue Hens the opportunity to get back into the game. Early in the second half, Delaware outrebounded the Wildcats 14-0 as the Hens tore into the lead.

Mitchell could be spotted on the sideline displaying his disgust with his team as Delaware outscrapped his Wildcats. In timeouts, he stressed the importance of rebounding to his players. The light bulb finally went off late in the second half, and just in time.

After Evans' big shot, Delaware had multiple opportunities to cut the lead back to one possession. They had three offensive rebounds in one sequence before Mathies pulled down consecutive defensive rebounds. She would then go to the line, hit both free throws, and put the game out of reach.

It wasn't easy, but Kentucky did just enough to pull out the win and overcome Delaware's best. That's all Mitchell could as for of his team as they head back to their second straight Elite Eight date with No. 1 seed Connecticut on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

"You want to win. You want to keep going," said Mitchell. "I just thought we did a pretty good job of finally at the end getting some pretty important boards that were hard to get. It was really tough though because you want it so bad. I really credit the players for doing what was necessary to get the victory."

Junior forward Samarie Walker



Junior guard Kastine Evans


Sweet 16 live blog: UK Hoops vs. Delaware

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Reed thriving in demanding dual role

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A.J. Reed got a no decision after throwing 8.1 innings of one-run ball on Friday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) A.J. Reed got a no decision after throwing 8.1 innings of one-run ball on Friday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
A.J. Reed has a lot on his plate.

Just a sophomore, Reed has batted third or fourth in every Kentucky game this season. And oh yeah, he starts on the mound every Friday night in the nation's best conference.

"It's not easy, but I try to deal with it the best that I can," Reed said.

It's safe to say Reed is handling it all just fine.

Through 25 games, Reed is leading the Wildcats in home runs (six), runs batted in (28) and slugging percentage (.611). In six starts on the mound, Reed has an earned-run average of 2.57.

"I just kind of try to separate," Reed said. "When I'm pitching up there on the mound, that's all I think about. When I'm at the plate, that's what I'm thinking about."

On Friday night against Georgia, he had to put that balancing act to the test once again and once again he succeeded. Reed tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball, allowing just six hits and striking out four. After retiring the first batter of the ninth inning on his 113th pitch, Reed gave way to closer Trevor Gott. For the first time this season and first since his first chance of 2012, Gott blew the save opportunity, costing Reed his third victory of the season.

Fortunately for the Cats, Gott prevented the go-ahead run from scoring in the ninth and 10th innings. In the bottom of the 10th, UK (21-5, 6-2 SEC) won its fourth game in a row when Max Kuhn walked with the bases loaded against Georgia closer Jared Walsh. It was the second time in less than a week the Cats won in walk-off fashion and the third they had won in a game they scored four runs or fewer.

"You have to win games like that because you're going to play them," head coach Gary Henderson said. "You're going to play low-scoring games."

A workhorse like Reed gives UK a good chance at winning more of those kinds of games.

With Reed's pitch count sitting at 97 through seven innings, Henderson opted to send the 6-foot-4, 245-pound lefthander out for another inning. And with a lefty due up for Georgia in the top of the ninth, Henderson asked Reed for one more out. He delivered.

"The debate's probably going on up there in the press box," Henderson said of his decision to leave Reed in the game. "There wasn't too much debate going on in the dugout."

Reed has a theory about why Henderson has so much faith in him, why his coach has sent him out for another inning with his pitch count hovering around triple digits each of his last two starts.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the regional game from last year," Reed said. "I went nine innings in relief, so that kind of proved to him that I could do a good job throwing in the later innings."

In that game against Kent State, Reed battled through cramps and exhaustion to pitch nine frames in extra innings, allowing just two runs. Even though it came in a losing effort, Reed believes he earned his coach's trust.

"I just have a lot of faith in him, as I do a lot of our kids," Henderson said. "We've got good kids, good players."

It's that same faith that leads Henderson to pencil Reed in the No. 3 spot even when he's on the mound. Other coaches might opt to allow other two-way players to focus solely on pitching, but Henderson believes Reed can handle both.

The statistics prove him right.

Entering Friday, Reed was batting 13-for-26 (.500) with 12 RBI, two home runs, a triple and a double in games he's pitched. Those gaudy numbers have come in spite of a realization on Reed's part of how vital his work on the mound is.

"I don't want to say in the games that I pitch I'm more focused on pitching, because I'm not, but it's more important at the time," Reed said.

Reed singled and reached on a hit by pitch in five plate appearances on Friday.

Pretty much the only skill missing from Reed's repertoire is speed. He's one of just two UK regulars without a stolen base. That doesn't mean he's not going to lay it all on the line on the base paths, even when he's pitching.

"I'm not very fast anyway, so I'm not going to be legging out anything in the hole or something like that," Reed said. "But I'm going to give it my all all the time. I'm going to be giving a hundred percent, but it may not be very fast."

Highlights


Head coach Gary Henderson




Pitcher/designated hitter A.J. Reed



First baseman Max Kuhn


UK held its first scrimmage of the Mark Stoops era on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK held its first scrimmage of the Mark Stoops era on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
As an assistant, Mark Stoops was accustomed to getting his hands dirty. Having led defenses for the last nine seasons, Stoops knew where he was going to be on the practice field.

"I'm usually as a defensive coordinator, right in the middle of it," Stoops said. "I like being right in the middle of the huddle and in the middle of the play."

But for Stoops, the last five months have been a series of reminders of just how different his life is now having taken over as Kentucky head coach. On Friday, as UK held its first scrimmage, Stoops got another such reminder.

"In a critical situation today, a third down where the offense was about to get a first down and dropped it, I'm mad at the offense," Stoops said. "Normally, I'd be mad (at the defense) because they were open."

Rather than focusing on just one side of the ball, Stoops has shifted his priorities. He now must take a broader view. He now must think about all phases of the game and how they fit together. Nearly halfway through spring practice, Stoops sees a situation that would please his former defense-oriented self.

"Just like you would expect, the defense is further along," Stoops said. "If the defense just gets lined up right and makes them execute, the offense... It's always a little bit harder for them to get started."

Running approximately 140 plays in a morning session outside at the Nutter Training Facility, Stoops saw a UK defense that consistently had the upper hand over an offensive group still very much in a learning mode as Neal Brown installs his system.

"The defense got some takeaways and got some big stops," Stoops said. "I think that's probably the best thing of the day. Offensively, they moved the ball, did some good things at times. Critical turnovers, penalties, things like that. Just typical things you would expect for the first time out."

As has been the case throughout the spring, tempo defined much of the action. Defensive and offensive players alike are adjusting to the speed with which they're being asked to play.

"For only doing it for half a spring, we're doing well," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "But we're not where we need to be to handle that tempo. We had guys that weren't lined up at times and those were free plays for the offense if you don't get lined up."

Though spread offenses haven't permeated the Southeastern Conference quite like in other leagues, having to defend this UK attack - which cornerback Cody Quinn has dubbed "NASCAR" - is the best preparation the defense could ask for. Not only are the Cats having to learn a new base 4-3 defense on the fly, they're also having to do it with minimal time to think.

"That's pretty fast what they were doing and a lot of teams in the SEC aren't going to go as fast as that," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "So when we go against the different teams, other fast-paced spread teams, it'll be a lot easier and we'll be in a lot better shape than the other defense."

As for the offense, Brown sees a unit that is quickly taking to the pace of the new system, though mistakes - most notably in the form of dropped passes and fumbles - are inevitable.

"I was really pleased with our tempo. I thought we moved around pretty fast," Brown said. "Our operations were good, had very few penalties. Ball security, not where it needed to be. And it's the first time we tackled, so not surprised by that."

At quarterback, contenders Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow rotated with the first and second teams, while freshman Reese Phillips worked with the third team. Brown refrained from talking in depth about how the quarterbacks performed, opting to save his evaluations for after the spring. Even then, there's a good chance Stoops and Brown will not name a starter until fall camp.

Because of that, it's difficult to predict how UK's offense will look. Each of the three potential starters has different strengths, strengths Brown will be looking to accentuate as he adds nuance. The same goes for every position on the field.

"We'll give a little different presentation with whoever wins the job," Brown said. "I'm just trying to figure out what our best personnel is, who our best 11 are, and then once I figure out who our best 11 are, who is our next best skill guys? Then let's kind of form the package around them."

If the first two weeks of spring are any indication, it's likely running back Raymond Sanders will be included in that group. The 5-foot-8 senior has taken immediately to the new system, showing himself to be a good runner, consistent pass catcher and capable blocker.

"I knew it was an offense that would definitely get me in space and let me challenge some guys in space and set up some blocks in space," Sanders said. "Looking for a lot of home runs this year. The line is doing a great job. The wide receivers are on the outside blocking. I was very excited to find out it was going to open up some things."

The scrimmage was closed to reporters, but they heard plenty about an on-field encounter between Sanders and Williamson, UK's top tackler from a season ago.

"He's a handful back there," Williamson said. "He got me one time today, shook me up a little bit."

On a stretch run play, Sanders was carrying the ball and Williamson shot through the gap and came barreling toward him. Sanders used a stutter step move to evade the tackle and Williamson went to the ground.

"I had to do something, so he wouldn't run through me," Sanders said. "Avery is a great player, so I knew all the rest of the scrimmage he was going to be after me. I just had to keep running and keep making sure I tried to make him miss."

Sanders said Williamson got him back with a good hit, but it was "not as clean as I got him."

That back-and-forth is exactly what Stoops wants more of this spring: good football players fulfilling their assignments getting after one another. Sometimes the defense will come out on top and other times it will be the offense.

"We have a long way to go," Stoops said. "We're getting a better sense of urgency each and every day. Offensively, I like the positions the coaches are putting them in. I like the tempo and things. Defensively, the same things. We're coaching them hard. I like what we're doing."

Rumph undergoing shoulder surgery Friday, expected back in fall

The Cats were dealt a blow this week as Donte Rumph went down on Monday with a potentially significant injury. On Friday, Stoops revealed that the injury is to the senior defensive tackle's shoulder and that Rumph would undergo surgery to repair the damage on Friday afternoon. In a bit of good news, Rumph is expected to make a full recovery and return to the team for fall camp.

Matthew Mitchell goes through the game plan at UK's first practice at the Bridgeport Regional host site. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell goes through the game plan at UK's first practice at the Bridgeport Regional host site. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- No one in the country plays the same style of basketball as the Kentucky women's basketball team. That comes with advantages and disadvantages.

When preparing for Sweet 16 opponent No. 6 seed Delware (32-3) and the Colonial Athletic Association's Player of the Year, Elena Delle Donne, the Wildcats know their primary concern.

It's not Delle Donne.

While Kentucky undoubtedly has watched hours of tape on Delaware since the Wildcats advanced past Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday, it can only show them so much. The Cats can't prepare for how Delaware will handle a team like them, specifically because there isn't another team like Kentucky.

"We're going to go out there and play the way we play regardless, but as far as scouting against who they've played that they plays like us, I haven't seen it yet," said sophomore guard Jennifer O'Neill. "We mostly scout them on their stuff."

That's why Mitchell has demanded Kentucky not change anything in this tournament. With so little time to prepare in between games, it's impossible to thoroughly scout each individual team. So Mitchell tells his team to focus on itself and for players to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.

That should be more than enough to win.

"We really just want to focus on us and how we can play at our best," said sophomore guard Bria Goss. "As far as wrinkles, nothing too specific, just doing what we do that got us here is the main focus.

"Of course Elena Delle Donne is a great player, but one player shouldn't be able to beat our team, so we have to go into the game with the mindset and mentality of what we can do as Kentucky."

That's easier said than done.

While Kentucky has been able use its "40 Minutes" style of play to its advantage all season long, the intensity and energy that Mitchell demands out of his players isn't easy to endure day in and day out. A lot of players might want to play basketball at Kentucky because of its success, but it's not for everyone.

"Some of our workouts aren't easy either, like the way we play," said O'Neill. "It's tough. I won't lie and say it's easy. Not everybody can play like this. That's why he recruits the players he recruits, so that we can come out and play the way he wants us to play."

Despite the demands that come along with playing in-your-face defense for a full 40 minutes, Kentucky players have grown accustomed to the rigors and the daily grind. It's part of the gig. It's also what sets them apart from other programs across the country.

"It's not the easiest, but we do take pride in it because if you think the men's and the women's side, who else does our style of play, which is all up in your face all 40 minutes?" said Goss. "There's not another team in the nation that does that."

The Wildcats have developed a sense of pride in their identity and unique style. As they advance deeper and deeper into the tournament, they  see the fruits of their labor as the hard work continues to pay off.

That labor starts all the way back in the summer months as UK prepares their bodies for everyday stress that comes with playing Mitchell's style. The motivation that keeps them going in the summer months are moments like this weekend and beyond.

"Knowing that it's going to pay off at this point in the season," said O'Neill of how UK stays focused during summer workouts. "Just having goals like going to the Final Four and winning the national championship, knowing what you want to do beforehand so that you have motivation going into those workouts."

Now, those moments are rapidly approaching, and to be able to advance, Kentucky is going to have to continue to be the team it has been all season long. That will be no easy task when it comes to the Blue Hens.

Mitchell says he's looking to force 25 turnovers and score 25 points off of those Delaware miscues. He wants his team to score one point per turnover forced. So far, that's been the M.O. of his team. In Kentucky's 34 contests, they've forced 816 turnovers while scoring 851 points off takeaways.

Kentucky will have the tough task of creating those opportunities against a team that averages just 11.7 turnovers per game - third fewest in the nation. Meanwhile, Kentucky has forced opponents into 24 turnovers per game going into Saturday's Sweet 16 matchup with the second-best turnover margin in the country (+8.5).

Something's got to give.

"We're going to try to change that the best we can," said Mitchell. "The thing that you have to try to figure out is that we've maybe played more teams like them then they've played teams like us is what you hope is an advantage here. It will be interesting."

Delaware has been able to take care of the ball all season long for two reasons. The first is that the Blue Hens haven't faced many teams like Kentucky that rely defensive intensity and turnovers to win. The second is that they have one of the most versatile players in the nation in Delle Donne.

When the Blue Hens fine themselves in trouble against pressure, what do they do?

"They throw it to Delle Donne a lot," said a laughing Mitchell.

Delle Donne has the ability to help break the press and also catch, turn and shoot to alleviate defensive pressure. That will be Kentucky's toughest test Saturday as Delle Donne brings in her 25-points-per-game average to Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.

Yes, Delle Donne is likely to be the difference in the game if Delaware is to prevail over Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but Mitchell isn't looking to change anything now. He's going to stick with his guns and dance with the girls who brought him this far for the third time in four seasons.

"Just because of his faith and belief in us," said Goss. "He has the opportunity to coach a great team with a lot of talent. Talent doesn't always get you far, but our work ethic might get us to that next level, so that's really what he wants us to focus on."

Kastine Evans


Jennifer O'Neill


Offensive coordinator Neal Brown



Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot




Senior running back Raymond Sanders



Senior linebacker Avery Williamson



Video: Stoops on spring's first scrimmage

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Video: Eliot mic'd up at spring practice

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UK Hoops embracing Sweet 16 spotlight

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UK advanced to the Sweet 16 with an 84-70 win over Dayton on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK advanced to the Sweet 16 with an 84-70 win over Dayton on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The eyes of the women's basketball world will be trained on Bridgeport, Conn., this weekend.

The Bridgeport Regional features a pair of programs with national-championship pedigrees in Connecticut and Maryland. Joining them are a six seed with one of the nation's top players - Delaware and Elena Delle Donne - and one of the game's ascendant programs - Kentucky.

"I think it's fantastic to be in that environment," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said on Thursday. "I think it is very important that you recognize excellence in your sport and you strive for that in your sport and that's what we're trying to do."

The storylines are too many to count, but they will all be explored in the coming days. And as thankful as Mitchell is for his team to have the chance to play on such a stage, he knows guarding against potential distractions is a must with important basketball yet to be played.

Mitchell is always mindful of such things, but his concern is minimal. Kentucky (29-5) has had its missteps, but the Wildcats have overcome all sorts of obstacles to reach their third Sweet 16 in four seasons. They have taken on five teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament and the Cats feel as prepared as any team reasonably could.

"It is a fine, fine line now about winning and losing and advancing, so I have no doubt we can compete as far as what's happened up to this season," Mitchell said. "I think we've proven we can play at a high level, now we just have to go do it."

At perhaps no point this season has UK overcome more trying circumstances and played at a high level than Tuesday in the second round. With seventh-seeded and No. 18/15 Dayton waiting, a stomach virus spread rapidly among the Wildcats.

A'dia Mathies, Kastine Evans, Azia Bishop and Samarie Walker were among the players confirmed to be under the weather at some point during the game, but UK was undeterred. Mathies tied her career-high with 34 points and the Cats turned an impressive overall effort in an 84-70 victory to keep their season alive. After everything they dealt with, the Cats help but look back on Tuesday night with pride.

"I think (it was UK's most satisfying win) because it could have been an easy game where we went down and just gave up and not fought and just said that we've got people sick and came out with a loss (against) a great Dayton team," Mathies said. "We definitely pushed through that and made it to the Sweet 16."

Two days later and hours away from flying back to the Northeast, the Cats were fully healthy and without any lingering effects from the illness than struck with speed reminiscent of UK's "40 minutes of dread" defense.

With the bug behind them, the Cats shift their attention to sixth-seeded and No. 15/16 Delaware (32-3) for a game on Saturday (noon ET on ESPN). Winners of 27 in a row, the Blue Hens are led by Delle Donne, the 6-foot-5 do-it-all star. She is unquestionably one of the nation's best players, posting per-game averages of 25.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

"She's just an all-around talent," Mathies said. "She has great post-up moves and she's got guard skills. She can rebound, block shots. She can pretty much do everything, especially for somebody to be 6-5. We're just looking for a great game and she's going to be a great matchup for whoever has to check her."

In the midst of her senior season, Delle Donne has been arguably the top story of the tournament, averaging 33 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games. But as good as she is, the Cats know viewing the game as one on five is the quickest road to defeat.

"To me, I think you're making a big mistake if you put it solely on one player," Mitchell said. "She's very important obviously to what they want to do because she's so talented, but we'll be really trying to make this more about our team and the Kentucky team and how we do what we do well."

That's a lesson UK learned the hard way two games into the season. The last time the Cats took on a team with a player as highly regarded as Delle Donne, they fell in blowout fashion against Baylor and Brittney Griner.

"I think it's more so based on what we do instead of worrying about what they do and us making open shots and doing things like that that we didn't do when we played against Baylor," Mathies said. "I think that can really help us out a lot and if we just focus on us then we should have a good outcome in any game we play from here on out."

It's no accident that Mathies says "from here on out" rather than just "against Delaware." She and the Cats are different in that they don't hide their Final Four goals behind a veneer of "one game at a time." They, however, don't allow that attitude to be a burden.

"We think we have a chance to do it," Mitchell said. "We think we have a fighting chance going up there that we could possibly do it with the four teams that are up there. (There are) Certainly no guarantees. I wouldn't call it pressure; I'd call it just a burning desire to try to get it done."

Particularly for Mathies, the best descriptor is "quiet confidence."

"We're just going to go out there and play," Mathies said. "If we give our best effort, then we should be able to advance to the Final Four, but it's no pressure. We're just going to go out there and do what we're used to doing."

Head coach Matthew Mitchell



Senior guard A'dia Mathies



Junior guard Kastine Evans



UK held its sixth practice of the spring on Wednesday at Nutter Field House. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK held its sixth practice of the spring on Wednesday at Nutter Field House. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Wednesday, Mark Stoops opened football practice to the media for the first time this spring. Dozens of members of the press roamed the track at the Nutter Field House as Kentucky held a practice of a little more than two hours.

Eventually, Stoops said he wants to open practice to the general public. Before then, here are a few of my observations from Wednesday to tide you over.

  • Without question, what sticks out above all else from the new staff's practices is pace. Whether it's during positional drills, 7-on-7 or 11-on-11, there is minimal time to rest between reps. For example, when a play is over during 11-on-11, there is a flurry activity as both the offense and defense line up. Seconds later, a new play is underway.
  • Just as no practice time is wasted, neither is any space on the practice field. Due to weather, UK has had to work inside for all but one practice so far this spring, but efficiency means this isn't much of a problem. As an example, during one eight-minute practice segment, I noticed the offensive line working in one end zone. From the 50-yard line in, quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers were passing and catching. On the other half of the field, the defensive line, linebackers and secondary split the field equally with special teamers working in the other end zone.
  • That efficiency goes for splitting up reps as well. Since there is still no depth chart in place, players rotate in and out frequently in all drills. As for the quarterbacks, they are always working. Even in 11-on-11 with just one quarterback getting actual snaps, the other four are shadowing his movements. And in many pass-and-catch drills, all five are dropping back and throwing at the same time as receivers run routes all over the field.
  • From players to managers to coaches, no one on the field leaves without breaking a sweat. Managers have to be on their toes and hustling as they collect balls, otherwise they will get run over. Coaches, meanwhile, are constantly in motion and lead their positional groups in running to their next station between drills.
  • On the subject of the coaches, they set the tone for it all. They are constantly enthusiastic and in the middle of the action. In 7-on-7 and route-running drills, you can often find Stoops standing where the offensive linemen would normally be. As for offensive coordinator Neal Brown, I could have spent the entire practice watching him alone. He doesn't rest for a second during practice, whether he's signaling in a play, shouting instruction, correcting mistakes or offering praise. The same goes for every staff member.
  • With Stoops serving as a head coach for the first time of his career, I was curious to see where he would spend most of his time coaching. Watching him, it's clear his background is on the defensive side - and with defensive backs specifically. He's leaving Brown and the assistants to do their jobs and handle the offense, but he's not ignoring that side of the ball. Far from it in fact. You can see the wheels turning as he absorbs the schemes and sets of UK's new offense and it won't be long before he's completely up to speed.
  • The most common words I head from coaches were "Finish!" and "Get upfield!" The new staff is trying to teach the Wildcats the importance of every last rep and anything other than maximum effort until each play is blown dead is unacceptable. As for the "Get upfield!" command, yards after catch are of the utmost importance in this new offense, which is why that's a constant refrain.
  • I said earlier that the first thing I noticed was the pace of the practice, but I'm realizing that's not true. The first thing I actually noticed was the music. During warm-ups and positional drills, speakers are constantly blaring hip-hop. The coaches want players to be energetic and have fun, and this is a way to help that along.
  • On to a few more specific observations, Za'Darius Smith is one large human being. At 6-foot-6, 257 pounds, he looks the part of a Southeastern Conference defensive end. Lining up at right end, Smith was opposite left tackle Darrian Miller for much of the morning and it was quite a battle. It's difficult for pass rushers to stand out when quarterbacks are wearing red jerseys, but Smith still managed to do just that on a few occasions. On one play, recognizing he was not going to be able to get to Maxwell Smith, he saw a running back flaring off into the flat and found his way into the passing lane. While maintaining contact with Miller, he jumped and effortlessly knocked the ball out of the air. If Smith and Bud Dupree continue to develop, UK's pass rush could be a strength.
  • At linebacker and as you might expect, Avery Williamson was the most consistent performer. He drew consistent praise from defensive coordinator/linebackers coach D.J. Eliot, with one exception. In positional drills early in practice, the linebackers had to serve as blockers and ball carriers against one another as they rotated. Williamson had a bit of trouble with this, leading Eliot to say something along the lines of "You're the worst cut blocker I've ever seen." It's a good thing playing linebacker doesn't require much blocking.
  • In writing about UK's running backs earlier in the week, I passed along the note that the backs would be responsible for calling protections at the line. On Wednesday, I got to see that process in action. It's a bit strange to see Raymond Sanders and the other backs pointing and shouting pre-snap instructions, but they seem to be getting the hang of it.
  • I spent a lot of my time focused on the quarterbacks and it's plain to see why coaches still call it an open competition between Smith, Patrick Towles and Whitlow. They are all still finding their way in the offense, but also showing off their respective strengths. Smith seems most comfortable in the offense with his experience and his ability to get the ball out so quickly. Towles looks the part and has a big arm, which he used to hit Demarco Robinson on a deep touchdown pass. Whitlow, in spite of his reputation as a runner, was throwing a beautiful ball on Wednesday. It's going to be interesting to see how this battle plays out.
  • It's evident that Brown is taking a hard look at the quarterback run game early this spring. When Whitlow and even Towles were in, the read option was a constant threat. I also noticed a quarterback power play that was used once or twice when the 6-foot-5, 234-pound Towles was in.
  • Speaking of power, don't let what you've heard about Brown's offense fool you: UK is going to be running downhill often. There were plenty of physical runs from Wildcat running backs.
  • In terms of formations, UK worked primarily out of shotgun and pistol sets with a lot of pre-snap action and even some jet-sweep type plays.
  • Next up for the Cats is the first scrimmage of the spring. Stay tuned for a report on Friday.

Through three-and-a-half innings, Kentucky was without a hit and down 2-0 to Marshall on Wednesday. To overcome the deficit, the Wildcats relied on the bottom third of their lineup.

No. 8 UK (19-5) scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth on singles by first baseman Thomas Bernal and shortstop Matt Reida and five more in the fifth en route to an 8-2 victory over visiting Marshall. Reida finished the game with two hits, two runs and two runs batted in, while No. 9 hitter and catcher Greg Fettes went 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs. Fettes is now batting 8-for-14 (.571) in seven games (five starts).

The Cats will next take Georgia for a three-game series beginning 6:30 p.m. ET Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. In the meantime, here are video interviews with head coach Gary Henderson, Reida and Fettes.

Henderson



Reida



Fettes



After hearing for the last week and a half about the pace with which Kentucky is practicing under Mark Stoops, the media got a chance to see it up close.

On Wednesday, Stoops opened the Nutter Field House to the media for the entirety of UK's Wednesday practice, the sixth of the spring. Those in attendance saw an energetic coaching staff lead a still-learning team through a two-hour-plus indoor session. There were positives, there were negatives and everything in between, but it all happened with speed and enthusiasm.

"Both sides had some good and had some bad," Stoops said. "I thought the offense did some really good things early and then the second half of the practice they dipped a little bit."

The big news from Wednesday, however, was an injury sustained by senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph. Rumph had been UK's most consistent player on the defense according to Stoops, but went down with an unspecified injury on Monday. The injury is being evaluated on Wednesday.

"It looks like it's fairly a significant," Stoops said. "He may be out for a while and he may require some surgery. We'll see."

Further details on the injury will be released later, but the Wildcats will go about the business of trying to replace Rumph in the meantime.

"He was consistent and was playing extremely well and he's a leader," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He's a senior and he's been there, so we're just going to have to fill that void for the rest of the spring until he gets back."

Stay tuned over the next day or two for more on UK's open practice. Until then, here are video interviews with Stoops and Eliot.

Stoops



Eliot



Battling illness, A'dia Mathies tied a career high with 34 points to lead UK to a second-round victory over Dayton. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Battling illness, A'dia Mathies tied a career high with 34 points to lead UK to a second-round victory over Dayton. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
After senior guard A'dia Mathies played a distinctly un-Mathies-like game in the opening round, she seemed back to full strength Tuesday night with a career-high tying 34 points to come to her teammates rescue.

She was far from it.

While it wasn't quite Michael Jordan's legendary "Flu Game," Mathies was positively Jordan-esque at times against Dayton on Tuesday.

"Tonight was very surprising. It was a very surprising game," said Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell. "We referenced 'His Airness' before the game."

Little did he know.

As staff member after staff member and then player after player seemed to come into contact with a stomach virus in Queens over the last few days, it finally struck the hardest at the most inopportune of times. Several Wildcats were limited in the afternoon's shoot-around with several players feeling the effects of a common sickness.

No one knew what to expect come game time.

"It was not a good day as a coach. A lot of uncertainty in the day," said Mitchell. "Very, very low energy at practice and it did not seem like people were feeling great."

Azia Bishop wasn't on the floor for introductions. Kastine Evans quickly asked for a breather early into the first half and Samarie Walker delayed the game momentarily as she tried to find the nearest trash can.

Mathies wasn't feeling her best either, and her body language during shoot-around and before the game suggested she was headed for another rough NCAA Tournament game.

Instead, Mathies and her teammates pushed on to defeat Dayton 84-70 and advance to yet another Sweet 16 in the Bridgeport, Conn., Regional.

Though Kentucky was at less-than-full strength and seemed the Cats would not have the energy that Mitchell had hoped for, their play from tipoff would suggest otherwise. After Mitchell implored his team to come out with high energy and defensive intensity after their first-round win over Navy, the Wildcats were quick to answer the bell.

Within the first few moments of the game, Evans needed a breather. Enter sophomore Bria Goss, who had gone from starter to reserve earlier in the season. Goss filled in admirably and provided instant energy to a physically limited lineup. She was active, aggressive and tough, giving UK the boost it needed.

Mitchell had a feeling that she would be instrumental to UK's success.

"We're really fortunate because we still had Bria and Bernisha (Pinkett) who could pick the ball up and pressure it all the way down the court," said Mitchell. "If I had only had one, I would have thought about changing the game plan."

Goss gave Kentucky six points in 16 huge first-half minutes. With her teammates responding, it was full speed ahead.

Dayton ball-handlers had two or three Wildcats in their face at all times as the Cats trapped and pressured the ball into 14 first-half turnovers, including seven steals. Those turnovers led to UK taking 16 more shots in the first half than the Flyers as Kentucky shot it at a 45.9-percent (17-of-37) clip.

Mathies was the driving force behind the UK offense in the first half, scoring 15 points in the first 20 minutes to pace UK who had lost DeNesha Stallworth in the post to foul trouble. But it actually took the senior standout awhile to get going. Through the first 10 minutes of the game, Mathies managed six points. She would score nine in the final 10 minutes of the half to reach the 15-point plateau to lead all scorers at the break.

In Kentucky's win over Navy on Sunday, it was UK's quick start in the second half that sparked UK to a 20-point victory. With the Cats leading by nine at the half, Dayton quickly cut into that lead in less than two minutes into the second half to make the deficit four at 50-46.

It was Dayton who came out the aggressor early in the second half as the Flyers looked to fight their way back into the game. There was also a feeling that UK had lost its adrenaline surge and the illness was starting to catch up across the board.

Mathies took her first-round performance pretty hard. She was quiet after the game and was visibly frustrated by her efforts despite the victory. Scoring just five points in the game, UK was able to overcome her difficulties.

On Tuesday night, it was Mathies playing both redeemer and heroine on the hardwood.

"I know that I'm a big part of this team," said Mathies. "I knew that I had to go out and have a great game. Everyone was telling me that, 'You're going to have a big game,' especially with how it was last game. I just went out there and played as hard as I could."

Possession after possession, Mathies would come down the floor and if she saw an opening, she was in the type of groove that she was going to take any shot Dayton would give her. And that shot, 76 percent of the time, would fall through the hoop.

Mathies was a staggering 13 of 17 from the field, including a career-best 6 of 7 from 3-point land. It was also the most field goals that she had ever made in a game in her career.

But In a game Kentucky really controlled most of the way, Dayton was able to scratch back to within two of the Wildcats.

That's when Mathies did her best Air Jordan impression.

She wreaked havoc on defense and came up with a huge steal with the possession ending on a nice mid-range jumper that she sank with ease. On the following possession, Jennifer O'Neill found a cutting Mathies under the basket and she deftly finished a reverse layup to push the lead back to six. To close things out, Mathies would hit half of her 3-pointers in the final 11:33. UK never led by less than eight points as the Cats cruised to a 14-point victory.

Mathies' 34 points were good to tie her career-high output and outdo her best NCAA Tournament performance which came on a 32-point performance her freshman campaign. As the Cats advance to a third Sweet 16 in four years, even Mitchell can hardly process what he just witnessed from his superstar player.

"She just felt terrible. I mean she really felt bad," said Mitchell. "It was a definite Michael Jordan-esque performance. It was an unbelievable performance."

March 24 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, March 24:

Baseball: Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett helped lead UK to a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, making four starts in the outfield ... The speedy freshman outfielder hit .385 (5-for-13) with a pair of doubles and RBI, drawing two walks and stealing a base, starting all four games of the week  ... The Douglasville, Ga., native helped lead UK's walk-off win in the rubber-match vs. the Bulldogs, starting the bottom of the ninth inning with a double and scoring the game-winning and series-clinching win.

Baseball: Jerad Grundy

Jerad Grundy worked eight strong innings to lead UK to a series-evening win over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the front end of a doubleheader on Saturday ... The senior worked into the ninth inning of UK's 3-2 win, allowing five singles and a solo homer, with two runs scoring ... He did not allow a walk and struck out 10 ... Grundy struck out the side in the second and fourth innings, not allowing a baserunner to reach scoring position till the fifth ... Retired 13 of the first 14 hitters he faced, with nine strikeouts in the first five innings ... It was Grundy's fifth quality start of 2013, with the southpaw owning a 5-1 record and a 1.99 ERA, working 40 2/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and only eight walks, striking out 38 ... In his two-year career, Grundy has made 22 weekend starts, owning a 11-4 mark and a 3.21 ERA ... In 2013, Grundy ranks third in the SEC in wins, fourth in innings pitched, sixth in strikeouts and seventh in opponent batting average (.189).

Softball: Alice O'Brien

Senior outfielder Alice O'Brien had a hit in every game last week to set a career-long hitting streak of five games. O'Brien had a career game in UK's game-one win over Mississippi State, hitting two home runs - including a leadoff, game-winning home run in the 10th inning - lifting UK to the win. In the win, O'Brien tied career highs in hits and RBI with three in each. She went 3-for-4 in the game Friday with her other hit being a double, while she posted four RBI for the week behind a .467 (7-for-15) average. O'Brien's two-homer game tied the most homers in a game in school history, marking the 20th time it has happened for the Wildcats. The native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., is now hitting .288 (23-for-80) on the season with five doubles, three homers, 21 RBI and a .463 slugging percentage.

Softball: Kelsey Nunley

True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley had an outstanding week in the circle, going 2-0 with a 0.29 earned-run average against quality opponents. Nunley started the week with three innings in relief against WKU, getting her first collegiate save, allowing only one hit with four strikeouts. She came on in relief the next day against Iowa, throwing five solid innings, allowing four hits and one run with five strikeouts ... Best performances of the week came against Mississippi State ... Came on in relief Friday night to throw nine innings, allowing six hits and no runs with eight strikeouts - one off her season high total - to get the win ... Started the series finale pitching brilliantly, allowing only two hits over seven innings and no runs with seven strikeouts ... In her 10 starts this season, Nunley is 7-3 with a 1.86 ERA, allowing 17 earned runs with 56 strikeouts ... For the season, Nunley leads UK in nearly every pitching category, throwing a team-high 117.1 innings with a team-best 96 strikeouts and team-low 1.91 ERA.

Live blog: Men's tennis vs. Alabama

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Career nights for former Cats Wall, Miller

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John Wall is reminding everyone why he was the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick back in 2010.

The third-year Washington Wizard point guard is having the best month of his NBA career. He's fresh off of being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time since entering the pros out of Kentucky. And after Monday night, Wall is making a pretty strong case to win it for the second time in three weeks.

On Monday night, he set a career high by scoring 47 points in an impressive 107-94 win over the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies. He needed just 22 field-goal attempts to do it, hitting 19 of 24 from the free-throw line. He also added eight assists, seven rebounds, a steal and a block along the way.

Wall is now averaging 21.8 points, 8.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 14 games this month. The Wizards (26-44 overall) are 8-6 during that stretch and now 21-16 since Wall made his return from an offseason knee injury.

A former teammate of Wall's had a career night of his own, as New Orleans Hornets rookie Darius Miller started at shooting guard in place of the injured Eric Gordon. He played 26 minutes as the Hornets ended the Denver Nuggets' 15-game winning streak, scoring a career-high 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Anthony Davis, meanwhile, battled foul trouble and posted 14 points and six rebounds in the 110-86 win.

Former Wildcat Chad Scott returned to Lexington this offseason to serve as running backs coach on Mark Stoops' UK staff. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Former Wildcat Chad Scott returned to Lexington this offseason to serve as running backs coach on Mark Stoops' UK staff. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Within a day or two each of practice this spring, offensive coordinator Neal Brown takes to Twitter. After reviewing film, Brown tells his 13,000-plus followers which of his players performed well.

His reasons for the exercise in transparency are twofold. First, he wants to keep fans up to date since Kentucky's first five practices have been closed to the public. Second, it's for the players. He wants those who are performing well to receive recognition and those who are not to strive for it.

Thus far, he's named between four and eight players each day and will almost certainly do the same at some point on Tuesday. When he does, you can rest assured that at least a one of two of UK's running backs will be on the list.

Whereas other positions on the offensive side of the ball lack experience and depth, the UK backfield is flush with both. Because of that, the backs are shouldering more than their fair share of the load as Brown looks to revitalize the Wildcat attack.

Led by their new coach, the UK running backs don't mind.

"I like it," running backs coach Chad Scott said. "Give us pressure. We like it. We'll respond, I promise you."

That doesn't mean Scott's unit isn't a work in progress though.

Just as it has for every other positional group, the installation of Brown's offense has presented challenges. The responsibilities and priorities in UK's quick-strike attack are radically different than anything the running backs have ever dealt with before, which has caused plenty of fits and starts, even for the veterans.

"Really the experience, it's gonna come in handy in the latter part of spring ball and going into the season, but now the offense is totally different," Scott said. "Even these guys that are experienced, it's an adjustment period for them."

Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George combined for nearly 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last season. With all the football they've played at the Southeastern Conference level and their pass-catching ability, the two seniors were expected to stand out early. That's proven to be the case a third of the way through spring practice, particularly for Sanders.

"Raymond Sanders has looked the best so far," Brown said. "He's changed his body. Really pleased with how he's handled himself. He's matured, and he's done well not only rushing the football, but in the passing game. He's well ahead of the rest of them in blitz protection."

In spite of his 5-foot-8 frame and the fact that he is listed as at least 13 pounds lighter than any of his fellow backs, Sanders has emerged as the most consistent blocker of the bunch, a key role in Brown's pass-happy scheme. In fact, that might be the biggest area of adjustment. UK's backs are responsible for making protection calls at the line of scrimmage, which requires smarts and, just as importantly, a willingness to speak up.

"We make the protection calls, which is something totally different," Scott said. "Now we're asking them to be communicating more and communicate loudly and it's something that's totally different them."

Different as it may be, Sanders is doing his best.

"I make mistakes just like everyone else, but I try to limit my mistakes and make sure I have everyone else going as far as running backs," Sanders said. "I just try to pick guys up and execute and make sure I'm doing the right things on the field."

Outside of blocking ability, Scott says the most important attributes of a running back in this system are "lateral agility and quickness" - words the former UK running back used more than once in speaking to the media on Monday. Sanders certainly fits the bill.

"I think he has it all," Scott said. "I think he's really the total package. I think he's done a great job taking care of his body to put himself in position to be as good as we need him to be."

"I definitely feel like this offense is a great fit for me," Sanders said. "Catching out of the backfield, speed sweeps, there's a lot of different things that coaches are integrating that can get me in space and get me in alleys where I can hit the seam or make some moves on guys."

As good as Sanders has looked early, his emergence shouldn't discourage any of the other running backs. George, sophomores Josh Clemons (who has returned to practice after redshirting last season with a meniscus injury) and Dyshawn Mobley and redshirt freshman Justin Taylor are all getting roughly an equal share of practice reps.

Brown's offense may have a reputation for throwing the ball, but anyone who minimizes the supposed impact a running back can have hasn't watched closely enough.

"You might think, 'Hey, how do they fit within our offense?' " Scott said. "It's a spread offense, but it's a downhill run game. We still, in all our run game, we try to find a way to get our shoulders squared and run downhill."

Take last season at Texas Tech for example. Three Red Raiders rushed for at least 450 yards, led by Kenny Williams, who received All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors after racking up 824 yards.

Williams' strong 2012 also serves to dispel another notion about UK's new offense: that big backs have no place in it. Williams is listed at 5-foot-9, 219 pounds, which suggests that heftier Wildcat backs George, Clemons, Mobley and Taylor can excel, provided they can move.

"That's something that even the bigger guys, when we first came in, the bigger guys kind of struggled with, kind of muttering under their breath, 'Man, we're not going to fit. They're looking for a smaller guy,' " Scott said. "We're not. We're looking for guys that have got great lateral agility and quickness."

Scott believes all of his backs have that kind of ability, even though it might not come as naturally as it does for a player like Sanders. He says the key for them will be spending time away from practice honing their craft. And in turn, that will be the key to the unit as a whole fulfilling expectations.

"We like the pressure," Scott said. "It is pressure, but it's a good problem to have. It's a good kind of pressure. Just respond to it. Prepare yourself well and respond to the opportunity when it comes."

Kentucky Sports Report (week of March 25)

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Men's basketball
- Kentucky fell 59-57 at Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT, after advancing to postseason -play for the 22nd-consecutive year.
- Freshman Archie Goodwin led the team in scoring with 18 points, while junior Jarrod Polson logged 10.
- Goodwin went 8-of-8 at the free throw line, which was the second-most made free throws in an NIT game in UK history.

Women's basketball
- DeNesha Stallworth scored 18 points and Jennifer O'Neill added nine of her 12 points in the second half to lead the second-seeded Wildcats to a 61-41 win over 15th-seeded Navy on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA women's tournament.
- After trailing by a point at halftime, UK outscored Navy 35-16 in the second half to move onto the second round of the NCAA women's tournament.
- The 20-point win is the largest margin of victory for Kentucky in a NCAA Tournament game.
- The 41 points surrendered by UK is the lowest total for an NCAA Tournament game in school history.

Gymnastics
- The No. 19 Kentucky gymnastics team placed eighth with a 194.6 team score at the SEC Championship.
- Kentucky finishes the regular season with a school-record regional qualifying score of 196.06.
- The Wildcats now await their NCAA regional fate, which will be revealed on the NCAA Gymnastics
Championship Selection Show on Monday, March 25 at 3 p.m.
- UK tied its season-high floor score with a 49.125, a total which also tied for highest at session I.
- Kayla Hartley's floor routine turned plenty of heads as she produced a career-high tying score of 9.9.

Softball
- The No. 21 Kentucky softball team got back to its winning ways over the weekend with a three-game sweep of Mississippi State at home. The series win was the second of the season for UK, who is now 5-4 in Southeastern Conference play heading into its bye weekend. UK also earned a 7-1 midweek win over WKU on Tuesday.
- The Wildcat offense was the difference in the weekend series, scoring 15 runs on 24 hits with two doubles and seven home runs against a MSU pitching staff that entered the weekend ranked 22nd nationally in earned-run average. Senior Alice O'Brien paced the Wildcats with a .500 average with one double, two home runs - one a walkoff, 10th-inning home run - and three RBI. Freshman Nikki Sagermann also hit .500 in the series with a home run and two runs scored. The other four home runs came from sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, junior outfielder Emily Jolly and two from freshman Maisie Steed.
- In Tuesday's 7-1 victory over Western Kentucky, Nikki Sagermann was the offensive star in the game for Kentucky, going 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, including her first collegiate home run.
- True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley was impressive in the series, going 2-0 and not allowing a run the entire weekend. Nunley pitched nine innings in relief Friday night to get the win before throwing a complete-game shutout in game two Saturday. Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess went 1-0 on the weekend with a 2.62 ERA after earning a no-decision Friday night and a win in game one Saturday, allowing two runs on five hits over seven innings.

Baseball
- The eighth-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, spurred by a doubleheader sweep on Saturday.
- Kentucky won its second consecutive series to open league play, also claiming the conference lidlifter at Florida last weekend.
- Freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett hit .385 (5-for-13) with a pair of doubles and RBI, drawing two walks and stealing a base, starting all four games of the week. He contributed to UK's walk-off win in the rubber match vs. the Bulldogs, starting the bottom of the
ninth inning with a double and scoring the game-winning and series-clinching win.
- Jerad Grundy worked eight strong innings to lead UK to a series-evening win over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the front end of a doubleheader on Saturday. The senior worked into the ninth inning of UK's 3-2 win, allowing five singles and a solo homer, with two runs scoring
- On the mound, UK has a 2.55 ERA, walking just 55 and striking out 176 in 205 innings.

Men's tennis
- No. 31 Anthony Rossi picked up one of the biggest wins of his career on Sunday as he collected a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 7 KU Singh as UK fell 4-2 to Georgia. The win for Rossi was his 98th-career win and he now is just two wins shy of becoming the 15th player in UK tennis history to eclipse the 100-win mark.
- UK returns to action on Friday as the Wildcats take on No. 29 Alabama at 2:00 p.m. ET at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center. The weekend will continue on Sunday as Kentucky faces off against Auburn.

Women's tennis
- The Kentucky women's tennis team went 0-2 over the weekend, falling to Ole Miss 4-3 on Friday before defeating Mississippi State 7-0 on Sunday.
- Freshman Nadia Ravita won two singles matches in the No. 1 singles slot, improving her record to 15-2.
- Sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Kirsten Lewis both went 2-0 in singles over the weekend.

Women's golf
- The UK women's golf team competed in their third tournament of the spring, finishing eighth in the 14-team field at the 2013 LSU Tiger Golf Classic.
- Senior Ashleigh Albrecht recorded her second top-10 finish of the year, placing tied for seventh at 9-overpar. She was 7-over after the first round before firing team-lows and back-to-back rounds of 1-over-par to climb the leaderboard
- Kentucky returns to the links April 5-7 at the Rebel Intercollegiate in Oxford, Miss.

Swimming and diving
- Sophomores Christa Cabot and Christina Bechtel each made their NCAA Championships debut over the weekend in Indianapolis, Ind. Cabot competed in all three diving events while Bechtel swam in the 100-butterfly.
- Bechtel was unable to qualify for the finals in the 100-butterfly, but finished in 25th overall with a preliminary time of 53.06, her best prelim time of her career.
- Cabot's best finish came in the 3-meter springboard where she finished in 18th place with a six-dive score of 307.60.

Upcoming schedule

Monday, March 25
Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)

Tuesday, March 26
Women's basketball vs. Dayton - 7:00 p.m. (Queens, N.Y.)
Softball at Western Kentucky - 8:00 p.m.
Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)

Wednesday, March 27
Baseball hosts Marshall - 3:00 p.m.
Softball at Lipscomb - 7:00 p.m.
Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)

Thursday, March 28
Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)

Friday, March 29
Men's tennis hosts Alabama - 2:00 p.m.
Women's tennis at Alabama - 4:00 p.m.
Softball hosts Tennessee - 5:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Georgia - 6:30 p.m.
Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)

Saturday, March 30
Baseball hosts Georgia - 2:00 p.m.
Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)

Sunday, March 31
Women's tennis at Auburn - 12:00 p.m.
Men's tennis hosts Auburn - 1:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Georgia - 1:00 p.m.

Baseball America's Aaron Fitt - the nation's preeminent college baseball writer - was in town on Saturday for Kentucky's doubleheader sweep of Mississippi State. He spent time talking to a number of Wildcats postgame and saw some good baseball, so you can expect to see a few UK-related stories from him in the near future.

On Monday, he posted the first of them in his week six "Three Strikes" piece. He led off with a story about UK's lefty-heavy weekend starting pitching staff after Jerad Grundy and Corey Littrell pitched the Cats to a pair of Saturday victories. Here's an excerpt.

It's like the old adage says: momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. After Mississippi State won Friday's opener 8-4, Grundy stifled the Bulldogs in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, allowing just two runs on six hits and no walks while striking out 10 over eight innings. And Littrell followed with seven gritty innings in the series finale, yielding three runs (one earned) on two hits over seven innings, persevering despite a career-high six walks.

Grundy started his career at Miami in 2010, then transferred back to Heartland (Ill.) Junior College for his sophomore year before landing at UK last year. He spent the entire season in the weekend rotation, going 6-3, 3.78, but he has become a much more consistent pitcher as a senior, going 5-1, 1.99 with 38 strikeouts and nine walks in 41 innings. Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said during the winter that it was very apparent to him that Grundy is "way better" than he was the previous spring.

"Yeah, I was right about that--it's nice when you are," Henderson said. "He was clearly better in the fall. He is an extremely steady kid--that's just his personality. He's grounded, knows who he is. I just felt that once I saw the skills and poise were indicative of growth, that he was going to be better, and he has been."

Link: UK's lefties lead off Baseball America's Three Strikes

Matthew Mitchell talks at Monday's practice as UK prepares for its second-round matchup with Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell talks at Monday's practice as UK prepares for its second-round matchup with Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
When Kentucky and Dayton square off in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday night, it won't be the first time that they've gone toe-to-toe in the last calendar year. But it has been since October that these two teams scrimmaged, so it might take awhile for them to recognize one another.

As most teams do in the preseason, Kentucky held a closed scrimmage with the Dayton Flyers as they have over the last few seasons. Due to the proximity of the schools and the relationship between UK head coach Matthew Mitchell and UD coach Jim Jabir, the teams have developed a friendly rivalry that takes place before the real games get underway.

"We don't play each other in the regular season and we're in different leagues, so we can really be open with each other in the process of playing and it's been really good work for us," Mitchell said at Monday's press conference. "Jim's been really good about setting up situations and going through different things. They're very competitive and we're very competitive, so I think for both teams it's been a good development for us."

As fate would have it, both teams were shipped from the Midwest to the East Coast with the opportunity to reconvene in Queens, N.Y., for the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky seemed to be in for a bit of a scare after one half of play had the Cats trailing by a point to 15th-seeded Navy. A reinvigorated Wildcat squad led by a collective defensive clinic helped UK hold Navy to 15 points in the second half to carry Kentucky to a 20-point first-round victory, its largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game.

Dayton, a No. 7 seed, was in for quite a battle as well, facing host and No. 10 seed St. John's. It was a back and forth affair as Dayton seemed to have control, but with the crowd at its back, the Red Storm forced overtime. Dayton would ultimately prevail after an additional overtime period to pull off the 96-90 double-overtime victory.

Mitchell doesn't believe that the extra wear and tear on Dayton should be an issue for the Flyers after getting a day of rest on Monday. However, he does feel that much like his team showed in the second half against Navy, Kentucky needs to come out with great energy and intensity to get the win Tuesday night.

"I don't know that yesterday's game will have anything to do with that," said Mitchell. "I think that we need to really be tenacious on defense because they're such a good team. We played early (Sunday) and I think they'll have plenty of time to recover. People have a funny way of getting ready to play this time of year so I don't think that the double overtime is going to impact it and I think we need to focus us."

Just like Mitchell doesn't expect Sunday's Dayton game to affect Tuesday's outcome, senior guard and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year A'dia Mathies knows her performance from Sunday won't affect her attitude heading into the second round.

Mathies, for the first time in her collegiate career - and maybe for the first time in her life - played a game without making a field goal. Though she did not make much of an impact offensively, she was still a factor defensively in UK's 20-point route of the Midshipmen.

"She made some great defensive plays yesterday," said Mitchell. "We went back and watched the film and she made a few defensive plays that I don't think anybody could have made. I think she did some good things there. She got some loose balls. Shots didn't fall for her, but she'll play better tomorrow."

Mathies has similar expectations, though she's more than willing to do whatever it takes for her team to win.

"I feel like that's how I am with any game," said Mathies. "It might not show up in the stat sheet with getting 12 steals or 15 boards, but I feel like if you play aggressive and do the little things, that should help and that's what I'm going to focus on."

That's what Mitchell is looking for out of his team: to focus on Kentucky and not worry so much about its opponent. If the Wildcats continue to play their brand of basketball, the rest should take care of itself.

That's also why Mitchell doesn't put too much stock in his team's preseason meeting with the Flyers. While those around the program say that the scrimmage was close and competitive, the two teams on that day likely have completely different identities than way back in October.

"I think it would be a mistake for either team to take very much from the scrimmage. It was real, real early and we didn't have a lot of things in," said Mitchell. "It's a long, long time ago and I don't know how much you can put in that especially at that stage of the season."

At that point in the season, UK has yet to implement its offense or its press. That scrimmage is usually a way for Mitchell and his staff to gauge where they are defensively.

Fast forward from October late March, and the Cats have a pretty good grasp on just how tough they are defensively. They will look to use that as their major weapon against Dayton Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET at Carnesecca Arena and any other opponents they may face along the way if they continue to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think with any game we just want to keep the pressure on and wear them down," said Mathies. "Just knowing that they've got 10 extra minutes on their legs and that could potentially help us on the long run, I really think we need to put a focus on that and take them out of the comfort zone. I think we're the best team at doing that, so just playing aggressive and playing hard and I think that should help us in the end."

Kastine Evans


Jennifer O'Neill



During Kentucky's fifth practice of the spring, the Wildcats - if they hadn't met him already - were introduced to angry Mark Stoops. Looking for more of a sense of urgency out of his players, Stoops didn't pull any punches.

"I tell them the truth," Stoops said. "I'm always going to try to tell them the truth. There's not games with me, where today's on my calendar to get after them. That's not it. If they need getting after, if they need it, they're going to get it."

It was the defense that drew Stoops' ire, with the offense taking advantage. It's been a back and forth between the two sides of the ball thus far in spring football. For that reason, offensive coordinator Neal Brown knows his unit will be in for a test the next time out.

"We'll see what we're made out of on Wednesday because the defense is going to be amped up," Brown said. "We got after them pretty good, and our guys have got to rise to that challenge Wednesday."

Video of Stoops' and Brown's complete post-practice comments below:

Stoops



Brown



Running backs coach Chad Scott


Defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh


Kentucky baseball: Weekend update (March 25)

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Overall Record: 18-5, 4-2 SEC
Record Last Week: 2-2, 2-1 SEC

Recent Results
Tuesday, March 19 - lost vs. Western Kentucky, 3-6
Friday, March 22 - lost vs. No. 14 Mississippi State, 4-8
Saturday, March 23 - won vs. No. 14 Mississippi State, 3-2
Sunday, March 23 - won vs. No. 14 Mississippi State, 4-3

Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern)
Tuesday, March 26 - vs. Marshall - 6:30 p.m.
Friday, March 29 - vs. Georgia - 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 30 - vs. Georgia - 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 31 - vs. Georgia - 1 p.m.

Pitcher of the Week nominee
Jerad Grundy

6-1 - Sr. - LHP - Johnsburg,Ill. (Johnsburg/Miami, Fla./Heartland)
Week Stats: 1-0, 2.25 ERA, 8.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 10 SO

Notes: Jerad Grundy worked eight strong innings to lead UK to a series-evening win over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the front end of a doubleheader on Saturday ... The senior worked into the ninth inning of UK's 3-2 win, allowing five singles and a solo homer, with two runs scoring ... He did not allow a walk and struck out 10 ... Grundy struck out the side in the second and fourth innings, not allowing a baserunner to reach scoring position till the fifth ... Retired 13 of the first 14 hitters he faced, with nine strikeouts in the first five innings ... It was Grundy's fifth quality start of 2013, with the southpaw owning a 5-1 record and a 1.99 ERA, working 40 2/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and only eight walks, striking out 38 ... In his two-year career, Grundy has made 22 weekend starts, owning a 11-4 mark and a 3.21 ERA ... In 2013, Grundy ranks third in the SEC in wins, fourth in innings pitched, sixth in strikeouts and seventh in opponent batting average (.189).

Freshman of the Week nominee
Kyle Barrett
5-11 - Fr. - OF - Douglasville, Ga. (Chapel Hill)
Week Stats: .385 (5-for-13), 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1-1 SB, .538 SLG%, .438 OB%

Notes: Kyle Barrett helped lead UK to a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, making four starts in the outfield ... The speedy freshman outfielder hit .385 (5-for-13) with a pair of doubles and RBI, drawing two walks and stealing a base, starting all four games of the week  ... The Douglasville, Ga., native helped lead UK's walk-off win in the rubber match vs. the Bulldogs, starting the bottom of the ninth inning with a double and scoring the game-winning and series-clinching win.

Team notes
The eighth-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, spurred by a doubleheader sweep on Saturday at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK suffered a midweek loss to Western Kentucky and a series-opening setback to the Bulldogs, before rebounding to win the series with the twinbill sweep.

Kentucky (18-5, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) won its second consecutive series to open league play, also claiming the conference lidlifter at Florida last weekend. UK suffered an 8-4 loss on Friday night to the Bulldogs, as three errors in the sixth inning erased a UK lead and lifted MSU to a comeback win. UK opened the doubleheader with a dynamic pitching performance from senior southpaw Jerad Gundy, who fanned 10 in eight innings, allowing just two runs in a 3-2 UK win, with Trevor Gott recording his seventh save of 2013 in the ninth. In the finale, UK turned to Corey Littrell, who helped UK win its 10th consecutive rubber match in the last two years, with the southpaw owning a 7-0 record and a 1.85 ERA in those starts. UK posted a 4-3 win the finale, as Austin Cousino smacked first base with a walk-off, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

UK will host Marshall at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Tuesday, before returning to SEC action in hosting Georgia for a three-game set. UK will welcoming the Bulldogs at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday, 2 p.m. ET on Saturday and 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The Wildcats have hit .292 as a team in 23 games, with a .414 slugging and a .402 on-base percentage, stealing 33 bases and belting 15 homers. On the mound, UK has a 2.55 ERA, walking just 55 and striking out 176 in 205 innings. UK is coming off its series win over Mississippi State, the NCAA's second-ranked team in hits, where it limited the Bulldogs to a .206 batting average, with UK sporting a 2.00 ERA in the series.

UK has been led by junior second baseman J.T. Riddle, who has hit .360 with five doubles, one triple, one homer and 17 RBI, stealing four bases. Slugger A.J. Reed has a .356 average with four doubles, two triples, six homers and 28 RBI, while third baseman Max Kuhn has hit .318 with seven doubles, one triple, one homer and 19 RBI. Catcher Micheal Thomas has batted .291 with a double, homer and 14 RBI. Centerfielder Austin Cousino has batted .287 with four doubles, four homers and 16 RBI, stealing eight bases.

On the mound, UK's weekend rotation of Reed (2-3, 2.94 ERA), Grundy (5-1, 1.99 ERA) and Litttrell (3-0, 2.56 ERA) have been dynamic. In the bullpen, Gott (2-0, 0.73 ERA) has seven saves in as many chances, appearing in 11 games and striking out 15. Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 3.10 ERA) has pitched in eight games with 20 1/3 innings pitched, while senior Walter Wijas (2-0, 0.73 ERA) has worked in 10 games in relief, with 12 strikeouts and two walks in 12 1/3 innings.

Jennifer O'Neill's big second half in her return home to New York sent Kentucky past Navy and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Jennifer O'Neill's big second half in her return home to New York sent Kentucky past Navy and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell believed the two weeks between games was good for his team.

He was right and he was wrong, depending on what half of basketball you watched Sunday afternoon in Kentucky's NCAA Tournament first-round game with Navy.

The Wildcats looked rusty and a bit out of sorts after the layoff. Though Mitchell was encouraged by his team's effort and energy in practice over the past two weeks, no one was sure what to expect when the team finally got back on the floor. It didn't take long to find out how much the time off would affect the team.

Navy came out and gave UK its best shot from the tip and caught the Wildcats off guard. Kentucky was out of rhythm and struggled putting the ball in the basket for much of the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Navy was getting exactly what it wanted.

The Midshipmen were overmatched athletically, and they knew that coming in. They wanted to slow the game down, move the ball, exploit Kentucky's trapping on defense, and shoot a lot of 3s. In the first half, those were falling and the Wildcats were staggering.

Kentucky did not look like Kentucky. They were rusty.

"I thought we were really off-balanced and rushing around the rim," said Mitchell. "Where the rust might come through is we're a very rhythm-oriented team defensively and we were just a step or two late on some rotations. I thought we were giving some good effort in traps, but late on rotations."

Navy knocked down five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the game and completely grabbed the momentum, eventually building a seven-point lead with 6:29 left to go in the first half. But Kentucky relied on its full-court pressure defensively to scrap back. Kentucky had a chance to head into the locker room with the lead, eventually grabbing a one-point advantage, but Navy's April Bernal hit a jumper with 36 seconds left to give the Midshipmen a 26-25 lead at intermission.

When the Wildcats came out for the second half, they came out a different team, or a more familiar one that Mitchell had been accustomed to seeing for 27 wins this season.

Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper and her players noted that UK played a brand of basketball that they had never seen before, when in reality, Kentucky was just getting back to its old ways.

The second half started out with a readjusted Jennifer O'Neill who decided to start imposing her will. After trying to let the game come to her for the first half, she began attacking and asserting herself on both ends of the floor.

O'Neill blitzed Navy with a personal seven-point run in the first minute and 13 seconds and before Navy could blink, a one-point advantage turned into a four-point deficit. While the offensive outburst was impressive, the key to it may have been a purely defensive spark.

"The run was sparked by Jennifer O'Neill's defensive intensity," said Mitchell. "She scored a bunch of points and assisted on some points, but I really thought it was her defensive intensity coming out of the break."

Kentucky's team defense turned up a notch as well in the second half.

The Cats forced Navy into 14 second-half turnovers including four steals by O'Neill in the half alone. Without her decision to come out and impact the game, the Wildcats may not have ever gotten on a roll.

"I do feel like I am changing the game because my teammates start going," said O'Neill. "Coming into the media timeout, Coach Mitchell ran out to me and he was telling me, 'Now we are playing like this because you are playing defense and you are being intense on defense.' "

O'Neill finished with a big day in her homecoming in New York, scoring 12 points with four assists to go along with five steals. While she set the tone defensively and was a necessary sparkplug for the Cats, DeNesha Stallworth was steady throughout in the post.

The UK center worked well in tandem with post mate Samarie Walker. Kentucky's size coupled with its athleticism made it hard for Navy to contain the Wildcats on the block.

Stallworth scored nine points in each half to finish with a game-high 18 points to earn a double-double in her first NCAA Tournament game as a Wildcat. With Kentucky struggling to get anything going offensively through the first 20 minutes of action, it was the work done in the post that helped weather the storm.

"I felt like we were just a little rusty," said Stallworth. "We haven't played in a couple of weeks. I think we played hard, tried to stay focused and not let that bring us down. That was the adversity that we did face. The team did a great job just keeping our heads up and knowing the game is 40 minutes."

Though the first-half performance was unsettling, at no point was there a sense of panic. Due to Kentucky's recent success and another great run in the Southeastern Conference this season, the Wildcats are going to get their opponent's best night in and night out. What Mitchell can always rely on his team's defensive pressure to get UK back on track when the offense isn't flowing.

"There was no panic in the first half because we were pretty clear on what we needed to do to get a different result," said Mitchell. "I knew that if we could get some sharpness to our defense, I felt like we could do what we did in the second half. There was no panic.

"I was just more so trying to get us to settle down offensively. Just really hurrying, poor shot selection from the standpoint of just in a hurry and not letting it come to us and getting better rhythm."

 Once Kentucky imposed its will on the defensive end, that was it for Navy. The Midshipmen could never get back into an offensive rhythm themselves in the second half managing just 15 points in the final 20 minutes. UK held Navy to 23.8 percent (5 of 21) from the field in the second half and hit the boards hard to outrebound Navy 43-30.

After Navy hit five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the game, the Mids were just barely able to match that point total in the entire second half as they managed just one 3-pointer for the rest of the contest (6 of 22).

Kentucky will try to continue to apply that pressure in the second round, which could be an even greater advantage on Monday. The Wildcats will face Dayton, who defeated St. John's 96-90 in double overtime. With that extra mileage and energy spent to advance, Kentucky will likely look to exploit the Flyers to take advantage of additional wear and tear from a hard-fought overtime battle.

The Wildcats will take on the Flyers at 7 p.m. ET Tuesdat night back at Carnesecca Arena broadcast on ESPN2 as Kentucky looks to continue its quest for a Final Four berth.

"I had a lot of family and friends here, but the game wasn't big because of them," said O'Neill. "The game was big because it's the NCAA Tournament and we have a goal of making it to New Orleans. That what made this game big."

NCAA Tournament live blog: UK Hoops vs. Navy

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Live blog: Men's tennis vs. Georgia

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Austin Cousino and Corey Littrell celebrate after UK's doubleheader sweep of Mississippi State on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Austin Cousino and Corey Littrell celebrate after UK's doubleheader sweep of Mississippi State on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
If you had watched Austin Cousino swing the bat at all this week, you wouldn't have thought he would have much cause for confidence.

As he strode to the plate with the bases loaded the bottom of the ninth inning, Cousino had just one hit in his previous 16 at-bats. The potential game-winning run stood on third base with star Mississippi State closer Jonathan Holder looking to preserve a 3-3 tie in the series rubber match.

But if you have watched Cousino at all during his Kentucky career, you would have known he would step into the box with all the confidence in the world. That's just who he is.

"I just wiped away what happened early in the game," Cousino said. "I knew that if I could get up, I could get him in."

As has been the case more often than not over his two seasons as a Wildcat, Cousino's confidence was proven to be justified.

On a 1-0 count, Cousino laced a single down the first-base line to score Kyle Barrett - the true freshman who reached on a double to lead off the inning - and send No. 8 UK (18-5, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) to a 4-3 victory and a doubleheader sweep of the visiting and 14-ranked Bulldogs (21-5, 2-4 SEC).

"I think Austin's a really good player," head coach Gary Henderson said. "I think good players rise to the moment most of the time."

Cousino arrived on campus an assured player, but that's been reinforced by the group that surrounds him. He might be the best example of a Wildcat who never lacks for self-belief, but he's not the only one.

"You try to have that king of team, and sometimes it's easier said than done," Henderson said. "They certainly hear that a lot from me. It doesn't do you a lot of good to be disappointed for very long."

That was on display Saturday.

The Cats had lost each of their last two games before the doubleheader, including an 8-4 decision on the previous night. Friday's defeat also marked UK's fifth in its last six meetings with Mississippi State, which might have led another team to wonder whether the Bulldogs had its number. With Henderson leading the way, the Cats had no such thoughts on their way to a second series win in as many SEC weekends.

"We have that mojo, we have that feel to our club coming from last year and just bringing that culture to this year," Cousino said. "We fully expect to win every time out."

With starting pitchers like the ones UK trotted out on Saturday, that's a reasonable expectation.

Jerad Grundy started the opener, and he will admit it: His approach changes based on the outcome of Kentucky's Friday-night game. Other pitchers might insist their focus remains the same no matter what, but as UK's Saturday starter, Grundy feels just a little different when the Wildcats lose before he takes the mound.

"You're kind of back against the wall when you lose Friday night because you don't want to lose a series and be fighting to not get swept on Sunday," Grundy said.

The senior lefthander dazzled in eight-plus innings, allowing just two runs on six hits to pitch UK to a 3-2 win. Grundy faced the Bulldogs twice last season, striking out nine over six innings the second time around in the SEC Tournament. Armed with that experience, Grundy attacked Mississippi State hitters to the tune of 10 strikeouts.

"I saw a real aggressive approach, and they were kind of like that last year," Grundy said. "I kind of pitched backwards throwing my off-speed stuff early and try to get some free swings and going to my fastball later."

In his more than two decades as a pitching coach and now a head coach, Henderson has seen more than his fair share of impressive pitching performances. Because of that, he knows how special outings like Grundy's are.

"That effort today was about as good as you ever see in college baseball," Henderson said.

No one will describe Corey Littrell's seven innings in the nightcap in any such terms, but he was effective nonetheless. Starting for the 10th time in a series-deciding game over the last two seasons, Littrell overcame six walks and two third-inning errors before giving way to Walter Wijas. Littrell gave up three runs (one earned) and now has a 1.85 earned-run average in those rubber-match starts.

"I was a little wild early and then the defense made errors, but the biggest thing for me was knowing that I've been in that situation before," Littrell said. "I know I can find it at any moment."

Even during a sophomore season that earned his second-team All-SEC honors, Littrell may not have been able to battle through seven innings, but 2013 is another story. Littrell has lasted at least seven innings in each of his last four starts, a trend that spreads to each of UK's three weekend starters. In 18 combined starts, A.J. Reed, Grundy and Littrell have lasted an average of nearly six-and-a-third innings. Last season, UK's weekend starters averaged a little more than five-and-two-thirds innings per start. They have also lasted six innings or longer 13 times, seven innings or longer eight times.

Part of that is driven by a slightly less deep UK bullpen, but a lot of it has to do with who Henderson is starting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"We're a little bit stronger in that area I think, just physically stronger," Henderson said.

With that durability, the Cats have even more cause for confidence.

"We know that we're not going to win every game," Littrell said. "We're going to lose again because it's baseball, but we're confident and we know that if we play the way we know how, we'll come out successful."

Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell holds practice at Carnesecca Arena in preparation for UK's first-round game against Navy. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell led practice on Saturday at Carnesecca Arena in preparation for UK's first-round game against Navy. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It will have been exactly two weeks since the Kentucky women's basketball team played an actual game when the Wildcats tip off against Navy in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

Kentucky's last game, a forgettable loss to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship, occurred on March 10 in Duluth, Ga. After the loss, head coach Matthew Mitchell gave his players three full days away from basketball to let them clear their minds and refocus on a new goal.

"We are ready to go out there and get a win," said senior guard A'dia Mathies. "The ultimate goal is to go to the Final Four so, just to have that goal, it'll be very achievable. We're just excited to play."

The previous goal that UK had focused on heading into the season was winning the SEC regular-season crown for the second season in a row. After falling just short, the Wildcats regrouped and set their sights on the tournament title. There, Kentucky came one win short of reaching that mark yet again.

Now UK, a team who has reached the Elite Eight twice in the last three years, is looking to take that next step and reach New Orleans, the site of this year's Final Four. That achievement would likely trump any SEC aspirations the Wildcats had going into the season.

"I think we tried to refocus and get our minds right to know that we have another opportunity, our last opportunity to try to win another championship," said junior forward DeNesha Stallworth. "I think all our minds are straight, just taking 40 minutes at a time and one game at a time."

While some teams may struggle to regain rhythm during a two-week layoff, the time off has served as an important developmental period for Mitchell's squad. After some much needed time recharging the batteries, the Kentucky players came back to practice rejuvenated and ready to work towards their next goal.

"What's been so great about this time is that we had a really good team heading into the SEC Tournament and then we had some time to get better," said Mitchell. "So from our practices we have certainly seen more aggressive play in the post and playing physically with poise. That's been a really good result from the practice time."

Mitchell's been quick to make sure that he doesn't dismiss Navy as a formidable opponent for UK's first-round game. However, a two seed has never fallen to a 15 in the history of the Women's NCAA Tournament. But whether it's Navy or Baylor, Kentucky is focused on itself and playing its own game rather than the opponent.

The Midshipmen (21-11) were the winners of the 2013 Patriot League Tournament and earned the automatic bid to this year's Big Dance. That achievement in its own right is something that Kentucky was unable to accomplish on its way to its school-record fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid.

For Kentucky to reach that ultimate goal of a Final Four appearance, it all starts with taking care of business in the first round beginning Sunday at 12:05 p.m. ET at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y.

"They spread the floor and they have the capability to make threes at all four positions," said Mitchell. "But for us, we need to focus on what we do well. We need this to be a fast-paced game and try and speed Navy the best we can. It's a big challenge for us and we really need to do everything we can to be as close to our identity to defeat Navy tomorrow."

Though the focus is ultimately on Navy, Mitchell is perfectly fine with his players looking somewhat ahead to goals further down the road. After all, the only way Kentucky can win a national championship is by winning a regional championship.

"We're very focused on our region and trying to advance through it and win four games," Mitchell said. "I am really happy to hear them say that. That's what we want to do. We want to beat Navy tomorrow. We have to beat Navy tomorrow to get to the Final Four. I think that is exactly where our minds need to be.

"I told them last night they have a great chance to beat Navy tomorrow and when we do that, we'll have a good chance on Tuesday night against whoever that may be. We just need to keep trying to understand where we're headed right now, and I have no problem with their goal being the Final Four."

A Final Four appearance could be the crowning achievement that Mathies has been searching for in her senior campaign. Mathies made it clear that her aspirations and expectations were to win an SEC Tournament title this season. As the career of the most decorated Wildcats in program history, Mathies is looking to see just how long she can extend her run with plenty of basketball left to be played.

"This will be the last time I'm playing for Kentucky," said Mathies, "But it's still a long season. If you go all the way, you're playing for another three weeks. I'm just focused on winning one game at a time and you know we already have our goal. I think if we just stick to that, we should be playing for a long time. When it's done, it's done. I can't think about that right now."

One thing is for sure: Kentucky is happy to finally get out of SEC play.

After finishing the regular season with five out of its last seven games on the road and three straight days of play in the SEC Tournament, the Wildcats should be well tested for their opponent Sunday afternoon. If the Wildcats continue to bring that rediscovered energy and enthusiasm that they've brought to the practice setting over the last two weeks, expect to see Kentucky in the Bridgeport Regional as UK looks to execute its way to its final goal.

Video: Stoops mic'd up at spring practice

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Bud Dupree had 91 tackles, 12.5 for loss and 6.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2012. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Bud Dupree had 91 tackles, 12.5 for loss and 6.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2012. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Bud Dupree knows all about the history Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot have with defensive ends.

He doesn't need to be told about what Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine did the last two years at Florida State. He's keenly aware of the 44.5 sacks they combined to register in 2011 and 2012 and where the pair stands in the latest NFL Draft projections.

Needless to say, he likes what he's seen.

"My eyes light up when I see that," Dupree said. "Hopefully they have two first-round picks this year."

The 6-foot-4, 254-pound junior has spent the first three practices of the spring at the same defensive-end spot where Werner and Carradine starred the last two seasons. It's early, but the coaches like Dupree just as much he likes his coaches' track record.

"Bud Dupree is extremely athletic for his size," Eliot said after practice on Friday, UK's first in pads. "I think he's got a chance to be a very good defensive end. Fundamentally right now, he's not where he needs to be, but he's working on it every day."

Dupree spent most of his freshman season at defensive end in UK's hybrid front. As a sophomore, he moved primarily to linebacker, totaling 91 tackles, 12.5 for loss and a team-best 6.5 sacks. His versatility is forcing Stoops and Eliot into a decision on where he will play in a new 4-3 base scheme.

He is listed at defensive end only in UK's spring guide and has worked there exclusively thus far. Dupree, though, isn't sure just yet whether end is where he will play in the fall. So long as he's in position go after the quarterback, Dupree doesn't much care.

"Whichever, I don't care," Dupree said when asked of his preference between end and linebacker. "I want to have sacks though."

Considering FSU's defensive ends combined for 26.5 sacks last year and the linebackers had just three, end seems to be his likely landing spot. Dupree's performance so far this spring only serves to strengthen that idea.

In three practices, Dupree and his fellow linemen have been the standouts on UK's defense. The linebackers and backs have shown flashes, but the line under Jimmy Brumbaugh - with ends Za'Darius Smith and Farrington Huguenin and tackles Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and Tristian Johnson - has been impossible to ignore.

"I think the defensive line is doing a really good job," Eliot said. "They've got some veteran players up there, so they have some guys that are used to game action. So far, they have caught my eye."

As experienced as many of those players may be, Smith has a leg up even though he's never played a down at the Division I level. The 6-foot-6, 257 pounder played last season at East Mississippi Community College, the same junior college where Brumbaugh coached last season.

"Za'Darius is doing a nice job," Stoops said. "I noticed him a few times out there, had some nice plays today. He's doing good, and he's ahead. He knows Coach Brumbaugh's techniques and how we want to play fundamentally defensively, so he's doing a nice job."

Dupree went so far as to call Smith a coach on the field.

"Z, he's a very physical guy," Dupree said. "He knows a lot more than we do because he was with Coach Brumbaugh already at JUCO. He's ahead, he's the line leader and just calling the drills and he's showing us things Coach Brumbaugh taught him."

What Eliot hopes, though, is that it won't take the others long to catch up. Florida State succeeded with a defensive system that relied on simplicity to put players in a position to make plays. Eliot wants players to eventually know their roles so well it's not even necessary to think on the field.

"I hope as a coach that my scheme is never hard for the players, so I hope that's accurate (that the scheme is simple)," Eliot said. "I think our guys are picking it up pretty quick. Our philosophy is we want to be multiple, but we want to be simple for the players."

Dupree isn't completely up to speed just yet, but he understands what Eliot is talking about.

"It's very simple," Dupree said. "We've got a lot of schemes, but it all pretty much flows in the same category. We just know what to do when we line up and not think too much."

Eventually, Dupree wants to reach the point where the only thing on his mind during passing plays is to get the quarterback. If he can do that, Dupree can picture himself and his teammates shaking hands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell just like Werner and Carradine will in a little more than a month.

"Maybe that will be me and Z in the future," Dupree said. "And Farrington also."

Sophomore Alexis Gross says team confidence is high heading into this weekend's SEC Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Sophomore Alexis Gross says team confidence is high heading into this weekend's SEC Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Over the last four meets, the Kentucky gymnastics team has seen a gradual increase in its meet scores as they Wildcats have reeled off an unprecedented four straight meets scoring 196-plus  for the first time in the history of the program while setting the program record of 196.775 at Penn State.

As the scores have risen, so too has the team's confidence heading into the Southeastern Conference Championships this Saturday in Little Rock, Ark.

While the season started with "I hope we can," the season is ending with an I-know-we-will attitude leading into the postseason.

The confidence hasn't magically appeared out of thin air this season. It actually goes back all the way to last year, head coach Tim Garrison's first year on the job. After a slow start, the Wildcats caught fire near the end of the season to give Garrison and his athletes promise heading into 2013. That promise led to a greater focus and desire in the offseason to improve and prepare for the upcoming campaign.

"I think this all started way back last year when the team started to come together. They started rolling a little bit at the end of the season," Garrison said. "They trained hard all the way through the summer. Then, in the preseason we started rolling. I think it developed over time, but I think when it clicked in competition was when they had more experience in competition because they were still new with some of these skills."

Garrison has harped all season long that all the Wildcats needed was in fact more seasoning. More competitive experience would be the key to the progression of these athletes, because they'd consistently displayed their capabilities in the practice gym. The only question was whether or not they would be able to duplicate those performances on the big stage.

The Wildcats started out of the gate hotter than they ever had before to open the season, finishing second at Cal-Berkeley in a quad meet, posting a program-best opening score. They've won a program record three SEC meets, including their first SEC road win since 1989.

Kentucky was rolling - and tumbling, flipping and landing - at a very high level.

But Garrison wanted more, mainly because he saw more. He was confident in his athletes to finally break through and take the next step. While UK was racking up scores in the high 195s, Garrison saw potential for 197s, with 196 as the standard.

Over the last four meets, UK has set its new standard.

"When you can put four 196s in a row, you're obviously doing well in every event," said Garrison. "You haven't really had one event that's a downer or something, where for a long period this season, we always had one event that held us back. Then we'd fight our way back from that bad event."

And UK has certainly shown resilience all season long. It was never more evident than at Ball State when junior Holly Cunningham picked up sophomore Alexis Gross on the balance beam in the final event of the meet. Kentucky was on pace for a program-record score, and when Gross fell off the balance beam, it was Cunningham to the rescue.

"That just shows that we're trusting each other," said Gross. "I messed up at Ball State and Holly had my back. It's the same thing that we've been doing all year, and we've been trying to teach ourselves to trust in our teammates when you make mistakes, someone's always there to pick up the pieces."

That trust can easily be identified as confidence. Not just in themselves, but each athlete has come to be able to trust and be confident in one another to do her job, as well as be able to come to the rescue things go wrong. That trust and confidence has also permitted each athlete to focus on herself and each individual skill without having to worry about the pressure of picking up a struggling teammate.

"I definitely think that there's so much more trust between everyone because we're confident that our teammates are going to hit their routines and not scared that they're going to fall," said sophomore Sara Shipley. "I think that means a lot because that makes you more confident in yourself, too."

Each athlete saw the possibility of something special at the beginning of the season. It took the low point of their meet against Missouri in which UK scored its lowest team point total of the year, even though the Cats escaped with a victory.

Between the Missouri meet (a win) and the following Florida meet (a loss), Kentucky found its turning point. The attitude had changed and this team was different. The disappointment of the low score at Missouri served as a motivator and it led to its highest score of the season at No. 1 Florida the following week.

The end result of Florida launched UK into its current four-meet stretch of 196s, and that 196 at Florida has been the key to it all. But even that result felt somewhat empty.

"Coming off a hard meet, we go to Florida," said Gross. "That's the meet after and you have the fire in you.

"We knew we messed up and now we had to make up for it. Everyone did and we got that 196 and everyone was happy about it, but the fact that everyone walked away from the meet and felt that we were better than what we just did, all the little mistakes we made, I remember a bunch of us saying that we could have gone 197 if we had stuck dismounts."

Kentucky is still looking for that 197, and It's no pipe dream either. If the Cats continue to improve weekly as they have like the last four, why can't UK score a 197 at SECs this weekend?

One thing is for sure: Kentucky is riding a tidal wave of confidence heading into the SEC Championships and is looking to make a statement.

"I think everyone's feeling pretty relaxed. It's fun," said Shipley. "We know that we're good now, we just have to prove to everyone that we are good. It's actually a lot of fun right now. We're pushing hard, but we're also doing our stuff, and it's not taking as much work as it did at the beginning of the season."

Even though the SEC boasts multiple top-10 teams nationally, that won't matter when UK walks into the arena on Saturday.

"We're more prepared than ever before. It's more than that, but I just have so much faith in this team," said Gross. "This kind of confidence is something that we need to keep rolling. I think for once this year, we don't go into a meet and get intimidated by the other team. We look at them and think that we're just as good."

Video: Stoops, Eliot on UK's best practice yet

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Kentucky held its third practice of the spring on Friday and new head coach Mark Stoops liked what he saw. The effort has been there at each of the first two practices, but the Wildcats are building familiarity with their new offensive and defensive systems and it showed.

"This was the best we've looked," Stoops said. "I felt we had a sense of urgency out there. We put the pads on and guys were flying around a little bit."

Also, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot talked to reporters for the first time this spring. There's a long way to go, but Eliot believes players are about where he expected on his side of the ball.

"We're playing effort and guys were moving around, flying around and making plays, but we weren't always making our assignments," Eliot said. "We had too many missed assignments today, so we've gotta improve on that tomorrow."

It wasn't originally in the plans for UK to practice on Saturday, but Stoops and his staff decided that with good weather in the forecast, the Cats could use the work. A practice after the spring game was originally scheduled, but will be cancelled due to Saturday's added session.

Here's complete video of Stoops' and Eliot's comments.

Stoops



Eliot



Live blog: Men's tennis vs. Tennessee

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There's no denying the hit that Kentucky's interior defense took when Nerlens Noel was lost for the season to a knee injury, but there was an impact on the offensive end, too.

For the season, UK averaged 37 points "in the paint" per game and the Wildcats were 13-0 in games in which they scored at least 40. But over the final five games, UK averaged a little more than 30 points in the paint. And during that same stretch, Kentucky had trouble hitting the perimeter shots, too, making fewer than 25 percent of its 3-point attempts.

Here are some other interesting statistical notes from this past season:

  • The Robert Morris loss marked just the second time in Calipari's four years that Kentucky lost a game in which it hit better than 50 percent of its field-goal attempts;
  • The Cats were just 2-9 in games in which they failed to crack the 70-point barrier;
  • Calipari's teams, historically, have won games in which they didn't shoot well but this year's squad was only 1-6 in games with when its shooting percentage was 40 percent or worse (the victory over Florida was the exception);
  • UK has won 50 of the last 51 games in which it led or was tied at halftime. This year's team was 19-1, with the lone blemish coming at Alabama, when the Cats let a nine-point lead slip away.

Bracket postmortem with Lunardi

ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had a good year, correctly forecasting every at-large team that made the NCAA Tournament field. 

One of the many factors he has to consider in projecting what the selection committee will do involves analyzing a team's RPI. But Lunardi says he'd like to see the committee incorporate more of the metrics measuring things like offensive and defensive efficiency.

"I would include more of them than the RPI. I think they all measure different things and the things measured are things of value, if taken correctly. You have to spot the outliers," Lunardi said on "The Leach Report" radio show. 

If Lunardi had the proverbial magic wand and could change something about the selection process, what would it be?

"I would pass this rule without discussion: To be tournament-eligible, you would have to at least .500 in your league, as a way of making the conference season and the conference tournaments a little more important. If you are 7-9 in your league and you count conference tournament games if you make the conference final and lose so you are 9-9 or 10-10, you are back to being tournament eligible. It would add a tremendous amount to those Thursday and Friday games between the teams that finished down on the standings and I think history shows it would open up one or two spots a year in the at-large pool for the Drexel's who win 29 games and get excluded," Lunardi said, referring to last year's Drexel example. "History shows that time after time, teams that have won a lot from high quality non-BCS leagues almost always perform better in the tournament than what I would call the middling majors from the bigger leagues. Twenty seven or 28 wins in those leagues is pretty good and we forget that winning begets winning."

Recruiting analyst Telep on point guards

With all of the talk about the point-guard position for Kentucky this season, it brought to mind a quote from veteran recruiting analyst Dave Telep of ESPN.com:

"When I go and watch a guy and people describe him to me when I watch a guard and they use the word "combo" a red flag goes up," Telep said on "The Leach Report" show. "To me, a point guard has to have complete command of the team and they generally can showcase that ability. It's not quantifiable but you can see it with your eyes and you ask the question, 'Does he have the respect of his teammates, does he have command of his team and is he an orchestrator of the offense?' "

A.J. Reed, who will pitch Friday night vs. Mississippi State, is 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA on the mound and has five home runs and 26 RBI at the plate. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) A.J. Reed, who will pitch Friday night vs. Mississippi State, is 2-2 with a 2.83 ERA on the mound and has five home runs and 26 RBI at the plate. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky baseball team hasn't faced Mississippi State yet this season, but the Wildcats know the Bulldogs about as well as any team in the country.

Five times last season - three times in the regular season and twice in the Southeastern Conference Tournament - the Cats and Dogs went toe to toe. In those games, UK managed just a 1-4 record. Three of those losses undid the Cats' SEC regular-season title hopes; the other ended their run in the conference tournament.

The Cats scored just 13 combined runs in 2012 against a stingy MSU pitching staff. With the Bulldogs set to come to Lexington this weekend, UK shouldn't expect to see anything different out of Mississippi State's arms.

"They're the same thing," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Their pitching's outstanding. There's no other way to look at it."

The No. 14 Bulldogs (20-4, 1-2 SEC) have a 2.27 team earned-run average this season. MSU pitchers have 225 strikeouts in 218 innings, allowing just 151 hits and dealing four shutouts along the way. But it's not as if the eighth-ranked Cats (16-4, 2-1 SEC) are slouches on the mound. In fact, quite the opposite is true, what with UK's 2.63 team ERA and three weekend starters with ERAs at 2.84 or better.

For those reasons, Henderson has a pretty clear idea of what to expect during this weekend's three-game set, which begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

"It's two good pitching staffs," Henderson said. "If both staffs do what they've done to this point, it'll be two staffs going at it. Low-scoring games would be what you would envision and then obviously it comes down to who cracks."

If their first 20 games of the season are any indication - particularly the last two weekends - there's little reason to believe it will be the Cats who yield.

Hosting Michigan State in its final nonconference weekend, UK won a closely contested Friday-
night game and bounced back from a 6-1 Saturday defeat to close out the series against the Spartans with a 3-1 Sunday.

Last weekend at Florida, UK lost 4-1 on Friday after a three-error, three-run seventh inning and was down 3-0 through five innings on Saturday, seeming destined for its first series defeat of the season. Instead, UK scored 11 runs over the final four frames and won again on Sunday to pick up two precious SEC road victories.

"We really got kind of punched in the nose the first game and a half at the plate," Henderson said. "The pitching was good. ... For us to be able to come back trailing three on Saturday showed me a lot and told us a lot about our kids and I think it tells the kids a lot about themselves."

In both the last two weekends and the season as a whole, A.J. Reed has done a great deal of talking with his play.

As a freshman in 2012, he starred as both a hitter and pitcher. He was a big part of UK's record-setting season, but his role wasn't nearly what it is in 2013. This year, Reed has batted third or clean-up in all 20 games this season while serving as UK's Friday ace.

"A.J. did both last year, but didn't ask him to fulfill the same role last year," Henderson said. "It was a much different role, much less taxing role I think mentally and emotionally from the pitching standpoint."

The bat has been there all along - he's hitting .364 with five home runs and 26 runs batted in - but his first two starts on the mound were a bit uneven. Since then, he's allowed just three earned runs in three starts and 19.1 innings with a 2-1 record with his only defeat coming in the Florida opener. Even more remarkably, Reed is batting 11-for-21 (.524) with eight RBI and four extra-base hits in the five games he has pitched.

"I think he's gotta continue to learn to balance both (hitting and pitching)," Henderson said. "He's done a great job to this point."

To set the tone for a series during which UK will welcome former head coach John Cohen back to Lexington for the first time, the Cats will be calling on Reed to do the same once again. Henderson doesn't feel like he's asking too much.

"He has shown up the bigger the game, the bigger the situation, the better he concentrates," Henderson said. "If we keep getting that out of him and continue to get growth with that aspect of his game, then he's going to continue to get better."

Smith, Warford together again at Pro Day

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For three seasons, center Matt Smith and guard Larry Warford lined up next to one another on the Kentucky offensive line.

With the two exhausting their collegiate eligibility in November, those times were at end. Smith and Warford went to different collegiate all-star games in pursuit of NFL careers and they couldn't help but miss one another's presence.

"He said he was a little timid on reaching too far with things because he didn't know if that guy was going to be right behind him like he knew that I would," Smith said of his teammate.

On Thursday at UK's annual Pro Day, Smith and Warford were working together again.

Twenty-seven scouts representing 25 NFL teams and one from the CFL were in attendance at the Nutter Field House to watch 15 former Wildcats be measured and go through athletic and positional testing drills. They saw running back CoShik Williams bench press 225 pounds an impressive 20 times. They saw Morgan Newton both throw passes as a quarterback and catch them as a tight end.

But with the reunion of the interior of UK's offensive line going on during positional drills, many eyes were on Smith and Warford.

"It's just like we never stopped," Smith said. "Spending three years with him, you get to know each other and know everything about each other."

After so many games together, Smith and Warford can't help but think about playing together again at the next level.

"It would be awesome if we could end up on the same team together again and play again, but you never know what'll happen," Smith said.

Warford was the most highly touted of the Cats participating. The decorated guard has heard draft projections from anywhere between the second and fourth rounds and was UK's lone attendee at last month's NFL Combine. Having already done the 40-yard dash, bench press and other events at the combine, he opted to participate only in positional drills.

It was there that Warford and Smith did work at both guard and center. Warford played exclusively at right guard at UK, but has shown the versatility to play both guard spots and center, an attribute he has found to be quite valuable in the draft process.

"You only get seven active linemen in any NFL game, so you have to be able to play different positions," Warford said.

Though Smith hasn't gotten the same attention as Warford, he's drawing interest after demonstrating the ability to play guard. Smith also didn't hurt his cause by registering 28 reps on the bench press in spite of missing nearly three weeks of time in the weight room due a chest injury he sustained in the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game.

Since returning from their respective all-star games, Smith and Warford have worked out together as often as possible in Lexington, often with Rock Oliver at the Joe Craft Center. Because both Smith and Warford are still around Lexington, they are well aware of the enthusiasm surrounding the football program since the arrival of Mark Stoops.

"I'm really excited for it," Smith said. "I wish I had another year to play here again just to see what Coach Stoops is all about."

Of course they wish they could have played in front of a spring game crowd that figures to exceed 40,000. But more than anything else, they are excited for their former teammates and the program they've come to love so much.

"I'm so happy for them," Warford said. "I want to see them get the recognition and I want this to turn into a football school."

Video interviews

Warford



Smith





The UK Sports Video department has been putting out some great behind-the-scenes content through winter conditioning and now into spring practice. Today, we bring you a pair of videos that give you an inside look at what practice is like for a Kentucky football player.

Mic'd up with offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Mic'd up with senior running back Raymond Sanders



Maxwell Smith threw for 966 yards and eight touchdowns in three full games to start the 2012 season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Maxwell Smith threw for 966 yards and eight touchdowns in three full games to start the 2012 season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
On day one of Kentucky football's spring practice, redshirt sophomore Maxwell Smith got 50 percent of the snaps at quarterback. True sophomores Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow split the remaining half.

On Wednesday, the carousel turned. At the second practice, it was Towles who took half the reps with Whitlow and Smith getting a quarter each.

On Friday, it will be Whitlow's turn to show what he can do in a primary role.

Considering all the intrigue surrounding the quarterback position this spring, there's any number of ways all this could be interpreted. Does Smith have the inside track on the three-man battle since he got the bulk of the reps on day one? Or did Whitlow outplay his two counterparts and earn his way into half the Friday snaps?

Forget all that.

Smith, Towles and Whitlow will rotate at quarterback over 15 practices this spring just like the first week. And the reason Smith got the first crack: His last name is first in the alphabet.

In fact, fans and media can probably save their tea-leaves reading for fall camp.

"I'll be surprised if we know a whole lot by the end of spring just 'cause everything's so new," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.

For now, Brown and head coach Mark Stoops are a lot more concerned about implementing the offense that figuring out who's going to be running it when the Wildcats open the 2013 season in a little more than five months.

True to his word from his introductory press conference, Brown said he expects installation to be complete by the end of Friday's practice. The quarterbacks and everyone else on the offensive side of the ball have had a great deal thrown at them in a very short amount of time. Even so, there's one thing about the new system that sticks out above all else no matter who you ask.

"It's fast," Smith said succinctly. "That's the best way to describe it. It's really fast."

Reporters waiting for interviews at the Nutter Field House on Wednesday got a firsthand look at that speed in watching the final few minutes of practice from a distance. The quarterback awaits either a shotgun or pistol snap with a flurry of activity surrounding him. After just a few seconds, the play begins and the ball is out of his hands via throw or handoff in a blink. Once it's over, it's a frenzy as the offense and defense rush to the line as quickly as possible and it begins all over again.

And it's only day two. Stoops and Brown both say the pace will continue to quicken as players build familiarity with the system.


"It's awesome," Towles said. "We're a team that needs to move fast. Teams like Alabama and Florida with these huge guys, they can afford to take their time and run it down your throat. We're gonna have to, with this Air Raid offense, we're gonna have to move as fast as we can."

In addition to keeping up, the quarterbacks have to deal with an abnormally crowded backfield. But don't worry, Brown isn't trying to marry the Air Raid and the Wing T. The backfield is crowded because Brown is mere feet behind his signal callers shouting instruction with quarterbacks not actually participating in the drill shadowing the movements of the man taking the snaps.

"It's the same as being on the first tee and you're playing golf," Brown said. "You got all these people and you've got to execute a good shot or you're going to hurt somebody."

If that brief description of practice makes it sound like organized chaos, that's by design.

"So when they get in the stadium and I'm over on the sidelines, now it's an easier atmosphere," Brown said. "Same with all the offensive guys. We're on them so hard about pace, I want it to where when they get in that stadium, it's almost an easier atmosphere on game day than it is in practice."

With the speed of practice, the newness of the system and pressure the coaches are trying to create, failure is inevitable, particularly when you consider it takes just one player to derail an entire play. What Brown is hoping for, maybe above all else, is that the Cats react well to that failure - especially the quarterbacks.

"They've got to learn how to prepare. You're not just going to go out here and be an SEC winning team," Brown said. "You've got to prepare and you've got to do it a lot of it on your own time because the NCAA limits us on what we can do. If you want to be a great player and create great teams, you've got to do a lot on your own."

The good news is that Smith, Towles and Whitlow all had at least a partial understanding of the offense Brown teaches coming in. Especially early in 2012 before Smith went down with a season-ending ankle injury, UK used a quick-strike passing attack reminiscent of the one the Cats will employ this fall.

"There's similar plays, but it's just faster," said Smith, who calls his surgically repaired ankle "pretty much" 100 percent. "I'd say it's a lot faster."

As for Towles, he ran a similar offense at Highlands High School with great success, winning three straight state titles and passing for 42 touchdowns against just one interception as a senior. Towles said he feels "at home" in Brown's offense, but stopped short of saying his experience gives him any sort of leg up in the competition that's only in its infancy.

"I feel like myself individually, I'm maybe a step ahead of where I would be if it was another person's offense," Towles said. "But as far as a leg up on anybody else, I'm not really sure."

Whitlow is a bit of an X-factor in the quarterback conversation. His athleticism could add a dimension Brown's highly ranked offenses at Texas Tech and Troy have never had at any time during the last four seasons. Whitlow also showed flashes of the kind of arm talent needed to run Brown's offense effectively in seven starts last year.

Talk about the relative strengths of each of the three is best saved for later though. Right now, Smith, Towles and Whitlow - after going through a season during which UK started four different quarterbacks due to injury - are just happy to be on the field. They've all been through a starting battle before - and in Smith's case, three times - so they know how to handle themselves.

"I love it," Smith said. "It's what it's all about."

For Brown, he knows there's a lot of work ahead, both at quarterback and every other offensive position. But right now, he's getting all he can ask for.

"Our guys are trying hard," Brown said. "We've got the pieces I think; now the pieces that we have got to get better. We've got to get better at every spot. But these kids - as long as they keep preparing, as long as they keep giving great effort - we're gonna have a chance."

The Kentucky Wildcats were inside again for the second practice of the Mark Stoops era on Wednesday. After a day of evaluation, the Cats got back to work and Stoops said he "felt a little bit better today" with the nerves of playing for a new staff beginning to wear off.

The favored topic among media in attendance was, as you might expect, the quarterback position. It's far too early to pronounce a leader in the battle, but you can see what Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown had to say about it all in the video interviews below. Stay tuned later this afternoon for a story on the installation of Brown's fast-paced offense.

Stoops



Brown




You've heard Mark Stoops talk about it briefly. You've heard the buzz on Twitter. You've seen the behind-the-scenes videos showcasing Kentucky football's offseason workouts.

For all those morsels of information, fans still didn't know exactly what was going on with the new high-performance program Stoops has instituted in his first months on the job. If you're starved for more, Jen Smith's story in the Lexington Herald-Leader from a few days ago about the revolutionary program going on at UK and the man leading it, Erik Korem, is the place to start.

Here's an excerpt:

In many ways, UK's players could be the guinea pigs for a football training revolution.

"There are quite a few NFL teams that are wanting to come down and take a look at what we're doing," Korem said. "So we here at Kentucky are at the very front and people are going to want to follow us. And it's not just me; it's our group. We're going to be on the leading edge."

Healthier, faster, stronger

On an 8½ -by-11 sheet of white paper, the "high-performance" concept looks as unassuming as Korem's cramped office, which he shares with the strength and conditioning coach.

At its core it takes the standard model for sports preparation in America -- physical, mental, tactical and technical -- and brings them together under one umbrella.

Holding that Big Blue umbrella is Korem.

Over the coming weeks of spring practice and months into the summer and fall camp, you can expect to read much more. And if Stoops gets the kind of results he's hoping for, it won't be long until his competitors are mimicking him.

Link: Erik Korem the face of UK's new 'high-performance' pursuits

UK's 2012-13 season ended with a 59-57 loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. (Matt Adams, UK Athletics) UK's 2012-13 season ended with a 59-57 loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. (Matt Adams, UK Athletics)
Right from the very beginning, it felt familiar.

Time after time during a season that went according to no one's plan, opponents took the fight right to the Wildcats, using physical play to unnerve an undisputedly talented Kentucky team. After it worked so many times during the regular season, why wouldn't Robert Morris try it in the first round of the NIT with a raucous home crowd?

"Last year, at the beginning of the year, every team played us this way," head coach John Calipari said. "And our guys said, 'It ain't happening.' And they fought back and that was negated. By the end of the year, you could not play us physical and tough and win a ballgame against us. We never accepted that that was an issue (this season)."

It was an issue once again on Tuesday night as the Cats (21-12) saw their season end in a 59-57 loss.

The particulars of the game need little rehashing. The Colonials (24-10) jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but UK battled back behind the inspired play of Jarrod Polson (10 points) and the determination of Archie Goodwin (18 points, seven rebounds). Kentucky would have completed a comeback win had Kyle Wiltjer's buzzer-beating 3-point attempt fallen, but that only would have delayed the inevitable. No matter how long they stayed alive, the Cats' run in the NIT was but a chance to improve heading into next season.

Outsiders will harp on the irresistible "national championship to Moon Township(, Pa.)"storyline to describe UK's change in postseason fortunes in less than a calendar year, but nothing about this season or this game alters Coach Cal's vision for the program.

"All I know is there were things that we did this year we will not do, we'll correct and we'll be fine," Calipari said. "This program's fine. The recruiting is in good shape. We're right where we need to be."

And so begins an intriguing offseason.

Calipari already has locked up his fifth straight top recruiting class. Five players have signed for 2013 and more are expected to come on board this spring. The process of determining who among players from the 2012-13 roster will join them will play itself out in the coming weeks.

"I told them we'll have individual meetings," Calipari said. "I'm not ready to do that yet. We'll have individual meetings and I told them the one this is expect me to be honest with them."

Coach Cal may not quite be ready to discuss stay-or-go decisions, but his players faced inevitable questions about the NBA in the immediate aftermath of the loss. Goodwin and Alex Poythress didn't hesitate to say they don't feel they ready for the next level and they expect to return. Willie Cauley-Stein sang a similar tune, but added that he needs first to evaluate his stock and talk to his family before making any proclamations.

Regardless of their final decisions, Poythress, Goodwin and Cauley-Stein showed maturity in fielding questions about their future. For top recruits - especially those choosing to play at UK - playing one season and going pro has come to be viewed as the norm, rather than the remarkable exception that it truly is. These Cats seem humble and self-aware enough to realize that there's no shame in developing at your own pace.

"You don't come to college expecting to be here one year," Poythress said. "You come to college, you just try to do the best you can. If you have the opportunity, then you can leave."

It's best for fans to anticipate all of UK's players with NBA pedigrees will still at least ponder the possibilities once the sting of a season-ending defeat wears off, but even Calipari is talking like a coach who expects some of his youngsters back for another season.

"What we're gonna have is unbelievable competition," Calipari said. "We may have three teams, so 15 guys that can play. And let's go. It's what we need, kind of like my first year when we had all those players. We're gonna be a little young, but with guys coming back we're still going to have some veteran guys."

Even with all the talk of next year, there was still plenty of reflection on what went wrong with the season that just ended. It was a group that came in with unfair expectations after last year's national championship, starting the season ranked No. 3 despite returning just one major contributor from a year ago.

But for all the praise that poured in from media and fans even before the first practice, it was the fact that the Cats at least partially bought into their own hype that did the real damage. After watching their predecessors steamroll their way to a title, the Cats couldn't help but think they would repeat the performance.

"Last year's team was just so good," said an introspective Poythress. "They made it look so easy and in reality it's not. There's so much hard work you gotta put in."

The 2012 Cats were driven from day one, but they didn't take their hard work to a national-championship level until after they had to navigate their way through a court-rushing mob following a loss at Indiana. It was that game that caused UK to zero in on its goals and morph into a tournament juggernaut.

The 2013 Cats found themselves in a similar situation after losing at Robert Morris. Hundreds of fans streamed onto the floor celebrating the biggest win in school history as UK's players stared with hands on heads.

The timing and circumstances, of course, were very different.

One was a December regular-season loss; the other was a season-ender. This year's Wildcats couldn't become a great team in the span of one season like in 2012, but they still might have a chance to do it on their own schedule.

"It should be driving us for a long time," Poythress said. "It's just going to stay in my mind, stay in the back of my head. It's going to be hard to get out, especially when you end your season like this."

Freshman Nikki Sagermann blasted her first career home run in the Wildcats' 7-1 victory over in state rival Western Kentucky. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Freshman Nikki Sagermann blasted her first career home run in the Wildcats' 7-1 victory over in state rival Western Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
Coming off a weekend during which the University of Kentucky softball team was swept by LSU, including the final two games of the series in which the Cats felt like they had in their grasp, UK got back on the winning side of things with a 7-1 victory over in-state rival Western Kentucky.

The Wildcats excelled all over the field Tuesday evening as the bats came out hot and the pitching was there to keep the Hilltoppers at bay. Kentucky outmatched a WKU team that came into the game sporting a 15-8 record but perhaps more impressively a 5-1 conference record including two wins over top-25 Louisiana-Lafayette.

Overall it was an all-around performance from the Cats and had head coach Rachel Lawson pleased about what she saw out of her team.

"I thought we had good performances on the mound by Lauren (Cumbess) and by (Kelsey) Nunley and then I thought our outfield played great and then offensively it was nice to generate some more offense," Lawson said.

UK wasted no time getting started early scoring three runs in the bottom of the second inning to put Western Kentucky on its heels.

Freshman Nikki Sagermann showed off some of the power Lawson has talked about by giving the Cats a 1-0 advantage with her first career home run. Sagermann has proven her ability to produce at the plate early in her career, coming into the game hitting at a .349 clip on the year, but Lawson has expressed how much more she can provide to UK once her power numbers begin to show.

And tonight she finally got the "monkey off her back" with her first blast of the year.

"Well when she crossed the plate she was like, 'Oh finally,' " Lawson said. "The reason she was recruited is because she is a strong girl and can hit the ball pretty hard. It was nice to see her get that one finally under her belt and hopefully she will be able to take that into tomorrow's game."

After Western Kentucky cut the Wildcats' deficit to 3-1 with a run in the top of the fourth, the Wildcats put the game out of reach in the bottom of the fifth with four runs to extend their lead to 7-1.

Kentucky had a plethora of key situational hits with runners in scoring position on the evening, which always puts a coach in a good mood when her team can step up to the dish and get the job done during the clutch moments of the game. Not to mention it helps give the offense confidence moving forward after a bit of a down three-game series in Baton Rouge, La., last weekend.

"One of our priorities today was to do a better job offensively," Lawson said. "We didn't score a lot of runs this past weekend so we wanted to make sure we were strong in the box and we are attacking good pitches. The fact that we could do that when the game was a little bit close said a lot about how feisty our team is and the ability to come back and learn and get better everyday."

Another positive note from the evening was the pitching performances of Cumbess and Nunley. These were great signs to see from the two Wildcat hurlers as they were both coming off heartbreaking defeats in the late innings to the hands of the LSU Tigers last weekend.

Cumbess gave up just one run through the first four frames before Nunley relieved her for the final three innings to secure her first career save.

Although they came back with loses from the LSU series, Lawson liked how the two pitched against the Tigers and was pleased to see them excel in the circle again tonight.

"It was great for them," Lawson said. "They pitched great this weekend. We didn't generate any offense to help them out and when you play a quality opponent like LSU you've got to score more than just a run or two."

Next up for the Cats is Iowa on Wednesday at the UK Softball Complex before UK returns to SEC play this weekend against Mississippi State.

The offense showed signs of returning to form and Lawson knows the unit has to keep working hard and improving everyday because they are going to need every bit of offensive production they can scratch across the board in league play.

"Our offense knows that and they continue to work hard and we got contributions from a number of people and we got some stolen bases so we did other things besides just hit the home run and that's what we are going to need to do to compete in the SEC," Lawson said.

Link: ESPN on Stoops building from ground up

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Since being hired more than four months ago, Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops has generated local and national headlines. That buzz, however, was about about his work off the field, namely and hiring a coaching staff and putting together the most highly touted recruiting class in recent school history.

With spring practice starting on Monday, we can finally begin to talk about his work on the field.

It will be a while before fans are able to see any tangible progress, but Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com wrote about Stoops beginning the process of turning around the program on Tuesday. Here's an excerpt from the end of the piece:

There was a record crowd around to celebrate with him on national signing day and the athletic department has been very aggressive about upgrading the football facilities. The school plans to spend approximately $110 million on renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and the Nutter Training Center.

Stoops is building from within, while the school builds around him. This won't be a quick fix, but Stoops feels he'll have what he needs to make Kentucky relevant in the SEC again.

"We have everything that we need and with the resources with the things that we're building and the commitment that they have to upgrading our facilities," Stoops said, "we're going to have everything we need to be successful and competitive in this league."

Link: ESPN on Stoops building from ground up

March 17 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, March 17:

Baseball: Austin Cousino

Sophomore centerfielder Austin Cousino had a stellar week in leading the Wildcats to their first series win at Florida since 1999, with UK also picking up a midweek win over Ohio ... Batted .471 (8-for-17) with a double, homer and four RBI, getting hit by a pitch and stealing three bases in three attempts ... Was red hot during the series win at Florida, batting .538 (7-for-13) with a double, homer and four RBI, with all three of his steals coming vs. the Gators ... Had a .706 slugging and a .550 on-base percentage ... In the series opener at UF, Cousino went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, steal and a hit by pitch ... After UK fell in the series opener after three errors in the seventh, Cousino exploded in the series-evening win, going 3-for-5 with four RBI, a double, homer, hit by pitch and stolen base ... In the series finale rubber match, Cousino went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and a stolen base ... In the midweek win over Ohio, Cousino went 1-for-4 with a hit by pitch ... On the year, Cousino has hit .325 with 22 runs, four doubles, four homers and 15 RBI, stealing 8-of-8 bases.

Men's tennis: Kevin Lai

In Kentucky's upset of No. 4 Ole Miss on the road, freshman Kevin Lai clinched the match as he moved to 9-0 on the year, picking up his first-career SEC win. One-time SEC Freshman of the Week, Lai has been a solid player at UK for the six slot, as he has been crucial in many wins over ranked opponents this year. Lai and junior Tom Jomby are ranked 23rd in the country for doubles.

Baseball: Corey Littrell

Junior southpaw Corey Littrell turned in a solid start in a rubber-match win at Florida in the series finale, pacing the Wildcats to its first series win at Florida since the 1999 season ... Littrell worked eight innings and allowed just one run, scattering 10 singles without issuing a walk and striking out seven ... The 2012 Rawlings Gold Glove Award Winner as the NCAA's top defensive pitcher also picked off his third runner of the year and the 14th of his career ... Littrell's rubber-match start marked his ninth start in a series-deciding game in the last two years, with UK winning all nine of those games and Littrell posting a 7-0 record and a 1.92 ERA in those outings ... On the year, Littrell has a 3-0 record and a 2.84 ERA in five starts, tossing 31.2 innings, walking eight and striking out 31 ... With his 18th career win, Littrell moved into a tie for ninth place on the UK career list, just six wins shy of equaling the program mark. 

Men's tennis: Grant Roberts

Junior Grant Roberts was responsible for four of Kentucky's points this weekend as the Wildcats downed No. 4 Ole Miss and No. 13 Mississippi State on the road. Roberts went 4-0, collecting a straight-sets singles win on Sunday and a tight three-setter which gave UK the early lead in the match on Friday. Roberts and senior doubles partner Anthony Rossi also went 2-0 this weekend in doubles, and now are 9-3 (4-1 SEC) in the three doubles slot.

"They not only didn't handle it, they completely botched it. They made it an easy choice for the committee. And it's a shame because the tournament is always better when Kentucky is involved."

That's the assessment of Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy of how Kentucky popped its own bubble last Friday night against Vanderbilt. He said it was not asking that much for the Wildcats to handle the Southeastern Conference's 10th-seeded team and if they couldn't do it, they have nothing to complain about (John Calipari said as much himself on Monday).

So what went wrong? DeCourcy says Kentucky came up short of what it needed to get from the point-guard position.

"John thought he could work with him (Ryan Harrow) but I don't think it worked," DeCourcy said on "The Leach Report" radio show Monday. "They didn't get the kind of play out of the point guard position that they needed. And it's not about being Derrick Rose. Sometimes, it's just about being Anthony Epps - being a good, solid leader, defender, don't make mistakes, make sure everybody is in the right place, doing the right things. But you have to somewhere on the positive side of the ledger and I don't think Ryan was on the positive side at the most crucial times. I think that was the biggest problem with this team. Obviously, the (Nerlens) Noel injury was an issue (too)."

DeCourcy said Kentucky needed Marquis Teague to return for a second season.

"Marquis would have fixed almost everything that's wrong with this team. And so would Doron Lamb," he said, noting that agrees with the argument made by CBS analyst Charles Barkley about too many players leaving the college game too soon. "His point is if you're going and you're in the second round, then you blew it. Guys should never leave school to be second-round picks."

Kentucky figures to be a major contender for the title next season, but what about this year's NCAA Tournament? I asked DeCourcy to give his take on this mythical contest: identify the national champion from the fewest number of contenders.

"You could go seven or six (deep). It depends on how much you trust Florida. They have unbelievable metrics. They're only team in the country that's top five in the country in offensive and defensive efficiency. Why that doesn't translate into more tough wins, I don't know but it doesn't," DeCourcy said, adding that his "six" are the top four seeds in the tournament plus Michigan State and Duke.

DeCourcy says there are two key criteria in honing in on the true title contenders.

"Do you have multiple pros, preferably some that would be lottery-level and do you have top-20 (numbers) in offensive and defensive efficiency. No champion over the last 10 years has been outside the top 20 by the end of the tournament," he explained.

As for significant upset prospects in the first round, DeCourcy cited two games that will be played in Rupp Arena: Bucknell against six seed Butler and Davison against three-seed Marquette.

Looking at Robert Morris

To me, a football analogy works best in discussing Kentucky's NIT matchup. 

Think of it as one of the second-tier bowl games where the key is often what the favorite's mindset is. Do they really want to be there or are they ready for the season to end because they didn't achieve their goals?

One thing's for sure: Robert Morris will bring its "A" game.

"I don't think we've ever seen anything on the level of Kentucky (in the Sewall Center)," said RMU's Jim Duzyk, the media relations manager for the Colonials program. "It's going to be standing room-only and it's going to be crazy. It's something our guys are looking forward to and are going to cherish for the rest of their lives. I think they're going to be ready.

"The Northeast Conference is traditionally a guard's league. Our coaches go after guys that can put the ball in the basket. That's something we've hung out hat on for probably the last 10 years. All these guys have the ability to shoot the 3-pointer and that makes us more dangerous. Our guys are very unselfish and we're very balanced offensively."

Robert Morris averages 8.6 made 3s per game.

Kentucky Sports Report (week of March 18)

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Men's basketball
- Kentucky earned the No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament and will take on Robert Morris in the opening round on Tuesday.
- The invitation to the NIT marks the 22nd-consecutive season UK will take part in postseason play. The Wildcats are 13-6 overall in the NIT and have twice won the title (1946, 1976).
- UK fell 64-48 in the SEC Tournament to Vanderbilt, despite a 12-point effort from freshman Archie Goodwin.
- Senior Julius Mays is six points shy of scoring 1,000 for his collegiate career. He current has 994 total points, with 301 of those tallies coming in a UK uniform.

Gymnastics

- Kentucky reached a new program best 196.775 on Saturday at Penn State.
- The Wildcats extended their school-record streak of scores more than 196 to four.
- Alexis Gross claimed event honors with collegiate-high scores on both uneven bars and balance beam. Gross notched a 9.9 on bars, and received a 9.95 on balance beam. Her 9.95 was third-highest on the event in school history. She received a 9.9 from judge one and a 10.0 from judge two as both averaged a 9.95.
- Kentucky also smashed the program-record beam score with a 49.475.

Softball
- The No. 17 Kentucky softball team earned an impressive midweek win against No. 24 North Carolina, taking down the Tar Heels 18-0 behind the ninth no-hitter in school history from freshman pitcher Katie Henderson. Henderson went all five innings in the win, striking out four with only one walk. The no-hitter was the first for UK since Chanda Bell threw a no-hitter against LSU in 2012.
- The UK offense set many school records in the win as the 18 runs scored and four homers tied the most runs scored in a game in school annals, while UK's 18 runs batted in was the most ever in a single game in school history. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner was the leader of the pack offensively in the win, posting a 4-for-4 night with career highs in home runs with two, runs scored with four and runs batted in with six.
- The Wildcats could not keep up the momentum going over the weekend, falling in all three games to No. 13 LSU. The Wildcats dropped the first game 7-1 before dropping the next two games in LSU's last at bat.

Baseball
- Kentucky posted its first series win in Gainesville in 14 years over the weekend and just the fifth in the history of the series that dates back to 1953.
- The Wildcats fell in the opener after a three-error seventh inning in a 1-1 game and rebounded with an 11-5 win over the Gators on Saturday. In the rubber match, UK turned to Corey Littrell, who pitched UK to the series win in a 6-2 result at McKethan Stadium.
- The Wildcats have hit .297 as a team, belting 31 doubles, five triples and 14 homers, scoring 149 runs and stealing 29 bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.45 team ERA, allowing 164 hits in 169 innings, walking 41 and striking out 138.

Men's tennis
- No. 10 Kentucky completed the Mississippi swing this weekend, coming out of the weekend 2-0 with a 4-1 win over No. 4 Ole Miss and a 4-2 win over No. 13 Mississippi State.
- Kentucky now sits at 16-4 overall and stands tied atop the SEC standings with a 4-1 in-conference record.
- No. 31 Anthony Rossi picked up the clinching match on Sunday over No. 18 Romain Bogearts 7-6 (3), 6-3 of MSU. Rossi's doubles partner, Grant Roberts went 4-0 on the weekend as well. In Friday's 4-1 win at Ole Miss, freshman Kevin Lai clinched the match as he moved to 9-0 on the year, picking up his first-career SEC win.

Women's tennis
- The Kentucky women's tennis team went 1-1 over the weekend, falling to Ole Miss 4-3 on Friday before defeating Mississippi State 7-0 on Sunday.
- Freshman Nadia Ravita won two singles matches in the No. 1 singles slot, improving her record to 15-2.
- Sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Kirsten Lewis both went 2-0 in singles over the weekend.

Track and field
- Kentucky opened the outdoor season with seven event titles by either individual competitors or relay teams.
- Andrew Evans won the discus behind a new personal record mark of 59.27m/194'05".
- Kayla Parker won the 100-meter hurdles with a PR 13.51 performance.
- Both the men's and women's teams won the 4x100-meter relays.
- Keffri Neal won the 1,500 meters with a personal-record time of 3:51.60. Teammate Adam Kahleifeh also posted a PR time of 3:51.94 to finish in second-position.
- Raymond Dykstra showed off his 2012 All-America credentials in the javelin with a meet-winning performance of 67.84m/222'07"

Men's golf
- The Kentucky men's golf team wrapped up the week with two top-10 finishes, placing tied for fifth at the Tiger Invitational and tied for sixth at the Schenkel Invitational.
- Junior Stephen Powers recorded his second straight top-10 finish at the Tiger Invite with a 6-over-par, 222, placing tied for sixth overall. Junior Ben Stow also was in the top-20, finishing tied for 14th at 8-over.
- Stow continued his torrid play at the Schenkel Invite, posting his first career top-10 finish, placing tied for ninth at 1-under-par. The Salisbury, England native charted a career-low score of 215.

Women's golf
- The UK women's golf team competed in their second tournament of the spring, finishing tied for ninth in the 18-team field at the Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate.
- Senior Betsie Johnson was the low scorer for the Wildcats, recording her first top-20 finish of the year, placing tied for 19th at 9-over-par.

Swimming and diving
- Greg Ferrucci, John Fox and Christa Cabot each earned berths to the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships with their performances at the Zone C Diving Championships in West Lafayette, Ind., this past weekend.
- Ferrucci won both the 3-meter (888.05) and 1-meter (825.75) springboard events to advance to his third straight NCAA Championships, and broke the program record on the 3-meter for a six-dive score with a 434.85. Fox earned fourth place on the 3-meter (761.95) to advance to his first NCAA Championships.
- Cabot earned her spot on the first day of competition on the 3-meter board, scoring 623.10 to earn a fourth place finish. It will be the sophomore's first career appearance at the NCAA Championships.

Upcoming schedule

Tuesday, March 19
Softball hosts Western Kentucky - 6:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Western Kentucky - 6:30 p.m.
Men's basketball at Robert Morris - 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 20
Softball hosts Iowa - 4:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 21
Swimming and diving at Women's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Track and field at Florida State Relays (Tallahassee, Fla.)

Friday, March 22
Track and field at Alabama Relays - 12:00 p.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Men's tennis hosts Tennessee - 2:00 p.m.
Women's tennis at Tennessee - 5:00 p.m.
Softball hosts Mississippi State - 6:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Mississippi State - 6:30 p.m.
Women's golf at LSU Golf Classic (Baton Rouge, La.)
Swimming and diving at Women's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Track and field at Florida State Relays (Tallahassee, Fla.)

Saturday, March 23
Baseball hosts Mississippi State - 12:00 p.m.
Softball hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m.
Track and field at Alabama Relays - 3:00 p.m. Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Gymnastics at SEC Championships (North Little Rock, Ark.)
Track and field at Florida State Relays (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Women's golf at LSU Golf Classic (Baton Rouge, La.)
Swimming and diving at Women's NCAA Championships (Statesboro, Ga.)

Sunday, March 24
Women's tennis at Georgia - 1:00 p.m.
Softball hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m.
Men's tennis hosts Georgia - 1:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at SEC Finals - 3:30 p.m. (Nashville)
Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C.)
Women's golf at LSU Golf Classic (Baton, Rouge, La.)

Kentucky will travel to Queens, N.Y., near the hometown of point guard Jennifer O'Neill. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Kentucky will travel to Queens, N.Y., near the hometown of point guard Jennifer O'Neill. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky women's basketball team is going to the Big Apple, but don't expect sightseeing to be a priority this weekend.

Earning a two seed for the second year in a row, the Wildcats will be paired up with Navy for their first-round game at 12:05 ET at Carnesecca Arena with the winner of host St. John's and Dayton waiting on the other side.

Kentucky's body of work, despite a disappointing loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, was more than enough to give UK the  second seed in the Bridgeport Regional. It was a favorable draw for the Wildcats as the coaching staff had circled Queens, N.Y., as its most coveted first- and second-round landing spot.

"We were so excited about that possibility," said an energetic Matthew Mitchell. "As you work your way through the options, you sort of felt like we were a two seed, so you started at places you could possibly go. When Queens looked like some place we could go, clearly with Jennifer (O'Neill) and Jelleah (Sydney), that was the most exciting and attractive place for us."

O'Neill and Sidney each hail from New York, and no one in Mitchell's jam-packed basement watching ESPN's Selection Show was more elated than O'Neill when "Kentucky" flashed up on the television in the Queens bracket.

"(O'Neill's) the most excited," said SEC co-Player of the Year A'dia Mathies. "She didn't even want to fill out her bracket any more, but I mean it's good because we'll have a lot of support up in New York."

With all of O'Neill's teammates coming to her home city, she would love to be able to show them all of the sights and sounds that New York has to offer. But with Kentucky on a business trip and not vacation, she's not sure if they'll have time.

"If we have a chance to do that, I would love to, but I don't think that's going to happen," said O'Neill with an irrepressible smile on her face.

The bracket sets up nicely for Kentucky with the Wildcats drawing UConn as their No. 1 seed and likely Elite Eight matchup if UK were to make it that far. Last season, the Wildcats did. And last season, they played the Huskies in that very game.

Storylines would write themselves if that matchup came to pass for the second consecutive season.

The Cats hung with one-seeded UConn for the whole first half, but things got away from them as UK could not put a full 40 minutes together. That game alone was inspiration for Kentucky's "40 minutes" campaign this season after the Cats saw that they could hang with the Huskies despite dropping the game, 80-65.

With UConn in the same regional once again, Mitchell and company would relish in the opportunity of a rematch.

"Boy, that would be great because that would mean we were in the final eight," said Mitchell." (There's) A lot of basketball between us and that matchup, but we would certainly be very excited to play in the Elite Eight, and it's going to be a really tough road with some quality teams in our bracket.

"We definitely learned a lot from that game last year. We felt like we made some improvements this year because we were able to compete against an excellent program, and UConn tests you in a lot of different ways, so it's interesting."

Kentucky is still learning from that game. Just today Mitchell had his team watching video from last season's UConn matchup.

"I think it's definitely interesting," said Mathies. "I think, we watched film actually today on that game and how it slipped away little by little, but we know we're a different team this year and we feel like if we do the things necessary, the things we should be doing, then we definitely should make the Final Four."

Mathies, who was named to the SEC All-Tournament team after multiple dynamic performances in Duluth, Ga., two weekends ago, is still disappointed with the loss in the championship game to Texas A&M. She was adamant leading up to UK's first game that the Cats were the team to beat in the tournament, and not delivering in the manner that they did was not acceptable.

Now she'll look to make an impression in this 2013 NCAA Tournament as she plays in her final games in a Kentucky uniform, and like the SEC Tournament, she thinks if they take care of business, they can win it.

"I think confidence is a big thing," said Mathies. "We definitely feel like we should have won the SEC (Tournament), we just didn't come out. We were very lethargic in the championship game, and we know that that's not acceptable. If we come out and play the way we should be playing, then a game like that won't happen and we should win every game here on out."

For now, Kentucky can't look too far ahead with Navy on Sunday. In order for the Cats to have that opportunity to meet with Geno Auriemma's Huskies, they'll first have to take care of each step along the way. Mitchell doesn't know much about the Midshipmen yet, but he knows that if they've made the field, they've done the work to deserve it. And he'll make sure he and his staff works hard to be ready this weekend.

"Clearly they've done a great job to be in the tournament," said Mitchell. "We will be prepared to investigate everything we can about them and find out what we face here in that first round game."

Video: UK Hoops reacts to tourney bid

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The Wildcats learn about No. 2 seed


Head coach Matthew Mitchell



Senior guard A'dia Mathies



Sophomore guard Jennifer O'Neill


Cats glad to have chance to keep playing

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UK will open NIT play at Robert Morris on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. (Josh McCoy, UK Athletics) UK will open NIT play at Robert Morris on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. (Josh McCoy, UK Athletics)
The disappointment over missing out on the NCAA Tournament still lingers for the Kentucky Wildcats. Talking to Julius Mays and Jon Hood on a rainy Lexington Monday that seemed to match the mood of UK fans, that much is clear.

The good news is they don't just have to sit around and sulk. Named the top overall seed in the NIT, the Cats will be taking the floor barely 48 hours removed from not hearing their names called on the Selection Show.

"I think just to have the opportunity to keep playing with each other will be a lot of fun," guard Julius Mays said. "I know I'm looking forward to it. Obviously it's not the tournament I want to be in, but just to get the chance to keep playing is the most important thing."

As UK prepares for Tuesday's game at Robert Morris (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), Jon Hood is echoing Mays' sentiments. The Cats might not be playing for the trophy they really want and defending last year's national championship, but it's called "playing" basketball for a reason, isn't it?

"Playing basketball's fun. Writing columns is fun for you," Hood said in response to a writer for a local newspaper. "Playing basketball is fun for me. So that's what I'm looking forward to."

John Calipari won't be playing, but he's taking a similar approach.

During a season in which he's tried everything he could come up with to inspire his team to reach its potential, the NIT gives the Cats a little extra time to click.

"We've got issues, let's deal with them," Calipari said. "Let's use them to get better. We've got more time to practice with our team. We've got a bunch of young players. We're going to use the time to get better."

Given how young the Cats (21-11) are, any improvement they make right now figures to pay dividends next season, but it's not as if they are eschewing any thoughts of winning right now. Robert Morris (23-10) is a deep, experienced team that is 12-3 on its home court this season and won the Northeastern Conference regular-season title. Six of the Colonials' top seven scorers and their bench accounts for 37.6 of the team's minutes played on the season - 40th in the nation.

"Robert Morris is really good, (won 23) games, really efficient and they turn you over a lot," Hood said. "They're tough, Pittsburgh guys that are just gonna fight you. We just have to get over that. We have to understand that that's coming and accept it play through it."

Coach Cal likened Robert Morris to Arkansas because of the physical pressure the Colonials apply to the ball. UK lost by 13 points at Arkansas less than three weeks ago while Robert Morris fell by just five in a hard-fought game on the Razorbacks' home floor back in December.

On the season, Robert Morris steals the ball on 13.5 percent its opponents' possessions, the ninth-highest rate in the nation. That starts with point guard Velton Jones, who averages 1.8 steals a game to go with 5.2 assists and 10.9 points.

"Their point guard, he'll grab guys," Calipari said, who will be returning to his hometown of Moon Township, PA., for the game. "I've seen him on tape just go grab a guy. But it's because he has the ability to physically dominate a game that he can do that and no one messes with him."

The Colonials have the added - and unique - advantage of playing on their home floor, the Sewall Center, which seats just 3,056. ("That's smaller than my high school gym," said Hood.)

Some fans were disappointed to learn the higher-seeded Cats wouldn't be hosting in the NIT until the second round due to staffing issues with the NCAA Tournament being played in Rupp Arena this week. Coach Cal, however, was not.

Still just days removed when UK delivered a disappointing performance in a game against Vanderbilt in which it could have locked up a berth in the Big Dance, Calipari believes the Cats must prove they want to keep playing. His players agree.

"We don't want fans to go buy tickets and might have a few guys that don't really want to be there and we show it and lay another egg on the first game, so I do think we do have to prove ourselves that we want to play and I do think we have something to prove, so I hope guys are ready to play," Mays said.

The only reasonable course of action for the Cats is to focus on the task at hand, regardless of the fact that they'd rather be playing in another tournament. Very few teams get to end their seasons with a win and UK wants to be one of them for the second season in a row.

"It means that you went out on the right note, you went out on a good note and you always want to do that," Hood said of potentially winning the NIT. "You always want to end your season with a win and there's two teams that do that. And we want to be the second team. It stinks were not in the NCAA and can't do it there, but life goes on."

John Calipari


Julius Mays


Jon Hood


Kentucky football held the first practice of the Mark Stoops era on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky football held the first practice of the Mark Stoops era on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops has had a busy last four months.

He has hired a coaching staff. He has put together 2013 recruiting class and laid the foundation for 2014. He has moved his young family from Tallahassee, Fla., to Lexington. He has met more people than he could possibly count.

Notably absent from that list is doing what Mitch Barnhart brought him to Kentucky to do: coaching football. On Monday, that finally changed.

After months of interviews, handshakes and meetings, Stoops got to do what he loves.

"It felt good to get out there and chew some guys out a little bit," Stoops said with a smile.

In truth, yelling isn't the reason Stoops enjoys coaching as much as he does; it's the process of shaping a group of young men and leading them to perform at levels they didn't know were possible. With a good first spring practice on Monday morning, that process began in earnest.

"I thought the guys had a really good attitude, and what I can tell was that they had a clue on what to do offensively, a clue on what to do defensively," Stoops said.

That doesn't mean it was always pretty. Stoops said execution was at times "very sloppy" and footballs were too often on the ground, but saw only positive signs in terms of focus and effort.

"I felt like day one, their hearts were in the right place," Stoops said. "I felt like they were locked in. I say we had a good sense of urgency, not what we needed to be, but I felt guys were trying to move around and be locked in on both sides of the ball."

Stoops has consistently remarked that his players are committed having seen their habits in UK's new High Performance program. He has taken over a group that still has the disappointment of 2012 fresh in mind, making players eager to turn the page and move on to a new era of Kentucky football.

"With the losses we suffered last year and a few players kind of down about it, of course it's not the result that you want but we're all coming out with new attitudes and we're just attacking it," senior running back Jonathan George said. "We're attacking every day. Whether it's in the film room or whether it's on the field or in the weight room, we're attacking it."

As they seek to improve execution and learn new offensive and defensive systems, the best way the Wildcats can "attack" practice is by embracing the faster pace with which the new coaching staff is asking them to play.

"It was a little more up-tempo today and with it being the first practice the coaches had high expectations with us," George said. "They expect us to come out and play fast and fly around the field. And that's what we did today."

Stoops agreed, saying UK's pace was "very good" for a first practice.

What he didn't see were leaders emerging on either side of the ball, not that that's any problem. In fact, Stoops liked the fact that no one was trying to force his way into a leadership role when it wasn't yet appropriate.

"Everybody was out there holding on today," Stoops said. "They were holding on, so, you know, it was hard to get a sense of that leadership. Again, I'd rather have it that way than a bunch of rah rah phony stuff and guys not locked in and not being real."

Senior Avery Williamson - UK's leading tackler from last season and presumed starter at middle linebacker - figures to eventually emerge as a vocal presence. For now, he has enough maturity to realize it's not his time yet.

"I wasn't really trying to be out there trying to yell at everybody because I was messing up myself," Williamson said. "Just really trying to get a feel for everything, get a feel for the coaches and the plays and different things and then after a couple practices you can start stepping up."

The leadership isn't there, but neither Williamson nor his coach is all that worried. In the limited practice time the next few weeks has to offer, it's all about getting on the same page about what Kentucky football will be from this point forward.

"Offensively and defensively at the end of these 15 practices, these players should know, this is who we are offensively and this is who we are defensively," Stoops said. "There will be much more but the basics, you know, is a big part of who we are. They need to know that."

Here are a few more quick hitters from day one of spring practice:

  • Due to inclement weather, practice was moved indoors to the Nutter Field House. Of course he would rather be outside, but Stoops is pleased with the venue. "I like the indoor, I really do," Stoops said. "I feel like we can get good work in there."
  • Media in attendance for Stoops' press conference received guides for spring football 2013. Reporters quickly thumbed to the roster page and found a handful of interesting positional listings. Bud Dupree is at defensive end (not linebacker where he played much of last year), junior-college transfer Steven Borden is at both tight end and wide receiver and Zach West at both guard and center. Notably absent, however, is a depth chart. Players are listed only alphabetically by position right now. "I just didn't feel that was right until we had a chance to work with these guys," Stoops said of his decision not to release a depth chart.
  • Monday was the first time Stoops got the chance to see Neal Brown in action. He couldn't help but be impressed with his offensive coordinator. "I think Neal had the whole offensive side of the ball very organized," Stoops said. "I like the drills. I like the efficiency."
  • The offensive side is home to the positional battle that will surely draw the most attention throughout the spring. Sophomore quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles all saw extensive action last season and will engage in open competition. On Monday, snaps were split equally among them. "We are rotating them each drill just to be fair with those guys," Stoops said. "All of them had their ups and downs. Each of them looked really good at times and at times, you know, they struggled just putting it all together, which you can understand."
  • It's clearly still very early, but UK's defensive players were struck by the relative simplicity of the base 4-3 system stoops and coordinator D.J. Eliot have brought with them. "It's so much simpler and less communication has to be made, which is kind of better," Williamson said. "It helps us out so we don't have to make as many calls."
  • On the injury front, Stoops says UK is healthy "for the most part." The exception mentioned on Monday was running back Josh Clemons, who missed all of last season recovering from a torn meniscus. When asked about Clemons' availability, Stoops said, "We'll see."
  • UK will practice twice more this week on Wednesday and Friday, opting not to scrimmage on Saturday in order to fully review installation. UK will practice in full pads on Friday.

Senior linebacker Avery Williamson and senior running back Jonathan George


Coach Cal tweets on UK's NIT road game

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UK's first-round road game in the NIT has been a source of disagreement since the Wildcats learned they would be traveling to Robert Morris for a game on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Some have been unwilling to accept that the NCAA Tournament games being hosted in Rupp Arena this week as well as other sports in action created an untenable staffing situation for a potential game in Memorial Coliseum this week.

Don't count John Calipari among that group.

On Monday morning, Coach Cal did as he often does and tweeted his thoughts on the topic of the day.




Calipari brings up an interesting point about his team needing to prove itself before fans invest more money in coming to watch the Cats play. If UK takes care of business, the Big Blue Nation will stall have two more chances to fill Rupp Arena.

Football opens spring practice Monday morning

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Over the past four months, Mark Stoops has infused the Kentucky football program with a remarkable sense of excitement, and he's done it all without coaching a single practice. On Monday, that changes.

UK will hold its first practice of the spring on Monday morning. Due to inclement weather, the session was moved inside. Afterward, selected players will be available for interviews and Stoops will hold a press conference to talk about his team and installation of his system. We will have video and at least one story here on Cat Scratches later in the day.

There are certainly a lot of storylines worth following leading up to the Blue/White Spring Game on April 13 at 7 p.m. ET, so what are you excited to hear about? Is it the defensive improvement that has been a signature of Stoops' stops as coordinator? What about the quarterback battle? Or Neal Brown's offense, which he said will take no more than a handful of practices for players to learn?

We'll be doing our best to cover all that and more in the coming weeks.

Kentucky baseball: Weekend update (March 18)

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Overall Record: 16-3, 2-1 SEC
Record Last Week: 3-1, 2-1 SEC

Recent Results
Tuesday, March 12 - won vs. Ohio, 6-3
Friday, March 15 - lost at Florida, 1-4
Saturday, March 16 - won at Florida, 11-5
Sunday, March 17 - won at Florida, 6-2

Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern)
Tuesday, March 19 - vs. Western Kentucky - 6:30 p.m.
Friday, March 21 - vs. No. 8 Mississippi State - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 22 - vs. No. 8 Mississippi State - 12 p.m.
Sunday, March 23 - vs. No. 8 Mississippi State - 1 p.m..

Player of the week nominee
Austin Cousino
5-10 - So. - CF - Dublin, Ohio (Dublin Coffman)
Week Stats: .471 (8-for-17), 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 3 HBP, 3-3 SB, .706 SLG%, .550 OB%

Notes: Sophomore centerfielder Austin Cousino had a stellar week in leading the Wildcats to their first series win at Florida since 1999, with UK also picking up a midweek win over Ohio ... Batted .471 (8-for-17) with a double, homer and four RBI, getting hit by a pitch and stealing three bases in three attempts ... Was red hot during the series win at Florida, batting .538 (7-for-13) with a double, homer and four RBI, with all three of his steals coming vs. the Gators ... Had a .706 slugging and a .550 on-base percentage ... In the series opener at UF, Cousino went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, steal and a hit by pitch ... After UK fell in the series opener after three errors in the seventh, Cousino exploded in the series-evening win, going 3-for-5 with four RBI, a double, homer, hit by pitch and stolen base ... In the series finale rubber match, Cousino went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and a stolen base ... In the midweek win over Ohio, Cousino went 1-for-4 with a hit by pitch ... On the year, Cousino has hit .325 with 22 runs, four doubles, four homers and 15 RBI, stealing 8-of-8 bases.

Pitcher of the week nominee
Corey Littrell

6-3 - Jr. - LHP - Louisville, Ky. (Trinity)
Week Stats: 1-0, 1.12 ERA, 1 GS, 8 IP, 10 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 SO

Notes: Junior southpaw Corey Littrell turned in a solid start in a rubber-match win at Florida in the series finale, pacing the Wildcats to its first series win at Florida since the 1999 season ... Littrell worked eight innings and allowed just one run, scattering 10 singles without issuing a walk and striking out seven ... The 2012 Rawlings Gold Glove Award Winner as the NCAA's top defensive pitcher also picked off his third runner of the year and the 14th of his career ... Littrell's rubber-match start marked his ninth start in a series-deciding game in the last two years, with UK winning all nine of those games and Littrell posting a 7-0 record and a 1.92 ERA in those outings ... On the year, Littrell has a 3-0 record and a 2.84 ERA in five starts, tossing 31.2 innings, walking eight and striking out 31 ... With his 18th career win, Littrell moved into a tie for ninth place on the UK career list, just six wins shy of equaling the program mark.  

Team notes
Ninth-ranked Kentucky completed a four-game week with a historic series win at Florida, its first series win in Gainesville since the 1999 season. UK also picked up a midweek win over Ohio, before traveling to the Sunshine State. UK will return to action with a Tuesday game vs. Western Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. ET at Cliff Hagan Stadium, before hosting No. 8 Mississippi State for a three-game SEC series at The Cliff.

Kentucky (16-3, 2-1 SEC) posted its first series win in Gainesville in 14 years over the weekend and just the fifth in the history of the series that dates back to 1953. The Wildcats fell in the opener after a three-error seventh inning in a 1-1 game and rebounded with an 11-5 win over the Gators on Saturday. In the rubber match, UK turned to Corey Littrell, who pitched UK to the series win in a 6-2 result at McKethan Stadium.

The Wildcats have hit .297 as a team, belting 31 doubles, five triples and 14 homers, scoring 149 runs and stealing 29 bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.45 team ERA, allowing 164 hits in 169 innings, walking 41 and striking out 138.

Individually, UK has been led by junior infielder J.T. Riddle who has hit .372 with four doubles, one triple, one homer and 16 RBI. Two-way All-American A.J. Reed has a .370 average with three doubles, two triples, five homers and 26 RBI, while catcher Micheal Thomas has hit .341 with one double, one homer and 12 RBI. All-America centerfielder Austin Cousino has added a .325 average with four doubles, four homers and 15 RBI, stealing 8-of-8 bases.

On the mound, UK's weekend rotation of Reed (2-2, 2.83 ERA), Jerad Grundy (4-1, 1.93 ERA) and Corey Littrell (3-0, 2.84 ERA) have been highly efficient through five weekends. In the bullpen, UK career and single-season record holder in saves, Trevor Gott (2-0, 0.79 ERA), lead the team with 10 appearances, posting six saves in 11.1 innings, striking out 11. Senior Walter Wijas (1-0, 0.93 ERA) has appeared in eight games, working 9.2 innings and striking out seven. Freshman righty Zach Strecker (1-0, 1.42 ERA) has worked in seven games, while freshman Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 0.00 ERA) has appeared in five games and worked 6.1 shutout innings. Ryne Combs (0-0, 1.50 ERA) and Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 3.21 ERA) have also been weapons in the bullpen.

Kentucky will host Mississippi State and former UK head coach John Cohen in its first home SEC series of the year. UK will welcome the Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, with the series resuming at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday and concluding at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Coach Cal looking to make most of NIT trip

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John Calipari will return to his hometown of Moon Township, Pa., for UK's first round NIT game vs. Robert Morris. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari will return to his hometown of Moon Township, Pa., for UK's first round NIT game vs. Robert Morris. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There's no clouding the fact that the NIT is not where Kentucky wanted to be on Selection Sunday. The Wildcats, of course, wanted to be defending their national championship in the NCAA Tournament this March.

But after the Cats learned that won't be happened, they had to move on. For John Calipari, that means looking to the future.

"I'm really disappointed we didn't make the NCAA Tournament but we are going to use this time to make us better," Calipari said in a tweet.

The good news is that Coach Cal and the Cats will be able to improve by playing actual games.

Just hours after UK found out it would not play in the Big Dance, the Cats were tabbed as the top overall seed in the NIT. There, they will face Robert Morris at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday on ESPN. UK last played in the NIT in 2009 - the season before Coach Cal arrived in Lexington - and the Cats won two games and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing at Notre Dame.

That season, UK played its first-round game in Memorial Coliseum and was positioned to host once again in 2013 as a No. 1 seed. However, due to the fact NCAA Tournament second- and third-round games are being played in Rupp Arena this week, UK was unable to do so.

"We did not place a bid to host the first round of the NIT due to limited staff availability to properly host a game at Memorial Coliseum," Executive Associate Athletics Director DeWayne Peevy said in a statement. "Because the University of Kentucky is hosting the NCAA second- and third-round games at Rupp Arena on March 21 and 23, the facility was not available for a first-round NIT game."

Should UK advance past Robert Morris, the Cats would host either Providence or Charlotte in the second round in Rupp as well as a potential quarterfinal.

Though the Cats won't be playing at home, the NIT first round will be a homecoming for Coach Cal. Calipari's home town is Moon Township, Pa., which happens to be the same Pittsburgh suburb where Robert Morris is located.

In fact, the Charles L. Sewall Center, the 3,056-seat arena where Robert Morris plays its home games, is barely a mile drive down University Boulevard from Moon Area High School, Coach Cal's alma mater. Adding another piece of interesting backstory, Calipari's grandmother worked in the Robert Morris cafeteria.

As proud as locals may be of their native son, Robert Morris won't be looking to give him too friendly a welcome. The Colonials (23-10) received an NIT bid after winning the Northeastern Conference regular-season title but falling short of the NEC's automatic bid by losing to Mount St. Mary's in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

"I feel like Rocky from Rocky I, who just got his shot at the champion to fight against the defending national champion in our home city," said third-year head coach Andrew Toole in joining ESPNU's NIT Selection Show.

Robert Morris, however, has more prizefighting experience than Rocky Balboa did when he got his shot at heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.

The Colonials have won 15 of 18 games and boast a victory over co-Mid-Atlantic Conference champion Ohio. They also lost by just two on the road against Xavier and held a second-half lead at Arkansas before falling, 79-74.

"We knew we were going to play a team like Kentucky or one of the teams that was on the bubble and hopefully we'll prepare ourselves mentally to go and play a great game against a great team," Toole said.

UK has faced Robert Morris just once in school history, winning 92-67 on Dec. 30, 1993 in Rupp.

Whoever the Cats' opponent turned out to be, Coach Cal's priorities for the NIT were going to remain the same. He wants to win games even though the tournament in which he's coaching doesn't have all the right letters, but the simple fact that he gets to keep coaching his team is what matters.

"Even now, I'm going to coach these guys, try to make them better (and) give everything I can to make sure we control our destiny in the future," Calipari said.

Calipari, like the Big Blue Nation, doesn't want to ever be on the NCAA Tournament bubble again. The path to making that happen starts now.

UK misses out on NCAA Tournament field

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After a long two days of waiting, the Kentucky Wildcats received the news they were hoping to avoid on Sunday evening.

For just the second time in 22 seasons, UK was left out of the NCAA Tournament field when brackets were announced on the Selection Show. UK last missed the tournament in 2009, the year before John Calipari's arrival as head coach.

The tension lasted until the final moment, as the second play-in game featuring at-large teams was saved until the final bracket. But when Boise State and La Salle appeared as No. 13 seeds in the West Region, it was clear the Cats would not be included.

Positioned to likely clinch a bid with a victory over Vanderbilt on Friday night, the Cats (21-11) instead left their fate in the hands of the selection committee. They were then disappointed to learn they would not be a part of the Big Dance in spite of a resume that matched up well with fellow bubble teams.

Along with Boise State and La Salle, the final at-large teams to make the field were Middle Tennessee State and St. Mary's. Selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski, in joining the Selection Show broadcast, was asked about the inclusion of Middle Tennessee State, a team that had just one victory against teams ranked in the RPI's top 100. Bobinski revealed that the "deciding factor in a lot of those cases" was performance away from home.

"The difference between Middle Tennessee and some of the other (bubble teams) really in our mind was the ability to win on the road," Bobinski said.

UK was 4-7 in true road games this season, but winless in three tries after losing Nerlens Noel to injury. MTSU was 9-3, Boise State 5-9, La Salle 8-6 and St. Mary's 9-2.

The Cats will now turn their attention to the NIT. The NIT Selection Show will air at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

UPDATE: Coach Cal tweeted his thoughts on UK missing the tournament on Sunday night. Here's what he had to say.

"I'm really disappointed we didn't make the NCAA Tournament but we are going to use this time to make us better. We had our chances, but I'm not going to stop. It's a great lesson for the future of our program (and) a humbling experience for me as a coach. To the (Big Blue Nation), you did your part all season long. You showed up in droves and helped us pull through key games. We didn't do our part. Even now, I'm going to coach these guys, try to make them better (and) give everything I can to make sure we control our destiny in the future."

At this do-or-die time of the year, it seems like every game takes on a greater importance the closer and closer we get to Selection Sunday.

That's why Kentucky's 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament seems to have hurt the Wildcats so much. At such at a critical time of the year, it wasn't the greatest timing to lose their second game to a team outside the RPI top 100.

"It was in our hands to take it out of everybody's hands and we didn't take care of business," John Calipari said Friday.

As true as that statement is - UK was essentially a lock for the NCAA Tournament with a win over Vanderbilt - perhaps everyone overreacted just a bit in the immediate aftermath of the loss to the Commodores.

While the loss certainly hurt Kentucky's national perception, did it really do all that much to damage its overall body of work? If the NCAA selection committee really does count every game of the season the same - and NCAA chairman Mike Bobinski said exactly that Saturday when he said games at this time of the year weigh equally with every other game during the season - UK appears to have a résumé that stacks up pretty favorably to rest of the so-called bubble teams.

Don't believe that? I decided to compile the résumés of Joe Lunardi's "last four in" and "first four out" categories in his latest NCAA Tournament projections just to see how Kentucky measured up to those other teams. UK's RPI, strength of schedule and record vs. the RPI top 50 are all pretty competitive with the bubble teams vying for the final few at-large berths.

The one thing Kentucky has gotten criticized for this year is its lack of "good" wins, but if you evaluate UK's quality wins (a victory against a top-50 RPI opponent) with the other eight schools below, UK has just as many quality wins as its competition and actually fewer costly losses (losses to teams rated outside the RPI's top 100) than most of the pack.

Obviously the Cats are being judged without Nerlens Noel, but in the process of going 4-4 without their top big man, they picked up two of their biggest victories of the season (Florida and Missouri).

"When we play - where everybody plays as a team everybody does what they're supposed to do - we can beat anybody," freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. "We beat Florida. We beat Missouri. We beat Ole Miss. Missouri's in it; they're a lock. We beat them. Florida's a lock. We beat them. And Ole Miss is on the bubble, so we showed we can beat anybody"

Comparing résumés isn't where John Calipari's team would have liked to have been when it started this season, but since when do preseason expectations dictate who the best 68 teams in the country are? When it comes down to it - loss to Vanderbilt and all - UK's profile still stacks up (not to mention a 3-1 record vs. the eight teams below), and the Wildcats are still very much a factor heading into Selection Sunday.

NCAA Tournament "bubble" profiles

(note: Ole Miss and Southern Miss' RPI and strength of schedule do not factor in their games on Saturday since those numbers have not been updated; all information was compiled from ESPN's RPI standings as of 6 p.m. on Saturday; while the RPI does not determine who gets in the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA selection committee uses the rankings as a measuring stick when selecting the field; Ole Miss is the only bubble team still playing and can win an automatic berth with a victory over Florida in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game on Sunday.)


Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 21-11
RPI: 56
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 7-9
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 12-0
Strength of schedule: 73
Quality wins: Florida, Missouri, at Ole Miss
Costly losses: at Georgia, Vanderbilt
Record away from home: 5-9
KenPom.com ranking: 44
Sagarin rating: 36

Lunardi's "Last Four In"


Boise State Broncos
Record: 21-10 (19-10 vs. Division I)
RPI: 44
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-7
Record vs. RPI top 100: 8-8
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 7-2
Strength of schedule: 44
Quality wins: at Creighton, UNLV, Colorado State, San Diego State
Costly losses: at Utah, at Nevada
Record away from home: 7-9
KenPom.com ranking: 49
Sagarin rating: 59

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Record: 28-5
RPI: 29
Record vs. RPI top 50: 1-3
Record vs. RPI top 100: 2-3
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 21-1
Strength of schedule: 134
Quality wins: Ole Miss
Costly losses: Florida International
Record away from home: 13-5
KenPom.com ranking: 31
Sagarin rating: 53

Ole Miss Rebels

Record: 25-8
RPI: 50
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-3
Record vs. RPI top 100: 8-6
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 13-2
Strength of schedule: 143
Quality wins: Missouri, Missouri (neutral)
Costly losses: at South Carolina, at Mississippi State
Record away from home: 9-7
KenPom.com ranking: 43
Sagarin rating: 40

La Salle Explorers
Record: 21-9
RPI: 40
Record vs. RPI top 50: 2-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 5-8
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 9-1
Strength of schedule: 79
Quality wins: Butler, at VCU
Costly losses: Central Connecticut State
Record away from home: 10-7
KenPom.com ranking: 56
Sagarin rating: 58
Lunardi's "First Four Out"

Virginia Cavaliers
Record: 21-11
RPI: 74
Record vs. RPI top 50: 4-3
Record vs. RPI top 100: 8-4
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 11-4
Strength of schedule: 127
Quality wins: at Wisconsin, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke
Costly losses: Delaware, at Georgia Tech, at Boston College, at George Mason, Old Dominion, at Wake Forest, at Clemson
Record away from home: 3-10
KenPom.com ranking: 28
Sagarin rating: 38

Maryland Terrapins
Record: 22-11
RPI: 62
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-4
Record vs. RPI top 100: 4-9
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 17-0
Strength of schedule: 111
Quality wins: North Carolina State, Duke, Duke (neutral)
Costly losses: at Boston College, at Georgia Tech
Record away from home: 6-8
KenPom.com ranking: 55
Sagarin rating: 48

Tennessee Volunteers
Record: 20-12
RPI: 57
Record vs. RPI top 50: 3-5
Record vs. RPI top 100: 9-10
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 8-0
Strength of schedule: 47
Quality wins: Wichita State, Florida, Missouri
Costly losses: Georgia, at Georgia
Record away from home: 7-9
KenPom.com ranking: 67
Sagarin rating: 51

Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Record: 25-9 (23-8 vs. Division I)
RPI: 32
Record vs. RPI top 50: 0-5
Record vs. RPI top 100: 4-8
Record vs. RPI sub 150: 11-1
Strength of schedule: 86
Quality wins: None
Costly losses: at Marshall
Record away from home: 13-8
KenPom.com ranking: 53
Sagarin rating: 56

Kentucky fell to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday night, 64-48. (Josh McCoy, UK Athletics) Kentucky fell to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday night, 64-48. (Josh McCoy, UK Athletics)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - All the Kentucky Wildcats can do now is sit and wait.

After weeks of speculation, bubble talk and mock brackets, the Cats took their fate out of their own hands and put their faith in the NCAA Tournament selection committee with a stunning 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena. 

Now, all they can do is hope they are one of the final teams to earn an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced on Selection Sunday.

"I just hope we're the best of the bad right now," John Calipari said. "That's what I'm hoping."

A number of bubble teams UK was competing against for one of the final NCAA Tournament spots fell on Thursday and Friday, but will Kentucky's loss to a .500 team and one ranked outside the RPI top 100 be the final nail in the coffin of a team that has taken its fair share of blows this season?

"When you play a game like this, it hurts you," Coach Cal admitted. "The good news is everyone else is losing, too. At the end of the day it will shake out and I trust the committee to put the right teams in. ... We had an opportunity. It was in our hands to take it out of everybody's hands and we didn't take care of business."

UK (21-11), poised to become a lock for the Big Dance with a win over Vanderbilt on Friday, was dominated from start to finish in the third meeting with the Commodores.

Vandy shot 50.0 percent from the field, hit six of its first nine 3-point attempts and made all but one of its free throws. Meanwhile, UK shot just 34.6 percent from the field, had just two players score in double figures and failed to break the 50-point barrier for the first time in the Coach Cal era.

"We laid an egg and they played well," Calipari said.

In the postgame locker room, tears streamed down Ryan Harrow's face as he talked with reporters. Honorably, he answered every question the media had for him following his 2-for-15, four-turnover performance, but there was no disguising his utter disappointment with his game on Friday.

"It's my fault," Harrow said. "I apologize."

Once the questions ended, Harrow turned his chair and draped a towel over his head. He said he would take responsibility if the Cats don't make the NCAA Tournament, but quite frankly few of his teammates performed to their ability in one of the important games of the year.

"We all contribute to it," freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. "I get in foul trouble early and ... when that happens it seems like the whole energy comes down. I take fault for the energy level and I let the dude (Josh Henderson) bully me a little bit. But all in all, everybody did it. They all bullied everybody. It's definitely a team loss."

As Calipari warned Thursday night, his team was in a dogfight from the outset, but the Cats were at least hanging around early as Vanderbilt shot well from the perimeter for the second game in the row.

UK appeared to be fighting off the early Vanderbilt momentum when Harrow converted his first field-goal attempt with 6:22 to go in the first half, but that's when the wheels came off for the Cats.

After Kevin Bright knocked down one of five first-half 3-pointers for Vanderbilt and Harrow turned it over, Cauley-Stein was baited into a foul by Shelby Moats and went to the bench with two fouls. As Cauley-Stein sat on the sidelines, Kentucky's energy evaporated. The Commodores didn't waste any time taking advantage.

In the 4:53 that the 7-footer sat on the bench to end the first half, Vanderbilt outscored UK 16-7 to take a commanding 37-23 halftime lead.

Shots simply weren't falling, and as Vandy's lead grew, it appeared the pressure of the season slipping away snowballed.

"We didn't have anything go down for us throughout the whole game," said freshman guard Archie Goodwin, who led UK with 12 points. "It just keeps going down and down. And when that happens, sometimes it can bring the whole morale of the team down. It might have been something that happened here, but at the same time, we have to find ways to fight through when somebody's not having their best game and just be able to try to find different ways to pull out a win."

But as has been the case all season, when adversity hit, UK couldn't battle back. The lead only got bigger as the second half started, ballooning to as many as 21 points with 16:21 to play.

The Cats clawed back to within 11 on Goodwin's ferocious two-hand dunk with 12:46 to play, but they couldn't sustain the momentum of the 8-0 run.

"We had our chances," Calipari said. "It got to 11 and then we broke down two or three straight times. We miss a layup, miss a wide-open shot. All we needed to do is try to get it to six, seven, eight points and see what would happen. We never (could) and ... we were stabbing ourselves in the eye in most cases."

Kentucky went to a zone during the 8-0 run, but the Cats never went back to it.

Ultimately, UK posted one of its worst defensive efforts of the season. Playing against an offense that entered the day ranked 311st in the country in points per game, the Cats gave up 1.23 points per possession Friday, the third-worst mark of the season.

"That's been our problem the whole year is when we're not playing good on offense we kind of get down on ourselves and then our defense suffers for it," Cauley-Stein said.

Calipari said a lot of the credit goes to Vanderbilt and its late-season improvement. The 'Dores have won six of their last seven games after their quarterfinal victory.

"We begin every season by saying we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year," Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings said. "I think it's safe to say our team is doing that right now."

Kentucky, on the other hand, did not save its best for last. It could ultimately cost the team a spot in the Big Dance for the first time in the Coach Cal era.

"When we play - where everybody plays as a team everybody does what they're supposed to do - we can beat anybody," Cauley-Stein said. "We beat Florida. We beat Missouri. We beat Ole Miss. Missouri's in it; they're a lock. We beat them. Florida's a lock. We beat them. And Ole Miss is on the bubble, so we showed we can beat anybody."

The problem is the Cats have been reduced to lobbying for themselves and comparing their résumé with other teams. It isn't the position they wanted to put themselves in entering the most critical weekend of the season.

"We had our opportunities to keep it in our hands, but we didn't seize the moment and take advantage of it," Julius Mays said. "All we can do is sit and wait."

Willie Cauley-Stein


Julius Mays


Kyle Wiltjer



Alex Poythress, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson



Head coach Tim Garrison has turned the UK gymnastics program into an up and coming force in the SEC in just two seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Head coach Tim Garrison has turned the UK gymnastics program into an up-and coming-force in the SEC in just two seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There's something to be said for consistency. Well, there's a lot to be said for consistency. It's a desirable attribute in just about every facet of life. Knowing what to expect on a daily basis - whether it's at work, in relationships or a performance - is paramount to the success.

A strong leader is often defined by his/her message. And that message is often one that is heard repeatedly by those being led as they look to achieve a collective mentality to drive toward a common end. Consistency with that message, both verbally and by example, is the most effective way in ensuring that message is received and absorbed.

Consistency is at the root of the turnaround of the Kentucky gymnastics program.

If you haven't been paying attention, UK is having its best season in school history. Currently, the Wildcats are rolling on their hottest streak the program has ever seen with three consecutive performances of 196.

Consistency.

UK has reached its highest regional qualifying score, currently sitting at 195.86. They Cats have also moved into the top 20 in the country according to the Gyminfo national poll at No. 19. UK has won the most Southeastern Conference meets (three) in program history, including its first SEC road win since 1999. And the Cats broke the school record against Ball State with a team-high score of 196.5.

After that record performance in Muncie, Ind., Kentucky head coach Tim Garrison was happy, yet still not satisfied.

"We had a good day," said Garrison. "As I have said all year, this team still has more to offer. Stay tuned."

That's been Garrison's feeling all season long. He's seen his program start as an also-ran in the SEC., and now it's on a rapid rise. Still, what the Cats have done last year in his first year and this year, the most successful season the program has seen as a team, isn't the vision that Garrison had when he first took over the program in May of 2011.

His vision is much greater. Why? He's confident in this program and his athletes.

"He's always been intense, but in a good way," said junior Audrey Harrison. "He pushes us and believes in us, and that's why he pushes us so hard because he knows how good we can be. I think he's always been like that."

Harrison has been the prototypical athlete and performer that Garrison has in mind. She's the lone gymnast for Kentucky that competes in every single event. She leads the SEC - which is as dominant in gymnastics as it is in football - with seven all-around titles this season. She's also earned 15 individual event titles this season.

Garrison has praised his junior all season long for her "steadiness" and "reliability," all attributes that align with how he operates. It's been that way for Garrison since day one, and the athletes have taken notice.

"I feel like he's still pretty much the same guy," said junior Kayla Hartley. "He still has what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. He's never changed that."

That's not to say Garrison is afraid to make adjustments. He's not. In actuality, that's what's led to a great deal of UK's success this season.

Garrison has changed up the lineup in each event this season multiple times, tweaking here and there based on performance, not personnel. He's been fair to each and every athlete on his roster, whether she is on scholarship or a walk-on. There are spots to be earned each week, and those who deserve it earn it.

He hasn't only made changes in his lineups, but he's resigned from a position as well.

When Garrison was first entertaining the idea of the UK job while serving as an assistant at Nebraska, he already had a dear friend with close knowledge of the position. A 20-year relationship with assistant Kentucky gymnastics coach Chuck Dickerson, which started back in Texas when they worked together in Houston, gave Garrison plenty of insight to the job and the department. Dickerson had also served as an assistant on the previous staff, so his job security was in question.

"We were actually out at Nebraska at a meet," said Dickerson. "He pulled me aside and said, 'I've got a question for you. I'm thinking about applying for that job. I'd really love you to stay if I take it.' And I said, 'Well I'm not going anywhere unless you don't want me here.' And he goes, 'Absolutely, I want you here.' "

So when Garrison got the job, Dickerson stayed. They then added Mary McDaniel after she spent 20 years as a club coach in Kansas to help coach beam and coordinate dance routines for floor exercise. The combination has been a near-perfect match.

Garrison had been working with both uneven bars and vault performers since he arrived to UK. The Wildcats were finding some success this season on vault, but not nearly to the level that Garrison expected after what he had seen in practice. Just a few weeks ago, realizing that the vaulters maybe needed a new voice and perspective, Garrison removed himself from vault and inserted Dickerson. Since the move, UK has stuck more dismounts than they have all season long. It was a win-win situation in every aspect.

"It made me feel good that he trusted me," said Dickerson of Garrison. "I think he's always trusted me, but it's a matter of he's always done vault at Nebraska and here, so he said to take it over and let's see what happens, and the kids have responded.

"That's how good of a head coach he is. He realized that it wasn't clicking, and not many head coaches would do that. Pride. But we've got to win."

After all, that's what Garrison is all about: results. And now Kentucky is producing them with three straight scores of 196-plus.

Now that Kentucky is showing consistency, the staff is hoping that 196 is no longer an achievement, but a standard they set heading into the future.

"That's what Tim and I talked about," Dickerson said. "We wanted to take our bad days and make them not so bad. And make our good days great days.

"We want an OK day to be a 196.5. On great days, we want a 197.5. And I think we can do that."

Kentucky has no active seniors on the roster, meaning UK will return every single athlete for the 2013-14 season. With additions coming in next season, Kentucky could completely break through to the top of the SEC and make some waves at the national level.

Though the Cats are still completely focused on finishing off their record-breaking season, the staff and athletes alike are already looking forward to next season. But the only way next season reaches the potential they believe it holds is if they finish strong this season to build a strong foundation for the next.

"It's been super exciting," said Harrison, "And I think next year will be even better because we're just gaining people; we're not losing people. I'm already really excited for next year too.

"We have talked about it before. It's just in the back of our minds because we have to focus on right now and this year."

The finish this year will determine how next year begins. If the Wildcats continue to climb, it will give them plenty of momentum going into the beginning of the season next year. In a sport like gymnastics where performances are judged, changing perception is very important, and setting the bar high from outset can change the complexion of an entire season the rest of the way.

The Wildcats started 2013 with their best opening weekend in school history, but even still, UK is looking for a better start to set the tone going forward.

"We talk about it because how you start the season is a little bit how you're judged the rest of the year," said Dickerson. "We started OK, great for us, but not great. We're hitting on all cylinders now, but next year, we need to start how we finish this year with 196-plus on the first day. Then, you're in that top 10 and you stay in that top 10 all year long. Then you're seeded and you've got a wonderful shot."  

Garrison wants a shot at the top of the SEC and to make a strong showing at nationals. It's just going to take time. But even Dickerson's not surprised with how quickly his friend has turned things around. It was just a matter of changing the culture, and that change was evident since Garrison stepped on campus for his first day of work.

"I'm not surprised at how quick," said Dickerson. "It was just a matter of getting their mindset correct, and he brought a good, disciplined mindset."

The best quality that Garrison has contributed to that mindset? There's no question about it.

"More than anything, he's greatest quality is consistency; very direct and to the point," said Dickerson. "And that's where he's so good. He doesn't allow us to step back, and we needed that. Consistency, yeah, he's consistent. What you see is what you get, every single step of the way."

From the Pressbox: Vandy, SEC Tournament notes

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Believe it or not, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings thinks his team last year matched up better with Kentucky's national champions than this Commodore squad does.

"Maybe not as good as last year," Stallings said of the matchup moments after his team eliminated Arkansas last night. "I thought we matched up a little better last year (because of the size). What matters now is how you play, not so much who you play. If we're going to win, we're going to have to play well."

Stallings said Kentucky presented more problems for Vandy's defense in the second meeting - without Nerlens Noel.

"We had a harder time guarding them the second time. I don't know if it was because of venues but it just felt like to me that they did more to us (with their offense) and we didn't have any answers," he observed. "We guarded them way better in the first game.  We couldn't guard them in the second game."

Coach Cal knows what Mays means


"I don't know where this team would be without him."

That's how Coach Cal sums up Julius Mays' one season at Kentucky.

"He's ended up taking on a leadership role and done a great job with it. When he scores, we're really good," Cal said, "but when he doesn't score, we're still okay because  he'll rebound, he'll assist and he's giving a calming presence. His thing is 'I wish I was coached this way for four years.' "

Goodwin settling in as scorer


Archie Goodwin takes a streak of six consecutive double-figure scoring games into Friday's game against Vandy in the SEC Tourney. It's a streak that started with the Cats' 74-70 win over the 'Dores in Lexington last month.

"He's slowing down a little bit and he's making layups. We had to show him that he's missed 80 layups (going into the Florida game) and there was another 15 when he ran over somebody," Calipari explained. "Now, he's concentrating and he's making layups.  Reality hits you when you have a tape of you (missing) 80 layups."

Recalling Antoine Walker's SEC Tournament emergence

Last year, eventual national player of the year Anthony Davis became the first UK freshman since Sam Bowie in 1980 to record a double-double in an SEC Tournament game.

And he made it three-for-three before he finished his one league tournament run.

But Davis had already emerged as a superstar before he got to the postseason. Perhaps one of this year's rookies will be the next Antoine Walker.

Back in 1995, Walker came into the SEC Tournament without having scored more than 15 points in any single game (and that happened once, in the season opener against UT-Martin in November of '94). And during one four-game stretch in mid-February, Walker had two scoreless outings and four total points.

Well after a nine-point performance against Auburn in his first SEC Tournament game, Walker hung 21 on Florida and then produced 23 versus Arkansas as UK won the title and Walker took home the MVP trophy.

Cal knows Cats in for fight against Vandy

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Willie Cauley-Stein averaged 13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in two regular-season wins over Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein averaged 13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in two regular-season wins over Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's nearing the part of the season when every game could be Kentucky's last. This is when coaches typically ease off the throttle to make sure their teams are fresh for quick turnarounds, but not John Calipari.

Coach Cal knows the last thing the Wildcats need is for him to take his foot off the gas. For that reason, he's pushing them as hard as he ever has.

"We've had three really good days of practice and I was really - I was probably as hard the last three days as I was at any point this season," Calipari said on Thursday night.

You see, Coach Cal is worried about Friday when UK will open postseason play against Vanderbilt (15-16) in Bridgestone Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network). With a double bye to the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals, he knew the Cats would be facing a team riding the momentum of a victory the night before. He believes that makes this the most difficult game UK will play all weekend.

"After that it starts going downhill a little bit," Calipari said. "It's a little easier. This first one will be a bear, and so I've tried to be tough and rough, and they've responded, so we'll see."

Not until just before 9 p.m. local time did the Cats find out who they had been preparing for.

Vanderbilt advanced with a 75-72 victory over Arkansas on Thursday night. The Commodores built a lead as large as 16 points with less than 11 minutes left before surviving a furious Razorback rally.

It will be the third matchup between the Cats and Commodores on the season. In fact, it will be the second year in a row the Cats and Commodores have met for the third time in the SEC Tournament. Last year, Vandy took down UK in the SEC Tournament finals, 71-64, the Cats' lone postseason blemish en route to a national championship. You can throw that game out the window though because these two teams hardly resemble last year's versions due to graduation and losses to the NBA Draft.

In 2013, UK has twice taken down Vandy in close games: 74-70 in Lexington on Feb. 20 and 60-58 in Nashville on Jan. 10. Each time Kentucky ceded double-digit leads only to survive in the final minutes.

"They're pretty familiar with us; we're pretty familiar with them," Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings said. "We've had two competitive games, just like last year, and now you sort of anticipate a slugfest for the third one. They're a really good team and hopefully we can play well."

The Commodores, however, are a different group than the last time they faced UK. Vandy has won five of its last six since the second game against the Cats. The only loss came on the road at conference champion Florida.

"We're playing our best basketball of the season," Stallings said.

During that stretch, the Commodores have done what they have all season: rely on the 3-point shot. Coming into the win over Arkansas, Vandy had attempted 43.6 percent of its field goals from beyond the arc, the ninth-highest highest rate of any team in the country. Against the Razorbacks, the 'Dores took exactly half - 28 of 56 - of their shots from deep, hitting 12.

In five wins since losing at UK, Vandy has averaged 9.6 made 3s. In their lone loss, the Commodores shot just 4 of 24.

"We're going to guard them but it doesn't matter, they're going to shoot them," Calipari said. "Whether you really guard them, then they'll step back deeper. (Rod) Odom's going to step back; he's going to shoot them. (Kedren) Johnson will shoot them."

That was certainly the case against Arkansas. Johnson, Vandy's leading scorer, made just 1 of 3, but Odom drilled five of his six field goals on the night from 3-point range in nine attempts, scoring a game-high 20 in the process.

Though he knows a hot shooting night by Vandy could easily deal his team's NCAA Tournament resume a serious blow, regardless of how the Cats play, Coach Cal isn't obsessing over what may or may not happen or even exactly how his team will look after a six-day layoff. He's worried about something much simpler.

"I have no idea, so hopefully we come out of the gate, we play well," Calipari said. "But even if we don't, I just want to see us play for 40 minutes: play, compete, battle, don't hang your heads, don't droop your shoulders, don't jog back because you're embarrassed on how you're playing. Play, battle, fight. That's all we're talking about."

Bluegrass Kingdom: The Gospel of Kentucky Basketball, a documentary detailing the history of Kentucky basketball will air on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on truTV following the Selection Show. Here's the official trailer.


Coach Cal tweets Noel 'doing fine' after surgery

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Nerlens Noel is in Gulf Breeze, Fla., this week to undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL he sustained almost exactly one month ago. Famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews - who has operated on the likes of Michael Jordan, Rajon Rondo and Robert Griffin III - performed the procedure Tuesday.

Wednesday morning, John Calipari took to Twitter to pass along the news that all had gone well.

That's certainly good news.

This week is spring break for all UK students, which is the reason Noel elected to have the surgery now. Dr. Scott Mair of UK Sports Medicine is with Noel and will help coordinate his return to Lexington.

Once Noel is back in the Bluegrass, he will begin the rehab process while continuing to attend classes. Coach Cal said earlier this week he will recommend that Noel gauge his rehab progress over the next two months and make a decision on whether to enter the NBA Draft or return for a second season at UK.

With No. 24 North Carolina coming to town, the Kentucky softball team likely thought it was in store for yet another close game.

Entering Tuesday's game, the Wildcats had already won nine games by two runs or less. UK had won all four of its extra-inning games to boot.

It turns out the game didn't last a regulation seven innings after all, but not because of a tie game. No. 17 UK jumped all over the visiting Tar Heels to the tune of 12 first-inning runs and didn't look back from there en route to an 18-0 victory in just five innings during which the school record books underwent quite the facelift.

Freshman starter Katie Henderson completed the ninth no-hitter in program history, allowing just a single walk in five innings. She struck out four and needed just 58 pitches in facing just two batters over the minimum. Henderson is now 2-0 on the season with 12 strikeouts and zero runs allowed in 10.0 innings.

At the plate, the day was just as memorable.

Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner had hits in all four of her at-bats, including two first-inning singles and home runs in the second and fourth innings to give her six on the season. She had six runs batted in on the day to become the fourth player in school history to accomplish the feat and a game-high four runs scored, the sixth time in school history a player scored that many times.

Three other Wildcats had multi-hit days, including junior Lauren Cumbess with a home run and three runs scored. Freshman Christian Stokes added a grand slam in the first inning.

All told, UK's 18 runs and 18 RBI are school records, The Cats' four home runs tie a record mark and the 18-run margin of victory is the largest ever. UK moves to 19-4 on the season, tying the school-best start through 23 games set in 2011.

Don't take my word for it though. Here are video highlights from from.


UK opens postseason play in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Arkansas or Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK opens postseason play in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Arkansas or Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Ask anyone involved and they'll tell you Kentucky had a really good practice on Monday.

"Yesterday's practice was really good," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "It was tough, but guys seemed to be in it mentally, more focused."

"We had a great practice yesterday," Kyle Wiltjer said. "Guys are working hard."

Even John Calipari had to agree: "Yesterday's practice was good, one of our better practices."

Combine those rave reviews with the fact that the Wildcats are just days removed from their best win - a comeback against Southeastern Conference champion Florida - and whether things are finally beginning to click into place for UK is a legitimate question. Fair as that question may be, the Cats don't have a response.
 
"We've been here before like this, so I'm not even going to try to answer right now," Cauley-Stein said.

The Cats aren't falling into that trap. Too many times this season they have been sure that they had finally turned a corner to believe it's for real this time. They are placing the burden of proving that this latest bit of progress is lasting on themselves.

"We have something to prove, believe me," Calipari said. "Individuals, as a team, we have a lot to prove."

And as a matter of fact, that's the reason UK even practiced on Monday in the first place.

Normally, Calipari gives his teams two days off immediately following the regular-season finale in anticipation of a lot of basketball and a lot of travel in the conference and NCAA tournaments. But this year, Coach Cal wasn't about to take his foot off the gas. After the Cats were given Sunday to relax, it was back to work on Monday.

"It was good that Coach didn't back off yesterday in practice and is going to continue to push us through because he said last year, or in years past, that they would have had two days off instead of one day off," Cauley-Stein said. "So it's good. It'll keep us in the right mind frame that we need to be in going into it."

It's been a rarity this season that Cauley-Stein - named to the SEC's All-Freshman team on Tuesday - hasn't been in the right frame of mind. He remains a work in progress, but his energy and effort have been beyond reproach. So, what prescription does he have for his team to match that?

"Just listen to what Coach has to say because he's been through it for so many years," Cauley-Stein said. "So that's something we don't get is the time that he's spent in this and preparing guys for it. We're fresh in the game; he's been there for a long time so we just gotta listen and I don't think that's what we've been doing."

The suggestion may be simple on its face, but following it is anything but. This year has clearly demonstrated that.

This season more than any of his first three in Lexington, Coach Cal hasn't had a friend in his bench. He simply hasn't had the option of sitting players when they fail to follow his instructions because there haven't been enough viable replacements. Calipari vowed things will be different in the future, but that doesn't matter in the present. For now, he has had to do everything in his power to put his best team on the floor.

"I'm going to do everything and try to get the team across the finish line," Calipari said. "What happens is it just, as a coach, you're doing everything in that in your heart of hearts, in your bones, you know you wouldn't do or accept or wouldn't even consider to try to get your team across the finish line, knowing at the end of the season (it's) time to regroup, going back to how we do things."

All things considered, it's hard for Coach Cal to be too displeased with the results.

UK finished the season 21-10 in spite of playing only brief stretches with a full complement of players. The Cats' 12-6 conference record was good enough to earn them a No. 2 seed in the upcoming conference tournament, even though SEC Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year Nerlens Noel missed their final seven games.

"This team has gone and done a lot of good stuff," Calipari said. "At the end of the day, you look back, with all that's happened to this team, to be where we are, second place...We're just hanging around, and that's what we want to do."

By "hanging around," Calipari surely means doing enough to reach the NCAA Tournament. Saturday's win over Florida put the Cats on the right side of the bubble according to most experts - at least temporarily anyway. Most agree that UK needs to back up that performance with a win over Arkansas or Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Nashville, Tenn., to solidify its place in the Big Dance.

"We just need to go into the (conference) tournament with the mindset like we're not trying to get beat, like we want to win it, obviously, and keep it rolling," Cauley-Stein said.

Coach Cal still believes his team can roll deep into the NCAA Tournament. He invoked the example of Connecticut in 2011, a team that finished 9-9 in conference play before winning five games in five days at the Big East Tournament and six more - including a Final Four defeat of UK - to win the national title.

The Cats, however, don't have a player likely to average 24.6 points in postseason play to carry the load like Kemba Walker did for the Huskies. Coach Cal does see a player on his roster capable of having a similar impact though.

"Maybe Willie becomes the most dominating big guy in college basketball, makes a difference in every game, and everybody else just does what they're supposed to do," Calipari said.

That's heady stuff for a player who wasn't even focused exclusively on basketball a year ago.

The reality is that Coach Cal doesn't want Cauley-Stein or any of his players thinking in those terms with the postseason just days away.

"I keep telling them, 'Let's worry about us. Let's just keep playing at our best and see what that means,' " Calipari said.
 
John Calipari


Willie Cauley-Stein



Kyle Wiltjer


Kentucky's win over Florida on Saturday was impressive for what the Wildcats did not do as much as what they did.

  • UK did not hit 40 percent of its field goal attempts and still won for the first time this season;
  • UK failed to shoot a higher percentage from the field and still won, for the first time in seven such games;
  • UK did not score 70 points, and won for only the second time in nine games when scoring below that mark.

Kentucky's game plan to defend Florida - the team with the Southeastern Conference's most efficient offense and the team averaging almost nine 3s per game - was to force the Gators inside the arc. Once there, the plan said to make them take "tough 2s" and rebound the misses. And that's exactly what the Cats did down the stretch, when the game turned in UK's favor.

The Wildcats and Gators both ranked in the nation's top 10 in 2-point defense before last Saturday, but when blocked shots were taken out of the equation, leaving only the contested ones, Kentucky dropped to 50th. But in those final minutes, with Willie Cauley-Stein in foul trouble, UK could not go for blocks and had to rely on simply contesting the Gators' shots. Florida missed 11 in a row.

If the Kentucky defense that we saw in the last seven-and-a-half minutes of that Florida win keeps showing up, UK won't have to worry itself with "bubble" talk.

Kentucky was switching defenders on Florida's patented pick-and-roll plays and during that stretch run and there was a possession in which Alex Poythress was matched up on a driving Scottie Wilbekin. All season long, that kind of mismatch has resulted in baskets and/or fouls, but Poythress played it perfectly, misdirecting Wilbekin into a missed shot.

That's one example of the kind of defense that happened on possession after possession in those final minutes - 14 consecutive scoreless ones over the final 7:36, to be exact - and it's why Kentucky won a game for the first time all season when it failed to crack 40 percent from the field with its own shots. You have to win those kinds of games in the postseason and if this team can sustain that kind of defensive effort, it has a chance to make a little noise in March.

Release via the UK Alumni Association

The UK Alumni Association and the Greater Nashville UK Alumni Club invite alumni and friends to attend a pregame pep rally at the Southeastern Conference Men's Basketball Tournament on Friday, March 15 from 4 to 6 p.m. ET (3 to 5 p.m. CT) prior to the Wildcats' first game. The event will take place at the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville (120 2nd Avenue North, Nashville, Tenn). The tourney is set for March 13-17.

Cost is $10 for pre-registered UK Alumni Association members and $15 for nonmembers and event walk-ups. Make your reservation online by visiting www.ukalumni.net/sec2013 or call 859-257-7161 or 1-800-269-ALUM (2586).

Join fellow alumni and Wildcat fans for:

  • Music
  • Door prizes
  • A special appearance by the UK band and cheerleaders
  • The first 500 fans to enter the event will receive a free T-shirt

For questions about the event, contact Jill Smith at jhsmith(at)uky.edu, 859-257-8906 or 1-800-269-ALUM or Jill Frost at jillfrost(at)frostpr.com or 615.339.5905.

March 10 Performances of the Week

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Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, March 10:

Men's basketball: Archie Goodwin

Freshman Archie Goodwin led the Wildcats to a marquee victory over visiting No. 9/11 Florida on Saturday, after earning a 20-point scoring effort at Georgia on Thursday. For the week, the Little Rock, Ark., native averaged a team-high 18.0 points per game. He ranked second on the team with a .429 shooting clip. He was the only guard to log double-figure rebounds for the week and his six steals topped the squad. Against the Bulldogs, Goodwin turned in his fifth 20-point effort and second against conference competition. He sunk a career-high three 3-pointers and hauled in six rebounds. In the upset of the season for UK, Goodwin led the team with 16 points including nine in the second half. His steal and dunk tied the game at 57 and he then hit one free throw for UK's final lead en route to the win. In the second stanza he also notched a trio of steals to push his career-high total for swipes in a game to four. Furthermore, Goodwin has scored in double-figures a team-leading 23 times this season including in six-straight contests.

Baseball: Corey Littrell

Junior left-handed All-America starter Corey Littrell turned in his best start of the year in leading UK to a series win over Michigan State during a Sunday afternoon rubber match ... Littrell worked seven strong innings allowing only one run on four hits, walking one batter and striking out a career-high nine batters ... He carried a shutout into the seventh inning, only surrendering a single hit through his first six shutout innings ... Battled through the seventh after three consecutive hits plated the first run of the game for the Spartans, getting the final two outs to set up the UK bullpen for the save in the 3-1 game ... He fired 100 pitches in the start, with 69 going for strikes ... After an All-Southeastern Conference season in 2012 as the Sunday starter, Littrell reasserted himself as the series-winning starter in rubber matches, making his eighth rubber-match start in the last two years vs. Michigan ... In those eight series-deciding games, Littrell has led UK to eight wins and owned a 6-0 record with a 2.8 ERA ... On the year, Littrell had made four starts with a 2-0 record and a 3.42 ERA, tossing 23.2 innings, allowing 22 hits and eight walks, striking out 24 ... With his 17th career win on Sunday, Littrell had now moved into a five-way tie for 10th in UK career history, seven wins shy of the program mark.

Baseball: Paul McConkey

Junior Paul McConkey paced the Wildcats in multiple offensive categories during a four-game week, batting .444 (4-for-9) in three games ... The third baseman led UK to a series win over 2012 NCAA Tournament team Michigan State, a 37-win club in 2012 ... McConkey had three RBI and belted a homer during the week, reaching base at a .500 clip ...Hit the game-winning, two-run double in a 3-1 win on Sunday vs. Michigan State, good for his second game-winning RBI of the year ... On the year, McConkey has hit .324 (11-for-34) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBI.

Softball: Christian Stokes

Christian Stokes had the best weekend of her young collegiate career against Ole Miss, hitting .833 (5-for-6) with her first collegiate home run and two multi-hit games. Stokes started all three games at second base against the Rebels, earning a hit in each game, while posting a .889 on-base percentage for the weekend. The native of Chesterfield, S.C., went 2-for-3 in the series opener, including launching a solo homer in the seventh inning - the first homer of her career. In game two, Stokes scored a run after going 1-for-1 with a single and two walks, helping UK tie the series at a game apiece. Stokes finished the series off in style with a 2-for-2 effort in the finale, including two RBI. She is currently riding a season-best three-game hitting streak whiles hitting .279 (12-for-43) with one double, one homer, 12 RBI and four runs scored this season.

Kentucky Sports Report (week of March 11)

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Men's basketball
- Kentucky went 1-1 on the week which included a critical upset of No. 9/11 Florida on Saturday.
- Freshman Archie Goodwin was sensational in leading the Cats with an average of 18.0 points, five rebounds and three steals in two games this week. Goodwin snatched a career-high four steals in the upset of the Gators and had a team-high 16 points.
- With the win over Florida, UK improves to 10-0 at home in Rupp Arena against ranked foes in the John Calipari era.
- The win also helped seal the No. 2 overall seed in the SEC Tournament. UK has won the tournament twice in Calipari's tenure.

Women's basketball
- Kentucky advanced to the SEC Championship game for the third time in four seasons before falling to Texas A&M.
- UK logged wins against Vanderbilt and No. 12 Georgia en route to making its title game appearance.
- UK outscored the Lady Dawgs 41-14 in the second half, holding them scoreless for the final 6:08 of the game, and 22.2 percent (14-of-63) shooting for the game.
- Senior All-America candidate A'dia Mathies (Louisville, Ky.) added 11 points and grabbed two steals which set a new UK career steals record with 310. The previous record was 309 set by Stacey Reed from 1991-95.

Rifle
- The Kentucky rifle team placed second at the NCAA Championships, shooting a 4670 to place runner-up for a second consecutive year.
- Senior Henri Junghänel placed second in individual smallbore, falling by .5 points to claim the silver medal.
- Freshman Connor Davis finished fourth individually in air rifle.
- Kentucky had six members named All-America, including Connor Davis, Heather Greathouse, Emily Holsopple, Ed Ryznar, Elijah Ellis and Stacy Wheatley. Henri Junghanel would have been selected but was not eligible because he is currently in graduate school.

Gymnastics
- The 20th-ranked Kentucky Gymnastics team topped 196 for the third consecutive meet in a 196.375-192.7 win over Bowling Green on Friday.
- Kayla Hartley clinched the second-highest team score in school history with a 9.9 floor exercise routine. The performance gave Hartley the event title for the second week in a row. It was also her first 9.9 since the season-opener. The junior has three event crowns from the past two meets.
- The Wildcats scored 49.125 on floor, which tied the season high.
- Kenzie Hedges took the event honors on vault as she stuck her landing for a career-best 9.875.

Softball
- The No. 15 UK softball team started its Southeastern Conference schedule in style by winning its series with the Ole Miss Rebels. UK dropped the first game of the series 3-1, before winning the final two games 5-2. The series win is the sixth consecutive over Ole Miss and marks the second time in three years UK has won the opening series of conference play. The series vs. Ole Miss was the first ever games played in the new UK Softball Complex.
- Freshman infielder Christian Stokes led the way for Kentucky, hitting .833 (5-for-6) for the weekend with three RBI and her first collegiate home run. Junior Lauren Cumbess went 3-for-9 over the weekend with a double, while junior Emily Gaines was 2-for-6 with two RBI.
- Freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley suffered her first loss of the season in game one before earning wins Saturday and Sunday in a relief effort. Nunley is 12-1 on the year with a 2.02 ERA, striking out a team-best 67 batters.

Baseball

- Seventh-ranked Kentucky completed a 3-1 week with a series win over Michigan State during the weekend, also picking up a midweek win over Xavier on Wednesday.
- UK opened the series with the Spartans with a 2-1 win on Friday night. Sophomore left-hander A.J. Reed worked seven shutout innings, allowing only five hits and two walks. All-American centerfielder Austin Cousino got UK on the board with a first-inning homer, before Max Kuhn slugged his first career homer in the bottom of the eighth as the game-winning bomb.
- Kentucky won the series on Sunday in another rubber-match win from junior southpaw Corey Littrell, making his eighth series-deciding start in the last two years. The All-America starter worked seven innings and allowed just one run, striking out a career-high nine.

Men's tennis
- The UK men's tennis team fell twice this weekend, to No. 38 Baylor and No. 14 Texas A&M.
- Kentucky's road trip continues next weekend traveling to Ole Miss for a Friday showdown in Oxford before continuing the weekend in Starkville against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Women's tennis
- No. 44 Kentucky went 1-1 over the weekend, defeating No. 57 Missouri 5-2 on Friday, before falling to No. 4 Texas A&M 5-2 on Sunday.
- Freshman Nadia Ravita knocked off sixth-ranked Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar on Sunday 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. The win was Ravita's 13th singles win and fourth win over a ranked opponent this year.
- In Kentucky's win over Missouri, the Wildcats received singles wins in slots one through four, with Nadia Ravita, Jessica Stiles, Edmee Morin-Kougoucheff and Caitlin McGraw winning in straight sets.

Track and field
- The No. 20 Kentucky women's track and field team finished the NCAA Indoor Championships tied for 20th-place. The Wildcats earned the program's highest team finish since 1994 when they also finished tied for 20th. The Wildcats' 10 team points was the highest total at the National Championship Meet since 1990.
- Cally Macumber won the bronze medal in the women's 3,000 meters final to add six points to the Kentucky cause. She also contributed four on Friday night as the anchor in the distance medley relay.
- Morganne Phillips, Allison Peare and Chelsea Oswald were the other members of that squad.
- Keith Hayes scored two points for the men with a seventh-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles. Hayes lowered his school-record time to 7.69 in the event prelims to reach the final.

Men's golf
- The Kentucky men's golf team finished seventh out of the 17-team field at the USF Invitational, shooting 20 strokes over par for the tournament.
- Junior Stephen Powers recorded his second top-10 finish of the year, placing tied for sixth at 2-under-par. The Naperville, Ill., native was tied for the lead after the first round, posting a 4-under-par day and concluded his impressive tournament with an even par round two and two-over-par round three.
- Junior Ben Stow also finished in the top-20, tying for 14th overall at 1-over-par.

Upcoming schedule

Monday, March 11
Men's golf at Tiger Invitational (Auburn, Ala.)

Tuesday, March 12
Baseball hosts Ohio - 4:00 p.m.
Softball hosts North Carolina - 5:00 p.m.
Men's golf at Tiger Invitational (Auburn, Ala.)

Wednesday, March 13

Softball hosts Southern Illinois • 3:00 p.m.
Baseball hosts Cincinnati • 4:00 p.m.

Thursday, March 14
Swimming and diving at NCAA Zones - 10:00 a.m. (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Track and field at Bulls Invitational (Tampa, Fla.)

Friday, March 15
Men's tennis at Ole Miss - 2:00 p.m.
Women's tennis hosts Ole Miss - 4:00 p.m.
Softball at LSU - 7:00 p.m.
Baseball at Florida - 7:30 p.m.
Men's basketball vs. Arkansas/Vanderbilt - 7:30 p.m. (Nashville)
Swimming and diving at NCAA Zones - 10:00 a.m. (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Women's golf at Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate (Augusta, Ga.)
Men's golf at Schenkel Invitational (Statesboro, Ga.)

Saturday, March 16
Baseball at Florida - Noon
Softball at LSU - 5:00 p.m.
Gymnastics at Penn State - 7:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at SEC Semifinals - 3:30 p.m. (Nashville)
Swimming and diving at NCAA Zones - 10:00 a.m. (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Women's golf at Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate (Augusta, Ga.)
Men's golf at Schenkel Invitational (Statesboro, Ga.)

Sunday, March 17
Women's tennis hosts Mississippi State - Noon
Softball at LSU - 1:00 p.m.
Baseball at Florida - 1:00 p.m.
Men's tennis at Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m.
Men's basketball at SEC Finals - 3:30 p.m. (Nashville)
Women's golf at Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate (Augusta, Ga.)
Men's golf at Schenkel Invitational (Statesboro, Ga.)

Senior Henri Junghänel shot a 590 in air rifle at the NCAA Championships Saturday in his final performance as a Wildcat. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Senior Henri Junghanel shot a 590 in air rifle at the NCAA Championships Saturday in his final performance as a Wildcat. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Harry Mullins has a pretty good thing going. For the third straight season, UK has finished in the top two at the NCAA Championships. Mix in a national championship in 2011, and the Kentucky rifle team is arguably the most successful program in the entire department.

Having said that, there's disappointment in Kentucky's second straight runner-up finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend.

"It's always unfortunate when you don't win at the end of the year," said Mullins. "But overall, we've got to be very proud of the effort we gave throughout the course of the year."

Kentucky finished with a fairly impressive overall body of work. They earned a 10-1 regular-season record, defeated No. 1 West Virginia, finished second at the Great American Rifle Conference Championship and completed the season No. 2 in the country.

While teams are measured directly by their success at the highest level, Mullins refuses to let one meet determine the overall success of an entire season. Especially one as outstanding as the 2012-13 season.

"I thought they did a real good job," said Mullins of the season. "We shot 4,700 more times this year than we did the year before, so we're definitely moving in the right direction. The great part about that is we did that with different people each year. The primaries have stayed the same, but cycling out some of the others, so that's a testament to this year's team continuing to move that mark every year in order for us to be competitive."

Kentucky broke the 4,700 mark three times this year, including a season-high 4,716 against Army in UK's third meet of the season. From that point on, it was a roller coaster ride in terms of results for the Wildcats. They rallied to shoot 4,700 twice over their final four regular-season meets, including a 4,704 to defeat West Virginia in the finale.

Mullins and his shooters hoped that performance would spark a strong run heading into the postseason, as they looked to build on that 4,704 and trend upward into the conference and NCAA championships.

However, with more at stake, the pressure naturally builds. That was evident this past weekend at the NCAA Championships when no teams, not even national champion West Virginia, came close to breaking the 4,700 mark, the sport's standard for an elite performance.

"It's the NCAAs," said Mullins. "(Associate Athletics Director) Joe Sharpe was at the match and he's been to some regular-season matches and he was like, 'Wow, this is nothing like the regular season.' And it shouldn't be. It's the NCAAs. This is what we get evaluated on all year."

With the sport's top eight teams competing at the NCAA Championships, the separation is very narrow.

"The parity is very, very close," Mullins said. "Everybody works super hard to try and give their best level, and a lot of times it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on everybody to where the scores drop just a hair. Everybody wants to do an extra little thing."

The pressure affected each team, including the No. 1 Mountaineers who managed an aggregate score of 4679 to UK's 4670. TCU finished third with a 4664.

Now, Mullins must try to figure out a way for his team to better manage pressure situations heading into next season. Just hours after the NCAA Championships wrapped up, the UK head coach was already looking forward to next season.

"They said to take some time off and regroup and I said, 'I can't. The season just started about six hours ago,' " said Mullins. "That's being playful, but as a coach you always get excited about the athletes that you have coming in."

Add that to the mix of the athletes that Mullins has returning, and next year could be just as special as this one, if not better.

"Every year has me excited," said Mullins. "I think we have some proven veterans coming back next year, recruiting went well, when you put those two pieces of the puzzle together with all the support we get from athletics, campus and the community, and just the mindset we've put the program in, it's very exciting."

Mullins also believes the mark of a strong program is to to adjust and make the necessary changes to get better in the face of failure. That will be Mullins' and assistant coach Amy Sowash's next task when preparing for the upcoming season.

"We'll probably focus a lot more and ramp up the intensity with perhaps some tighter parameters to get them ready to deal with the pressure a little bit more," said Mullins. "For the most part, we've got some conceptual things we may change just a little bit, but I don't feel that our system is broken.

"We just didn't maximize to yield our maximum numbers. It's going to take some time to sit down and sort through the pieces."

Though Kentucky will lose some pretty important parts next season, including two-time All-American senior Henri Junghanel, there are plenty positives as Mullins looks to keep his good thing going. The experiences and challenges UK has faced this season will only help Kentucky as the Cats continue working to reach the ultimate level. Mullins won't fault the effort of his team, and if they keep pushing, it will only be a matter of time before the Wildcats are hoisting another trophy.

"I thought we had a good year," said Mullins. "Again, we can't be disappointed. We can be disappointed with the result, but we can't be disappointed with the effort we gave. When you keep striving with that type of effort, eventually we will win."

Notes for a rainy Monday afternoon

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It's fairly quiet around the Joe Craft Center today, but there don't figure to be many more slow days in the coming weeks. Men's basketball heads to Nashville for the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Wednesday, NCAA Tournament brackets will be announced on Sunday for the men and Monday for the women and spring football practice begins next week.

In the meantime, here are a few notes on the day's happenings:

-We're to the point in the season when experts release bracket projections basically every day and Monday is no different. According to Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology, John Calipari's Wildcats are slotted for a "First Four" matchup with La Salle as a No. 11 seed. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com also has UK matched up with La Salle in a play-in game, but with both teams seeded 12th. As for the Bracket Matrix, which aggregates dozens of projections, UK is also seeded 12th there. The consensus at this point is that UK played its way into the field with Saturday's win over Florida, but the Cats would be wise to win at least one game in the SEC Tournament to assure their status.

-Sunday's loss in the SEC championship game was certainly painful for Matthew Mitchell and his team, but according to Charlie Creme's latest projections on ESPN.com, it was not costly in terms of NCAA seeding. UK remains a No. 2 there and Creme has UK traveling to Queens, N.Y., for first- and second-round games.

-Nerlens Noel hasn't played a game in nearly a month, but on Monday he was named to the Sporting News All-Freshman Team. That's quite an accomplishment for a player who missed the final third of conference play.

-Speaking of Noel, Coach Cal joined the Dan Patrick Show on Monday. As is customary for the show, he talked about a number of interesting topics, but the update he gave on his fallen star freshman jumped out. According to Calipari, Noel will undergo surgery soon and then two months of rehab. At that point, he will have a decision to make. Calipari said he will advise Noel to return to school if the rehab process is slow. If rehab goes well, Noel will "have options." Here's video of the interview in full.


-Another note on Noel: His dunk against Auburn is one of eight finalists for GEICO Play of the Year. Vote here.

-Last on the men's basketball front, Coach Cal wrote on his website about UK being a "players first" program, not "player first." Give it a read here.

-Saving the best for last, former Wildcat gymnast and eight-time NCAA champion Jenny Hansen was UK's legend at the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament. During halftime of Kentucky's game on Friday, Hansen was introduced and she broke out this move. The only way it would have been more impressive is if she had kept her heels on.

The season seems like it just started last week, but Monday marked the final Southeastern Conference Coaches Teleconference of the year.

Of course, the topic du jour was this week's SEC Tournament, which begins on Wednesday. Kentucky doesn't play until Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET - against either No. 7 Arkansas or No. 10 Vanderbilt - but John Calipari joined in to talk about his team (and numerous other topics) heading into the postseason.

Here's what he and a few other coaches from around the league had to say.

Coach Cal

On the upcoming tournament ...
"First of all, I've got to say a couple things. We've had some coaches this year in our league do unbelievable jobs. I'm going to leave guys out, but just off the top of my head, Mark Fox at Georgia, I can't begin to tell you the respect (I have for him). Johnny Jones, what he has done with that team (LSU). You look at Cuonzo (Martin) and where they were and what he did (at Tennessee). And I'm even going to throw a bouquet to Kevin Stallings (at Vanderbilt), who doesn't like to throw bouquets, but I'm going to throw one to him. The job he's done with that young team to get them to play the way they're playing. This year there has been more coaching than any of the other years I've been in this league. For us, I feel good that out of the top six teams playing against each other, we have the best record - us and Florida. So I'm proud of what this team has accomplished with all the injuries and all the other stuff that's gone on. But we're still fighting, and that's what tournament time is about."

On Nerlens Noel, a timetable on his surgery and the possibility of him returning next year ...

"His family has that information. I don't have it all. It's going to be done here soon and all the other stuff will take time to play out."

On how he feels about the importance of conference tournaments now that the stakes are different for his team ...

"Not really. I wish none of us played in the tournament. Let's go on to the next tournament. But we're in this tournament. Now some years we're playing for a seed. There is an importance to the game. It's not the tournament itself. I have not changed. Other years it's, 'OK, you've got to get this one to make sure you're in, or you may have to get two, or you may have to win the tournament.' So there's an importance to it that way - seeding or whatever else. But as far as playing in a tournament at this time, three games in three days, I'm not a big fan."

On game planning for two teams ...
"I'm really concerned with our team. We've just got to be consistent. We come off a Missouri win, which was a heck of a win, and then we just go and lay two eggs. Now we're coming off a Florida win. Normally I would give them today off; well, I'm not. We're going to go really hard today and really focus on us being consistent in our effort, trying to sustain energy throughout a practice - all of those kinds of things that this team has lacked throughout. Now, we've overcome a ton. Willie (Cauley-Stein's) out and we're winning without him. Now Nerlens is out and we beat Missouri and Florida without him. Our point guard's out early and we played without a point guard. We're playing shorthanded. All that stuff, this team overcame a lot, and I'm proud of 'em, but we're still inconsistent, and that's what I'm trying to get (out of) these next few days. Let's just know that we're going to be consistent in our effort."

On how his team matches up with Arkansas and Vanderbilt ...
"We had two games that could have gone either way with Vanderbilt and Arkansas smashed us. So either game, either team is going to be a hard game for us. It isn't going to be like, 'OK, we win this game.' Arkansas absolutely demolished us. And Vanderbilt had their chances to beat us twice."

On Cauley-Stein being where he projected him to be at this stage ...
"He's done fabulous. This kid just has a great temperament. He's growing. He's building his own confidence. And I say it, if you want confidence from the Coach - 'Coach, you yell too much at me.' You can't play. You stink. You build your own self-confidence. You do it through great preparation and hard work and demonstrated performance. It doesn't matter what a fan yells at you, what the media writes about you; it has no effect on you. You have confidence. Well, he's building his own, and it's coming slowly because he was playing football six months ago. He was a heck of a wide receiver, by the way. But he is becoming a better and better player and becoming an integral part of what we're doing."

On him making additional steps the rest of the season ...
"Yeah, he's getting better every game. I could see him coming up with a 25(-point), 15(-rebound) and seven-block night. He has that. His feet and hands are so good, it's just he gets so tired out there because he plays so hard he's got to come off the floor. Against Florida, everybody's saying, 'Why would you put him with 11 minutes to go (and four fouls)?' Huh? How about that I wanted to win the game? How about that? 'Were you afraid he'd foul out?' Yeah, I was afraid, but I was more afraid of losing the game, so we played him. We told him don't foul. A basket does not kill us. Don't foul. You look at what he means to this team, he's had a huge impact. Nerlens being gone has hurt us, but we're still blocking shots, we're still rebounding the ball and doing the stuff we were doing when Nerlens was here."

On this being anyone's tournament to win ...
"Oh yeah. My respect for the coaches in the league - and I can even talk about guys that have been struggling and the jobs they did with their teams. What Tony (Barbee's) done (at Auburn). What Rick (Ray) has done (at Mississippi State). What Frank (Martin) has done (at South Carolina). You've got guys continuing to coach their teams and guys making strides. And Billy (Donovan), when you have the target on your back, I've been there. That's the hardest time to coach. And the job he's done. So you look around, one guy has done a crap job with his team and I think it's me. What we've done at times and what we've accepted is not what I've accepted in the past. But I've been really impressed (with everyone else). I think, because of that, that coaching, that ability to get through to their teams and keep them believing, that I believe this tournament is going to be crazy. I think it's going to be crazy."

On the Big Blue Nation's presence being an advantage ...
"It's important to this young team. Obviously we engaged our fans last game and it really helped us, but at the end of the day you've got to play basketball. The second thing is you've got to battle and fight. If they come at you, they can quit, like go on the rope, or you can fight. You can't have teams walking off the floor and their staff is saying to each other, 'This team is soft.' We've got to battle. When we battle, we're a good team. When we step back and don't want the contact or avoid the body check, we're not that good. That other team is as good as anybody in the country and I believe we can advance as far as they want to go. But you've got to fight, you've got to battle and you've got to really sustain that kind of attitude and that kind of effort."

On the job Mark Fox has done at Georgia ...
"Let me tell you what he's done. One, he's letting his star be a star, and he's getting other guys to accept how they have to play in a system for them to have success. And then they're not breaking off. They're playing physical. They're playing unbelievable defense. The last five or six games, their defense presence has been ridiculous. They never think they are out of a game. Early in the season we thought they can't win any games, and you look at them now. I called him on the phone and told him the same thing. I said, 'Man, you are doing an unbelievable job.' Cuonzo, the same thing at Tennessee. You think about where they were, and then he went to a smaller team. Well, you've got to get guys to buy into that. You can't just do it. They're still defending. They're still being physical. Their guard play is outstanding. You just go up and down the line and you just look at what some of these guys are doing and I'm blown away. That's probably why I look at myself and say, 'Daggone, what the heck am I doing?' "

On Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope having a revelation this year ...
"I think that's part of it, but I also think Mark's giving him the freedom that they need and the kid needs. He's saying, 'Look, you make plays, man, and the rest of us are going to do what we're supposed to do.' Now that doesn't mean he's not letting the other guys play, but what you do when you have a talent like that, you give him a little room, and he has. Like I said, when we went in there, we knew that if that kid got it going he's hard to stop. And Mark gives him room to get going."

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings

On the tournament being wide open ...
"I think that the tournament is a little bit more wide open this year than it's been in other years. I'm certainly not going to sit here and say that we can or cannot or Arkansas can or cannot. I'm no prognosticator other than to think that our tournament will be very interesting and I think a lot of teams are good enough to win it. We'll just see what happens."

On late-season momentum helping teams into the tournament ...
"I don't know that's really an indicator, to be honest with you. A lot of it is matchups. I think it's who you get paired with and who you end up playing. I think there are certain teams in this league, for instance, that we match up with than we do with others. I think the same can be said for others in the league. And it's not always the same team. You go back and look at last year, we probably matched up with that great Kentucky team as well as if not better than anyone in the league, but there were some other teams in the league that we didn't match up with as well as maybe as we did even as Kentucky, as good as they were. So I think so much of it depends on matchups and who wins and who you draw and how you match up with them. And then somebody will get on a little bit of a roll and start playing well. And the reason I say that I don't think it's much of an indicator is because we've had some of our best conference tournaments having gone into the tournament not playing as well as we would have liked to play, including last year. We didn't feel like we were playing great last year going into the tournament and we ended up winning. I just don't know that that's an indicator of what's happened recently. It's about who you draw and the teams that kind of get on a roll as the weekend unfolds."

On why Bridgestone Arena is the best arena for the SEC Tournament ...
"I'm biased to the city. I'm biased to the people that run the tournament. I think the arena is terrific, and again, it's not one that we've had a lot of success in, but I think with a smaller venue, the tickets are a little tougher to come by, so it seems more like there's more people there and the arena's fuller. I just think it's a great place to have the tournament. We certainly enjoyed New Orleans last year a lot, probably more than any other tournament we've ever been to. Atlanta does a great job with it, but I'm biased to Nashville for obvious reasons."

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson

On Vanderbilt's improvement and increased confidence ...
"I think you get confident in one another. I think when you look at the young guys - (Sheldon) Jeter and (Kevin) Bright - I think they're starting to put their impact on this team here. (Josh) Henderson played a lot better the second time around and I think it's big. And obviously they shoot the ball. When they shoot the ball, they're a dangerous basketball team."

On Vandy having an advantage playing close to home ...
"Well they are playing there, so I'm sure it'll have some effect for them. But at the time, it's a one-and-done situation. It's survive and advance. But they get a chance to sleep in their own beds and play in a facility that's right down the street from Vandy."

On building confidence after struggling away from home this season ...
"It's a neutral setting and I think you throw all the records out because everybody's 0-0 right now. Two teams that have played each other, so they're familiar with one another. I look for a heated contest against some teams that's trying to survive and advance. That's the bottom line. It's a neutral setting, so to speak, so we'll roll the ball out and see what takes place."

On whether the tournament is wide open ...
"I think of course Florida, they ended up winning the league, so people will deem them the prohibitive favorite. But I think if you look at the records and teams beating up on each other, I think it can be an open tournament, there's no question. It's who's playing better at a particular time, who can get on a run and hopefully we're one of those teams that can get on a run."

LSU head coach Johnny Jones

On UK fans traveling to Nashville for the tournament ...
"I think that anytime you go there (Rupp Arena), it's one of the greatest atmospheres that you can play in front of college basketball. And you look around, anytime they travel - and I think Cal has made statements several times - the way that the crowds are when they're on the road, teams' attendance is generally up when they're playing because of their fan base and the way that they travel is impressive. So yes, I've always noticed it from time here before and now that they've always been that."

On whether than can provide an advantage to UK ...

"Well absolutely. Anytime you're playing at home, I think when you look at it and the percentage of times that guys have an opportunity to win or you look at the percentage of games won at home compared to on the road, I think you have to give your fans a great deal of credit for being a part of that as well and the way they're able to energize you when you're making a run and when you're playing well and you have that support. I think it means something. So absolutely, I think it means a great deal to have that type of support. When you're on the road, I think guys know that they're being followed that way."

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin

On the differences in Kentucky without Noel ...
"Obviously without Noel, from a defensive standpoint you lose a lot. Not just a guy that can really block shots, but you're talking about a guy that can defend on the perimeter at 6-11, 7-feet tall. He can defend smaller guys, he gets steals. So he wasn't just a shot blocker. He did a lot of things for their defense. He would guard smaller guys and Willie Cauley would probably guard the bigger guy. So you lose that presence. What happens is your perimeter guys get used to having a guy behind them who can block shots like that. So sometimes you have a tendency to open up the gate and funnel guys to him. So that's a major loss (when) you lose that caliber of talent. You can't all of a sudden next game (say), 'Let's get back to where we were.' It takes time to make adjustments. But when played him at our place, it was the first game without him in front of a tremendous atmosphere and our guys played well that night. Cal does a good job with his team. Those guys will be ready to play. You saw what they've done thus far. They lost to a tough Georgia team at Georgia. They've done a good job protecting their home court. But they're a good team. They still have pieces. They have talented guys. Now some might be young, but they still have talent."

Florida head coach Billy Donovan

On the effect on another close loss at Kentucky on his team's psyche ...
"I think our team, at least from what I can tell, is pretty good. I was obviously disappointed with the way we certainly started the first half and the second half in Lexington. We were up by seven and didn't get to the free-throw line and score points. It's been a couple different ways (that Florida has lost close games). At Missouri, I thought we probably relied too much on behind the 3-point line and probably didn't get enough action toward the basket. And then in Lexington against Kentucky, we only took two perimeter jump shots. Everything else is around the basket, which is what you want to try to do to try to get fouled or to at least go inside and have maybe a higher-percentage shot. But for us in those games, I just don't think that we've shot the ball particularly well. I can't sit here and say we've gotten poor shots or taken poor shots or taken poor shots. I will say this: The one common theme in those games to me, because I actually thought we didn't execute great against Missouri and I think we executed well against Kentucky in terms of what we were looking to do and where wanted to get the ball and the kind of shots we were looking to get. I thought we got them. But the one common theme in those games is I think our turnovers have been way too high. Against Kentucky, we turned it over five times. We had a stretch against Missouri with about 11 minutes to go where we were up and three of the four possessions we turned it over and inevitably it led to a run. What kept us around in the Kentucky game was we turned it over five times, I think they turned it over four. We were never really able to capitalize, either were they, but they were able to manufacture points, Kentucky was, from the free-throw line and we weren't able to manufacture any shots. We had some stuff in around the basket, but I think we've got to continue to work to get better. I think we've confident guys, I think we've got guys that are capable, but for whatever reason in those situations - and it hasn't been like a game-winning shots as much as it's been like a stretch where we've kind of had a drought."

On this being talked about as an open SEC Tournament and whether Florida will be looking to prove that wrong ...
"I don't think that that's our view at all. I think, nine-week league schedule, we've had some high moments and some disappointing games, which I think you're gonna probably have in an 18-game league schedule. But I think the one thing I said about our league: I think back in November and December before the conference started, we've had a lot of teams in my opinion that I think were not playing great in November and December and have gotten much better. We obviously played Vanderbilt towards the end of the year; I think Kevin's (Stallings) done a great job with his team being youthful. They've gotten better and better and better and strung together some games. I think the same thing can be said about Georgia with Mark Fox. The same thing can be said about LSU. Maybe when the league started back in January, teams weren't playing to their capabilities, but all these teams have gotten better. Even playing Kentucky, although (Nerlens) Noel's been out for five or six games, they're still learning how to play. So I think the tournament is wide-open. I don't think it has anything to do with who's won a regular-season championship. It's a new season. It's a new opportunity. There's no longer really any more home games; it's neutral site so I do think it is (wide open). There's a lot of teams out there that are very, very capable. And when you're dealing with a one-and-done situation and a one-game tournament like this, I think anything can happen. And I would agree: I think the tournament's wide open."

Kentucky baseball: Weekend update (March 11)

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Overall Record: 13-2
Record Last Week: 3-1

Recent Results
Wednesday, March 6 - defeated Xavier, 6-3
Friday, March 8 - defeated Michigan State, 2-1
Saturday, March 9 - lost to Michigan State, 1-6
Sunday, March 10 - defeated Michigan State, 3-1

Upcoming Schedule (times Eastern)

Tuesday, March 12 - vs. Ohio - 4 p.m.
Wednesday, March 13 - vs. Cincinnati - 4 p.m.
Friday, March 15 - at Florida - 7:30 p.m. (CSS)
Saturday, March 16 - at Florida - 12:00 p.m. (FSN)
Sunday, March 17 - at Florida - 1 p.m.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE
Paul McConkey

5-11 - Jr. - 3B - Knoxville, Tenn. (Halls)
Week Stats: .444 (4-for-9), 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 8 TB, .889 SLG%, .500 OB%

Notes: Junior Paul McConkey paced the Wildcats in multiple offensive categories during a four-game week, batting .444 (4-for-9) in three games ... The third baseman led UK to a series win over 2012 NCAA Tournament team Michigan State, a 37-win club in 2012 ... McConkey had three RBI and belted a homer during the week, reaching base at a .500 clip ...Hit the game-winning, two-run double in a 3-1 win on Sunday vs. Michigan State, good for his second game-winning RBI of the year ... On the year, McConkey has hit .324 (11-for-34) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBI.

PITCHER OF THE WEEK NOMINEE
Corey Littrell
6-3 - Jr. - LHP - Louisville, Ky. (Trinity)
Week Stats: 1-0, 1 GS, 7 IP, 1.29 ERA, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO

Notes: Junior left-handed All-America starter Corey Littrell turned in his best start of the year in leading UK to a series win over Michigan State during a Sunday afternoon rubber match ... Littrell worked seven strong innings allowing only one run on four hits, walking one batter and striking out a career-high nine batters ... He carried a shutout into the seventh inning, only surrendering a single hit through his first six shutout innings ... Battled through the seventh after three consecutive hits plated the first run of the game for the Spartans, getting the final two outs to set up the UK bullpen for the save in the 3-1 game ... He fired 100 pitches in the start, with 69 going for strikes ... After an All-Southeastern Conference season in 2012 as the Sunday starter, Littrell reasserted himself as the series-winning starter in rubber matches, making his eighth rubber-match start in the last two years vs. Michigan ... In those eight series-deciding games, Littrell has led UK to eight wins and owned a 6-0 record with a 2.8 ERA ... On the year, Littrell had made four starts with a 2-0 record and a 3.42 ERA, tossing 23.2 innings, allowing 22 hits and eight walks, striking out 24 ... With his 17th career win on Sunday, Littrell had now moved into a five-way tie for 10th in UK career history, seven wins shy of the program mark.

TEAM NOTES
Seventh-ranked Kentucky completed a 3-1 week with a series win over Michigan State during the weekend, also picking up a midweek win over Xavier on Wednesday. The Wildcats will play five games during their spring break, including opening Southeastern Conference play at Florida over the weekend, with the Gators coming off three consecutive trips to the College World Series.  

Kentucky (13-2) started the week off with a 6-3 win against Xavier, as freshman right-hander Kyle Cody record his first career collegiate win, throwing five innings and striking out three.

UK opened the series with the Spartans - a 2012 NCAA Tournament team and 37-win club a year ago - with a 2-1 win on Friday night. Sophomore left-hander A.J. Reed worked seven shutout innings, allowing only five hits and two walks. All-American centerfielder Austin Cousino got UK on the board with a first-inning homer, before Max Kuhn slugged his first career homer in the bottom of the eighth as the game-winning bomb. On Saturday, Michigan State right-hander David Garner, a 2012 Cape Cod League All-Star, turned in a dominating performance, working 8.1 innings in a 6-1 MSU win. Kentucky rebounded to win the series on Sunday in another rubber-match win from junior southpaw Corey Littrell, making his eighth series-deciding start in the last two years. The All-American starter worked seven innings and allowed just one run, striking out a career-high nine.

During the week, UK was led offensively by Kuhn and McConkey, with each totaling three RBI. McConkey, a 5-foot-11 junior, started in three games during the week, batting .444 (4-for-9) with one double, one homer, three RBI, and a .500 on-base percentage. Kuhn, a sophomore infielder from Zionsville, Ind., started all four games this week for the Wildcats, batting .357 (5-14) with two doubles, one homer, three RBI and a .438 on-base percentage.

Junior Trevor Gott recorded three saves in three appearances during the week to move into a tie for the UK career record with 15 saves. Gott (2-0, 0.00 ERA) had four saves on the year, working 8.1 innings, allowing only four singles and two walks, striking out 10. In his 15 career saves, Gott has worked 16.1 innings, allowing four hits and three walks, striking out 24. Littrell's 17th career win also moved him into 10th place on the career UK win list.

On the year, UK has batted .308 as a team with 11 homers, a .435 slugging and a .410 on-base percentage in 15 games, stealing 24 bases and owning a .976 fielding percentage. On the mound, UK has a 2.42 ERA with four saves in 134 innings, walking only 33 and striking out 116.

UK's all left-handed weekend rotation of Reed (2-1, 3.22 ERA), Jerad Grundy (3-1, 1.35 ERA) and Littrell (2-0, 3.42 ERA) have been solid through four starts. In the bullpen, Gott leads the club with seven relief outings, also joining senior Walter Wijas (1-0, 1.12 ERA) with seven appearances. Freshman right-handers Zach Strecker (0-0, 2.25 RA), Tyler Cox (0-0, 0.00 ERA) and Cody (1-0, 7.00 ERA) have each been weapons in their collegiate debuts. Sophomore Chandler Shepherd (1-0, 2.92 ERA) has appeared in five games and worked 12.1 innings, while freshmen lefties Dylan Dwyer (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and Ryne Combs (0-0, 1.12 ERA) have been key pitching options.

Individually, J.T. Riddle leads the team in hitting with a .403 average, totaling three doubles, one triple, one homer and 13 RBI, stealing three bases. Catcher Micheal Thomas has a .394 average with eight RBI, while Reed has batted .362 with a double, triple, five homers and 23 RBI. Kuhn owns a .340 average with four doubles, one triple, one homer and 15 RBI, stealing five bases, while McConkey has a .324 average with a homer and 11 RBI. Cousino has hit .283 with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBI, stealing five bags. Shortstop Matt Reida owns a .260 average with two doubles and seven RBI, while outfielders Zac Zellers and Lucas Witt each have hit .234.

Kentucky will begin SEC play when they travel to Florida for a weekend series starting on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville., Fla., UK will face Florida on Saturday at 12:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. The game on Friday will be televised by CSS and available on ESPN3.com, and the Saturday game will be televised on Fox Sports. All three games will be broadcast on the UK IMG Radio Network, with the Voice of UK Baseball, Neil Price, calling the action.

A'dia Mathies scored a game-high 19 points in UK's 75-67 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament championship game. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies scored a game-high 19 points in UK's 75-67 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament championship game. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
You could tell at the postgame press conference just how much this one stung.

Matthew Mitchell and his Kentucky women's basketball team set out from the beginning of the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament to win it - and even before that in reality. He and his team were excited about the opportunity, their third try over the last four seasons, in the championship game. But like the others, they fell just short.

In the 75-67 defeat at the hands of the Texas A&M Aggies, UK did not deliver the type of effort that Mitchell and his staff expected.

"We're just disappointed," said Mitchell. "We've been here three out of the last four years, haven't been able to get a victory. It's very, very disappointing."

Kentucky's head coach was quick to give the Aggies praise, and it was well-deserved. After losing four of out of their last five in the regular season, Texas A&M mounted an impressive run in the SEC Tournament. The Aggird took down three consecutive ranked teams on the way to the tournament title, first defeating No. 17 South Carolina in the quarterfinals, No. 9 Tennessee in the semis and then No. 7 Kentucky to cap off the university's first-ever SEC championship and avenge their two regular-season losses to the Wildcats in the process.

While Texas A&M's performance was impressive, Mitchell and his athletes felt that they left their opportunity to win the championship in the locker room rather than on the floor.

After Kentucky had struggled in the first half against Georgia and scored just 19 points, the Cats mounted a monumental effort in the second half to win comfortably to advance to the title game, outscoring the Lady Bulldogs 41-14. It would be essential for the Wildcats to deliver a complete performance to win only the program's second tournament title in its history and its first since 1982.

They got off to a strong start, hanging tough with the suddenly hot Aggies. Kentucky forced center Kelsey Bone into foul trouble and got her out of the game early. From there, the Cats battled late and managed to grab a 36-34 advantage at the half led by Jennifer O'Neill and DeNesha Stallworth who managed nine and eight points respectively to lead the way.

Kentucky had managed to play a strong first half and withstand the first blow from the surging Aggies.

The first half was frenetic and chaotic. Up and down each team went and the Wildcats looked to continue to use their depth to stay fresh and wear the Aggies down. Texas A&M never slowed up, even with Bone out early, as Karla Gilbert stepped in and performed admirably in her absence.

But it was Bone in the second half that brought about the end to Kentucky's title hopes.

"You really have to have a good team effort to guard her. We did that very effectively at in College Station," said Mitchell. "But if you let her get that close to the rim, she's going to have a big day on you. She certainly did."

Kentucky's defense did fine on her in the first half, limiting her to just four points in eight minutes. The second half, as it was for UK Saturday night against Georgia, was a different story.

Bone dominated the interior, scoring 18 points with 15 rebounds and four assists on her way to SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors. There was seemingly nothing the Wildcats could do to stop her, though fellow all-tournament team selection and senior Kentucky guard A'dia Mathies felt otherwise.

"I think our posts did an OK job of trying to push her off the block," said Mathies. "It was up to us guards and other posts to swarm her today. She got a lot of deep positions and easy buckets."

Mathies performed as well as could be expected of an SEC Player of the Year playing in her final SEC Tournament game. She finished the night with a game-high 19 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two assists against the Aggies and was named to her third SEC All-Tournament Team (2010, 2012, 2013).

Despite the loss and the disappointment, Kentucky still has plenty to play for going forward. The Cats are currently projected as a two seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament - Selection Monday is set for March 18 on ESPN - and they have a chance to avenge themselves to play for something even greater.

For now, however, it's back to the drawing board.

"When you want something really bad, you come up short, the pain is there," said sophomore guard Bria Goss who finished with nine points in the loss. "But I'm just going to use this pain as motivation to get better for the tournament because we got a lot more basketball to play. We're just going to use this game as a learning tool and try to move forward with it."

Mathies' disappointment was due to the fact that her team did not live up to its own expectations. The team motto of "40 Minutes" has appeared all over UK Hoops posters, t-shirts, and throughout various social media platforms. She didn't think Kentucky brought that full 40 minutes of effort to The Arena at the Gwinnett Center floor Sunday night.

"It's just disappointing because we know we had the capabilities to win this game," said Mathies. "We didn't come out there and play for 40 minutes like we should have. We are going to use this game to move forward because we're not going to let this game define our season."

What Kentucky does plan to do is regroup and take what they learned and how they feel after this loss and put it towards a deep run into the NCAA Tournament. Though the Cats haven't had much time to digest the loss, they are already looking forward to learning from this missed opportunity.

"Just come out when you're on the floor, don't take any second for granted, play like it's your last game, like it's the last opportunity you have," said Goss. "We just gave away an opportunity."

"We need to be sharper and focused throughout the whole game," Mathies said. "We can't have mental lapses. We need to make every four-minute segment like our last. We didn't do that tonight, but we're definitely going to do that moving forward."

With now a full week of practice ahead of them until they even find out who, where and when it will play in the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky will look to recapture the energy, focus and desire it lacked Sunday night. No matter what it takes, Mitchell, who assumed much of the blame for Kentucky's poor shot selection and inability to control the lane, will make sure he does all in his power to make sure the Cats are prepared when they tipoff in the first round of the Big Dance so that they don't have to feel experience the sting of a loss again any time soon.

"A large majority of the season we've been really tough," Mitchell said. "I think what I'll try to do is figure out the best way to get our team in position to be ready to play in the NCAA Tournament. If I can affect the toughness, bring that out of them, great. If it's what we have, I have to figure out on a day like today, I need to do a better job of being able to help them get some baskets."

Corey Littrell had a career-high nine strikeouts in seven one-run innings on Sunday against Michigan State. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Corey Littrell had a career-high nine strikeouts in seven one-run innings on Sunday against Michigan State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A month into the season, Kentucky has gotten accustomed to blowouts.

Entering this weekend, the Wildcats were the nation's top offensive team. They had scored eight runs or more seven times and won by less than three runs just once in 11 victories.

But in their final weekend series before Southeastern Conference play, the Cats experienced something entirely different. In three games against Michigan State, every at-bat mattered in a trio of pitchers' duels. In taking the series with a 3-1 win in a Sunday rubber match, the Cats got an idea of what's in store for them over the next two months.

"It did feel a little bit like an SEC series," UK head coach Gary Henderson said.

During a 22-0 start to 2012, the Cats won close game after close game. This season has been another story, at least until the Spartans came to town. Henderson believes the experience of winning a 2-1 game on Friday night before responding to a Saturday loss with a series-clinching Sunday win will be valuable as the Cats prepare to travel to Florida next weekend.

"Last year at the same time we'd won a bunch of one-run games and we'd already been through that experience," Henderson said. "This year we just haven't. And so it was really good to get the one-run game on Friday and then obviously saw a really good pitcher (David Garner) yesterday and then today get a two-run game. It's good for us."

For UK starting pitcher Corey Littrell, it was nothing more than a reminder.

Littrell, after all, is accustomed to taking the mound in tense Sunday showdowns. And just as he did repeatedly in UK's record-setting 2012 season, Littrell delivered. He pitched seven one-run innings, allowing just four hits - three of which came in his final frame - and striking out a career-high nine batters while moving to 2-0 on the season.

"I love Sundays, especially coming in when the series is tied," Littrell said. "The team has confidence in me and I have confidence in myself to go out and pitch the way I did."

Littrell has certainly earned that confidence.

After his performance on Sunday, Littrell has now started eight Sunday rubber matches over the last two seasons. In those games, he has a perfect 6-0 mark and a sparkling 2.89 earned-run average over 53 innings.

For the first four-and-a-half innings, the best Littrell could do was preserve a scoreless tie. The high-powered UK offense managed just four base runners against Spartan starter Mick VanVossen through the first four frames before player with significantly less big-game experience than Littrell provided a spark.

Until he arrived at Cliff Hagan Stadium on Sunday morning, freshman Kyle Barrett had no idea he was about to make his second-career start and first in a weekend series. The Douglasville, Ga., native reacted about the way you'd expect.

"I was excited," Barrett said. "I was ready to go."

Henderson wanted the victory on Sunday, but the move was as much about what he knows the future holds.

"We're going to need a left-handed bat when the conference games get going and you face that right-handed slider," Henderson said. "It was time to see what he could do and obviously he looked good. He'll get more opportunity."

With one out in the fifth inning and facing a 2-1 count, Barrett laced a double down the left-field line - his first extra-base hit as a Wildcat. One out later, J.T. Riddle knocked in Barrett with a single to left for his 13th run batted in of the season.

"I thought the previous at-bat was also really good where he lined out," Henderson said of Barrett. "To this point he's had a good command of the strike zone. He swings at strikes. He lets it go. The stroke is good."

In the sixth inning, UK added a pair of insurance runs on a Paul McConkey double. Michigan State managed to scratch a run across in the seventh inning, but Walt Wijas shut the Spartans down in the eighth before closer Trevor Gott protected a two-run lead in the ninth for his school-record-tying 15th-career save.

With SEC play on the horizon, it's unlikely Gott will have to wait long for an opportunity to take sole ownership of the record.

"Every weekend for the next 10 weeks is going to be just like this," Riddle said. "It's going to be close ballgames. It's going to come down to a clutch hit or getting a sacrifice bunt down. You're not going to put up a lot of runs against the type of pitching we've got here in the SEC."

DeNesha Stallworth's 12 second-half points led UK to the SEC Tournament Championship set for Sunday evening at 6 p.m. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) DeNesha Stallworth's 12 second half points led UK to the SEC Tournament Championship set for Sunday evening at 6 p.m. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Apparently Kentucky women's basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell delivered one spirited halftime message to his team Saturday night, as the Wildcats trailed Georgia in the SEC Tournament semifinal, 24-19. Whatever was said, it got Kentucky's full and undivided attention.

"I don't think I can say what Coach said in the locker room," said senior guard A'dia Mathies as she and the media laughed.

The first half was ugly. There's no denying that.

Kentucky came out flat and Georgia took it right to the Cats. They had greater energy, determination and focus. Bulldog players crashed the glass, grabbing offensive rebound after offensive rebound, while UK took punch after punch. Despite a lackluster first 20 minutes, the Wildcats only face a five-point halftime deficit.

Kentucky was lucky it wasn't worse. Georgia was abysmal from the 3-point line, making only one shot from beyond the arc all evening. Meanwhile, forward Jasmine Hassell was wearing out Kentucky post defenders, scoring 15 first-half points, mostly off of offensive stick backs.

The offensive rebounds were killing Kentucky, and Mitchell knew it.

"I just wrote the number 12 on the board and the number three on the board," said Mitchell about his halftime message. "Georgia had 12 offensive rebounds and we had three; I thought Georgia played with so much more intensity and desire in the first half.  I was just livid about that."

Kentucky's guard play also suffered through the first stanza. Point guard Jennifer O'Neill did not appear to be the same player from a night prior where she scored eight points with a pair of assists. She struggled to get Kentucky into its offense, turned the ball over and lacked the energy she had brought against Vanderbilt, managing just a point while turning it over four times in 15 minutes.

She wasn't alone, however. Mitchell wasn't pleased with anyone. They only had 19 points at the break and with their mission to win an SEC Tournament Championship on the line, he wasn't about to let that first-half trend continue.

So he let his players hear about it.

"We came down here believing we had a chance to win this tournament," said Mitchell. "(It's) just really unacceptable not to compete at a high level.  
"We just talked really about... sort of had a rollcall at halftime and talked to some individual people that were acting like it was no big deal."

The second half Wildcats did resemble the team that steamrolled Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals. In fact, UK dominated Georgia in the second half. The Bulldogs really never stood a chance.

Kentucky's depth was a critical component to its victory on Friday night over the Commodores, but it was also Friday night's depth that gave UK's starters plenty of rest to allow them to keep energy in reserve for the Cats' second half dismantling of a suddenly bewildered Georgia squad.

The Wildcats second-half response was so impressive that their 41 points in the second half would have been enough to defeat Georgia alone as UK's defense managed to hold the Bulldogs to 14 points over the final 20 minutes. Saturday evening's semifinal final score of 60-38 could not have better illustrated a Jekkyl and Hyde performance, and that goes for both teams.

While Georgia may have outplayed the Cats in the first half, it's quite possible the Lady Bulldogs left everything they had on the floor in the initial 20 minutes. When the second half rolled around, the Dogs were panting while the Cats had plenty left in the tank.

"We use our depth as an advantage every game," said Mathies. "We weren't hustling in the first half.  We were only down by like four or five points.  In the second half, it really changed.  It shows what we do when we're out there hustling, focused, having fun."

Not only was the message loud and clear for Kentucky going into the second frame, but the Cats executed the plan quite flawlessly. They made defensive adjustments and players took their halftime criticisms in stride.

O'Neill responded just as Mitchell hoped she would. In UK's previous three losses in the SEC, Mitchell pinned a lot of the blame on his point guard. O'Neill didn't back down from the challenge, and it was evident from the first whistle after halftime that she was dialed in.

Less than a minute into the first half, O'Neill rose up and buried a 3-pointer in front of the UK bench to cut the deficit to four. It was then her layup at the 17:18 mark that tied things up at 26, and Kentucky never trailed from there.

She would finish with nine points (eight in the second half) with four assists, three rebounds and a steal in 30 minutes of action as she set the tone and guided Kentucky to a 41-point outburst in the second half

"The second half Jennifer is the one I think is the best point guard in this league," said Mitchell. "I think we are a very dangerous team when we can have her playing the way she did in the second half.  She's a terrific player right now, at least she was in the second half today."

Defensively, Kentucky made terrific strides with its post defense Saturday night. While Hassell dominated the first half, UK defenders made her disappear in the second. Mitchell ran defender after defender on her, from DeNesha Stallworth to Samarie Walker to Azia Bishop, and their physicality just beat her down.

Throughout the second half, Hassell caught the ball farther and farther away from the basket and UK post defenders pushed her off the block. She was tired of battling in the paint as Kentucky defenders completely took her out of the game.

"Just playing more physical," said Stallworth. "Just not staying behind her and letting her always go right, have it her way.  (We) Definitely played her tougher, more ball pressure helped.  We did it as a team."

While Hassell went dormant, Stallworth ignited her game in the second half. With a game-high 18 points, two-thirds of the junior's scoring came in the second 20 minutes as UK poured it on.

It only took the first six minutes, as UK built its lead to eight, to have a pretty strong feeling that Georgia was merely a speed bump on UK's road to the SEC championship game against Texas A&M on Sunday at p.m. ET.

After all, that's what Kentucky came to Duluth, Ga., in the first place. If Kentucky gives two halves equal to its second-half effort against Georgia, UK could walk away with their coveted SEC championship.

"The thing that's sweet about it is having a chance and opportunity tomorrow," said Mitchell. "You can't imagine how much respect I have for the Georgia program and Coach (Andy) Landers, who is one of the best absolute coaches of all time, has been a great, great source of wisdom for me over the years.  We have tremendous respect for Georgia's team.

"It's only sweet not because of the opponent, but because our kids got it together at halftime and are now giving themselves an opportunity to win a championship we want very badly."

Julius Mays scored 13 points, including two game-sealing, free throws in UK's 61-57 Senior Day win over Florida. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Mays scored 13 points, including two game-sealing, free throws in UK's 61-57 Senior Day win over Florida. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Julius Mays couldn't have asked for better way for it to end.

He stepped to the line to shoot two free throws with less than 10 seconds left in his regular-season home career. With Kentucky leading by two, he had a chance to all but salt away a victory in matchup with Florida called UK's "one-game season."

For anyone who has watched him during his season as a Wildcat, the result should come as no surprise. "Uncle Julius" stepped up, received a pass from the referee, wiped his hands on the soles of his shoes and calmly got the job done in a 61-57 victory.

"I had a lot of big moments in my college career, but that one was probably my biggest one because we needed that win more than we needed anything to keep our hopes alive," Mays said.

What a raucous crowd of 24,294 fans in Rupp Arena and television viewers at home didn't see was what happened in the huddle when Florida called timeout before the in-bounds pass that led to Mays being fouled. There, Mays told Coach Cal in no uncertain terms that he wanted the ball in his hands.

Calipari obliged, subbing in Kyle Wiltjer - who had sad most of the final minutes - and calling for two-man curl-and-pop action between him and Mays, anticipating a trap on Mays, UK's best foul shooter on the season at 83.6 percent entering Saturday's game. Mays took the floor intending to follow the plan, but saw an opening in the Gator defense and sprinted free.

"He walked out, I ain't curling anything, just get me the ball," Calipari said. "He went and got fouled, made both. He knew he was going to make them."

Sheepishly, Mays admitted to breaking off and doing his own thing - even though Coach Cal surely didn't mind this time.

"He actually didn't call the play how I ran it, but I wanted that ball and I wanted to shoot the free throws," said Mays, who finished with 13 points and three 3-pointers.

Mays will forever have the memory of delivering in a situation with UK's NCAA Tournament life on the line, but the way his teammates responded throughout the Cats' upset of the No. 11/9 Gators might be an even more lasting takeaway.

In his short Kentucky career, Mays has fashioned himself into a leader of his young team. To a man, his teammates express respect for their elder - who is working toward a graduate degree - and appreciation for his presence. But heading into his final home game, Mays made it clear he would not accept anything short of supreme effort from those surrounding him, regardless of whether it might lose him a friend or two.

But ultimately, that probably only strengthened Mays' bond with his younger teammates.

"I think they know when I got them, I only want to win," Mays said. "I only want to see them do their best. Even though we had a time when it felt like guys were going to let go of the rope, but I was holding guys accountable and if you couldn't get it done, you couldn't be in the game."

From the opening tip, the Cats made their presence known. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead, forcing a Florida timeout within the game's first minute and eventually grabbing an 11-2 advantage. But as Final Four contenders are wont to do, the Gators consistently battled back. Even so UK never wilted, refusing to give in at points when they likely would have in other games this season.

"I think they grew up," Mays said. "They didn't have any choice. They knew it was do or die and we needed this win more than anything. They stepped up big and we came out with the win."

The biggest test came with 7:36 left in the second half. A 19-5 Florida run had put the Cats in a 57-50 hole and the outlook was bleak, but that's when they showed things would be different on this day. Over the game's final 14 possessions, UK held the nation's fourth-most efficient offense according to kenpom.com scoreless. The Cats forced five turnovers as Florida missed its final 11 shots, opening the door for Mays' free throws.

"It showed that we can play defense and we can defend really well when we want to," Mays said. "And they had times when they could score, but Willie's (Cauley-Stein) presence in there, I think it scared them. It made them alter shots and just throw it at the rim and we came up with big rebounds."

Cauley-Stein played all but one second of that game-ending 11-0 run and, incredibly, he played all but one second of the final 11:15 with four fouls. His numbers in 25 foul-plagued minutes (six points, eight rebounds and four blocks) aren't his best of the season, but at no point has his impact been so keenly felt as UK outscored Florida by 12 points when Cauley-Stein was on the floor.

"He just brought unbelievable energy," said Archie Goodwin, who led the Cats with four steals and 16 points, six of which came during the final 5:34. "The first couple of possessions he got a couple big blocks. Throughout the game he was able to withstand his energy. There were a couple times he had a couple plays where he fell asleep when he gave up two 3s, but he made up for it. To play with four fouls like he did at the end was huge."

Equally huge was the play of Alex Poythress. After the freshman forward made the kind of mistake that has oftentimes derailed him in failing to execute a play on offense out of a timeout, his teammates and coaches got after him. You can guess who the first one to approach him was.

"What I said to him is between he and I and he responded really well," Mays said. "He tends sometimes to kind of stray away and he gets down on himself. You expect that from a young guy, but tonight he responded. Other times in the season, he's got down on himself and he hasn't responded. But tonight he responded and we really needed it."

Instead of retreating into his shell, Poythress asked to reenter the game. And during the final 7:36, he had three key rebounds (he had a career-best 12 on the day) and an assist to Goodwin.

"I made a mistake and I knew my team needed me out there," Poythress said, "so I just said 'Coach I'm good, I'll be fine out there, put me back in.' "

Poythress will now spend the coming days looking to ensure that carries over into the Southeastern Conference Tournament. UK clinched a double bye in the tournament by beating Florida and Ole Miss's victory over LSU ensures the Cats will be the No. 2 seed in Nashville, Tenn., and will also be looking to build on their signature win to this point.

"We can only take it a game at a time," Mays said. "We needed this win to keep our hopes alive and we got it. We're looking at getting a good seed in the SEC Tournament and we're not looking past anyone. We're just ready for our next opponent and that's what we're just going to be ready for, whoever that may be, and just be ready to compete."

Julius Mays


Archie Goodwin


Alex Poythress


Video: Men's basketball Senior Day ceremony

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A'dia Mathies finished with a game-high 16 points as UK advanced to the semi-finals of the 2013 SEC Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) A'dia Mathies finished with a game-high 16 points as UK advanced to the semifinals of the 2013 SEC Tournament. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
It didn't take long to realize what Kentucky's greatest advantage was over a Vanderbilt squad which had come off a hard-fought first-round victory over Missouri a day earlier. The UK women's basketball came out aggressive and energetic from the tip.

The Wildcats jumped out to an early 8-2 lead and already had Vanderbilt wondering what hit them. As they tried to regroup with a timeout at the 16:47 mark in the first half, Mitchell threw a wrench in any plans the Commodores tried to conjure up in the huddle.

Waiting at the table and entering the game was a completely new collection of five players waiting as the Commodores came back to the court. Sticking with essentially the same lineup that Vandy started the game with, UK had five sets of fresh legs looking to continue to apply the same pressure.

Just over two minutes later and only one point allowed, the starters were back in. All five of them.

Though Kentucky mixed and matched here and there, the plan going in to the game was to make fatigue on the opposing end a serious factor by unleashing its unmatched depth.

"I thought the start was very good for us," said Mitchell. "We wanted to have a fast start. We wanted to use the energy of the second five coming in fresh, almost like they were starting the game. We talked about that before the game. That was the plan,"

Mitchell talked to the media after practice Thursday afternoon and spoke to the importance of their depth, specifically in the post. While DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker have been starting all season long and received the bulk of the minutes Friday night, Mitchell gave Azia Bishop and Samantha Drake extensive playing time on the evening. The longer they were on the court, the more they produced. The more they produced, the longer the starters could rest.

Bishop and Drake finished with nine points apiece with Drake tying her season-high output. For the duo, it may have been they're most impressive performance of the year.

"Gosh, I just thought they played beautifully," said Mitchell. "I thought it was probably their best game, too, as a tandem. Many times they came in and spelled Samarie and DeNesha. I thought we got tremendous production from them."

While Drake and Bishop were out the floor, Stallworth was taking a breather after posting 12 of her 14 points in the first half. Her explosive half combined with A'dia Mathies' 11 points and five steals helped UK get off to that ever-important fast start.

While UK continued to build the lead, which once reached to 22 points, the Cats stayed fresh and rotated as often as they could. Ten players accumulated at least 12 minutes of action Friday night in the quarterfinal matchup, while no one player recorded more than 26 minutes of playing time.

That formula could spell success for Kentucky looking forward to Saturday night's game against Georgia. However, in a tournament format, Mitchell knows anything can happen.

"In theory it should be great," Mitchell said. "I have been to a lot of these tournaments and I don't think you can make any guarantees.  If our players will recognize that we're stronger when all of us come together and really give great effort, I think that it can be a great factor."

The greatest trait Kentucky's "40 minutes of dread" brings to the table is relentless defense. Not only was UK able to beat Vanderbilt up and down the floor with fresh legs, the Cats could trap, stay in front of their opponents, get deflections and had a bit more spring in their step to block shots.

Kentucky's greatest friend statistically was the turnover.

The Wildcats used 14 steals to help force 23 Vanderbilt turnovers and as a result scored 24 points off of takeaways. Kentucky also broke the single-season blocks record as the Cats swatted eight shots on the night to give them 154 for the year.

Meanwhile, UK played a relatively clean game, and despite 14 turnovers themselves, saw some of their best point-guard play of the season as UK finished with 15 assists.

"I thought our two point guards really did an outstanding job tonight, Jennifer (O'Neill) and Janee (Thompson), one of the best games we've had them as a tandem," said Mitchell. "I thought they were pretty relentless with pushing the basketball. That was something we wrote on the board before the game, we wanted to be relentless in this game."

And so they were. From beginning to end, the Wildcats were noticeably fresher, faster, and stronger throughout the evening and Vanderbilt could never get in reach. They had cut the deficit to 11 at 41-30, but Kentucky was just too much to handle on this night.

Mathies proved to be a handful, as she has so many times over her illustrious four years as a Wildcat. Though UK's depth may have been the difference Friday night, it was Mathies who got UK going early and hit big shots at key points all evening that kept the momentum rolling.

The Co-SEC Player of the Year finished the night with a game-high 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. She was extremely efficient while also dedicating herself to the other aspect of the game. She finished with five steals - all in the first half - and had two blocks and two assists in her 26 minutes of play.

Looking to go out as an SEC champion on Sunday, she was pleased with her team's start that began with a 76-65 win over Vanderbilt to continue its mission to win the tournament crown.

"We just played 40 minutes with fresh legs," said Mathies. "I think that played a huge factor tonight. When we can have two people running down the court instead of one person, it's going to take a toll on 'em for the last minutes. I think we (were) getting great post ups, making good plays, especially defensively we (were) getting big stops. I'm proud of our effort."

Julius Mays and Twany Beckham are the two Wildcats who will be honored at Senior Day on Saturday. (Chet white, UK Athletics) Julius Mays and Twany Beckham are the two Wildcats who will be honored at Senior Day on Saturday. (Chet white, UK Athletics)
By Fink Densford, originally posted at CoachCal.com

Most senior moments last a little longer than a handful of seconds during two free throws four games before the end of the season, but for Twany Beckham, that's exactly what his moment was reduced to.

"I didn't think I'd be able to go into the game," Beckham said Friday before his Senior Day game against Florida. "I didn't know if I'd ever step on the court again with my injury."

A nagging back injury that led to surgery in January has kept Beckham off the court the rest of the season, but it didn't make his bear hug with John Calipari  in the final seconds of the Mississippi State game or his career any less memorable.

The standing ovation he received against his former school as he checked in and then checked back out in between free throws was a moment he said he will never forget.

"Coach knew that against Florida, our last game of the season, would be a game we really needed," Beckham said. "He wasn't sure that I would be able to get in game at that time, so he wanted to see if I wanted to get into the game one last time, so I agreed to."

Not everything has gone according to plan for Beckham this season, but the Louisville native wouldn't take anything back from his time at Kentucky as he gets ready for Senior Day against Florida (Saturday at noon on CBS). He scored his first career UK points in the Lafayette game and saw a season-high nine minutes against Eastern Michigan.

"I still feel like I made the right decision," Beckham said. "I had my opportunities. I've always worked hard and injuries just kind of held me back."

While Beckham's final season didn't pan out as he would have hoped, Julius Mays' season has been a different flavor of bittersweet.

After transferring from Wright State, Mays was hoping to take a leap from the mid-major level and help the Cats on a second consecutive title run as one of the lone veterans on Coach Cal's youngest team to date.

Barring a late-season turnaround, those ambitions look like they could fall short, but it hasn't been from a lack of effort from Mays. The graduate student has averaged 9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists during his only year at UK, including some outstanding performances at vital times for the young Wildcats.

"We would struggle (without him)," Calipari said.

Though UK's team goals may not come to fruition, "Uncle Julius" evolved into the veteran piece that everyone hoped he would be. That role couldn't have been more evident than his 24-point standout game against Missouri after the team had lost Nerlens Noel to a season-ending injury just three games earlier.

Needing a big win to bolster the Cats' postseason résumé, Mays lifted the Cats with clutch 3-pointers and key overtime free throws.

"I've done the best I can and hopefully I get a warm welcome or a standing ovation," Mays said of what he expects Saturday.

Although Beckham likely won't play alongside Mays on Saturday, walking through the senior hoop at Rupp and receiving his framed jersey will be a bit surreal for him. It was six years ago that Beckham played his final high school game at Ballard High School on the Rupp Arena floor in the Kentucky state tournament.

"It's going to be a sweet feeling," Beckham said. "Kentucky is my dream school. I don't want to leave. I haven't hung my head at all this year, just trying to stay positive through the whole process and be there for my teammates."

Despite this season's setbacks, Beckham is still looking forward and hopeful to keep basketball in his future.

"I'm just taking my time to try and get healthy," Beckham said. "I'm going to sit down with Coach after the season and see if I'm healthy and what options I'll have. If I can get healthy, I want to continue to play basketball."

Mays is also in a state of flux regarding his future with basketball. He will be walking away with a master's degree in kinesiology and health promotion after this year, but his experience at UK has sparked an interest in coaching.

"There has always been coaching interest," Mays said. "That's always been a thought. Right now I don't know if that's what I'll do, what I want to do, but I love the game and I honestly couldn't see myself being done with it if I stopped playing it. I feel like I have to be around it."

Although things haven't gone as planned for either player, Mays is hoping he can prolong his playing career just a little bit longer and propel it into the NCAA Tournament with a win over Florida.

"This is it for me," Mays said. "If these guys decide to come back, they've got the eligibility to come back. I'm done, so they can hate me for the rest of their life, but I'm leaving it all out there tomorrow."

Julius Mays will go through Senior Day festivities before UK's game against Florida on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Julius Mays will go through Senior Day festivities before UK's game against Florida on Saturday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
John Calipari broke out the big guns when it came to crafting a message entering Kentucky's final regular-season game.

Coming off a disappointing loss at Georgia and facing talk that the Wildcats had moved to the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, Coach Cal is telling his team they have a one-game season in front of them. It's up to the Cats how they respond.

"Now are you gonna fight like heck?" Calipari said. "Are you gonna play through the ups and downs of a game? Or are you gonna die?"

Coach Cal is still keeping basketball in perspective though. His family, the well-being of his players and his work in the community are of course still important to him and his morbid choice of words shouldn't tell you otherwise. Even so, the fact remains that this Kentucky team as presently constituted will likely soon cease to be if the Cats (20-10, 11-6 Southeastern Conference) can't find their way beginning with Saturday's game against SEC champion Florida (24-5, 14-3 SEC) at noon on CBS. That's where the melodramatic metaphors come in.

It's been a constant theme this season, UK's inability to respond in the face of adversity, to show consistent fight through the up and downs of a game. What Coach Cal is hoping is that the Cats will go the right direction now that their fight-or-flight response is truly being tested.

"But you can turn it on at any point. It's kind of like, 'Uh oh, if I go under one more time, I'm gonna drown. I better start swimming,' " Calipari said. "And all of a sudden you start swimming. The car's laying on you; it's on your leg. You gotta lift a 3,000-pound car. It's funny how you figure out how to lift it to get it off your leg so you don't die so you can get out of there and get help. This team can do what they choose to do."

Julius Mays knows which path he's choosing.

He has more experience than anyone on UK's roster and will play his final collegiate home game on Saturday. Mays came to Kentucky hoping to compete for championships and has poured himself into that goal during his lone season as a Wildcat. He's acutely aware of the fact that his time is running out, which has made UK's fits and starts in conference play all the more frustrating.

"I think as the season went on we had more guys buy in each time, but we just haven't had that full buy-in," Mays said. "When we think we do, we always take two steps back. Instead of progress, we always reverse. "

With each passing game, the Cats have paid the price more and more for their regression. Never before has a potential loss been as costly as the game against the Gators.

"So now it's come to the point where it's do or die for us," Mays said. "The guys that haven't fully bought in, they're going to have to hate me after tomorrow."

Mays simply won't accept anything else less than maximum effort. This kind of game, after all, is exactly why he chose to come to Lexington in the first place: high stakes, elite opponent, raucous environment, national television.

"When this kind of game comes, this is what being at Kentucky's about," Calipari said. "You're at home, you're gonna have 25,000 crazy fans with you, go ball. You don't hold anything back."

Though the Cats will have the vocal support of a capacity crowd in Rupp Arena for Senior Day - something they didn't have in back-to-back losses at Arkansas and Georgia - it won't be easy. The Gators handled UK less than a month ago, 69-52, and are on the shortlist of contenders for an NCAA championship.

His team has its life on the line, but Coach Cal wouldn't have it any other way.

"This is the game you gotta go and say, 'Alright, it's a one-game season. How are you gonna play?' " Calipari said. "And you're playing against a team that's vying for a one seed. They're playing for something too now. They're trying to get a one seed. So it's gonna be a hard ballgame, but that's what we need."

John Calipari


Julius Mays


Alex Poythress


Twany Beckham


From the Pressbox: Pre-Florida notes

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Some of you may have written this season off, but Joe B. Hall knows a team can still come to life after most have left it for dead.

In 1985, Kentucky lost three of its last five regular-season games and then lost its first game in the SEC Tournament to put the Wildcats squarely on the bubble, long before that word came to be used.

But the NCAA Selection Committee picked UK for the field and Kentucky proceeded to upset Washington and ninth-ranked UNLV before falling to St. John's in Hall's final game.

John Calipari's message to his team last night was, "Beat Florida and this all goes away" and he's right. Now, the Wildcats just have to do it.

Mathies leading UK Hoops into postseason

After two runs to the Elite Eight, is this the best chance the UK women's basketball team has had to get to a Final Four?

"They have a lot more depth - usable, quality depth, that can play the style that Matthew (Mitchell) wants to play," Jen Smith said on "The Leach Report" radio show.   She covers the team for the Lexington Herald-Leader.  

"And they have a chip on their shoulder about not winning the SEC championship. They have a swagger and a quiet confidence about them, and they really want to win an SEC Tournament championship," she added, "because that's something (the seniors) haven't been able to do."

A'dia Mathies is already one of the best ever in this program's history, but leading UK to its first Final Four would put her on even higher pedestal.

"I've covered her since she was in seventh grade and she still plays the same way, she has the same demeanor. It's been amazing to watch her grow into this star player," Smith observed. "I still feel like I know nothing about (her). She's quick-witted and she's interesting but she's extremely quiet. Her nickname is 'The Silent Assassin,'  and that's what she is."

Cats need Harrow, Goodwin

When one looks back at the box score from Kentucky's loss at Florida last month, the guard numbers jump out. Ryan Harrow was scoreless in 19 minutes and he and Archie Goodwin combined for eight points and six of UK's 17 turnovers.

In Florida, Kentucky will face arguably the league's best defensive team. When it comes to forcing turnovers, the Gators make the opponent give up the ball on 22.9 percent of its possessions, which is second highest in the SEC. And Florida is a runaway leader in defensive efficiency, allowing only 0.845 points per possession (which also ranks second nationally).

One matchup that the Gators would seem to have difficulty with would be Alex Poythress - provided the freshman plays like he did against Missouri. At Florida, Kentucky tried going to Poythress, but he missed eight of his nine field goal attempts.

In the win over Missouri, Coach Cal credited the crowd with having a big impact on the outcome and Big Blue Nation will need to "bring it" tomorrow, too. Kentucky has lost only three times in its final home game of the season since 1964. One of those losses came at the hands of Florida in 2006.

Lunardi offers tweaks to NCAA selection process

ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi is a numbers guy, constantly analyzing the data this time of year to project what the NCAA Selection Committee will do. Perhaps not surprisingly, Lunardi would like to see the committee take more numbers into consideration, and not put quite as much weight on a team's RPI.

"I would include more of them than the RPI. I think they all measure different things and the things measured are things of value if taken correctly," Lunardi in a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show. "There are outliers. Sometimes logic plays into it. It's the same thing for the other side, with the more performance-based metrics (like kenpom.com). You have to spot the outliers."

If Lunardi had Coach Cal's proverbial "magic wand" to shape the selection and seeding process any way he wanted, Lunardi would put great emphasis on how a team does in its league.

"I would pass this rule without discussion: You would have to be tournament-eligible by being at least .500 in your league, as a way of making the conference season a little more important," he adding that league tournament performance would also be included.

"If you are 7-9 in your league and you count conference tournament games and you make the conference final and lose and you're 9-9 or 10-10, you are back to being tournament eligible. It would add a tremendous amount to those Thursday and Friday games between the teams that finished down on the standings and I think history shows it would open up one or two spots a year in the at-large pool for the Drexels, who win 29 games and get excluded," Lunardi continued. "History shows that time after time teams that have won a lot from high quality non-BCS leagues almost always perform better in the tournament than what I would call the middling majors from the bigger leagues.  Winning 27 or 28 games in those leagues is pretty good and we forget that winning begets winning."

The UK rifle team begins competition in the 2013 NCAA Championships Friday morning. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) The UK rifle team begins competition in the 2013 NCAA Championships Friday morning. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Opportunities to prove that you are the very best at what you do don't come along all that often. Yes, in sports, in each individual league from little league to the Olympics, a champion is crowned. That, in essence, is a constant.

For each individual, however, especially at the collegiate level, you only get four opportunities - if you're lucky - to make your mark and leave an eternal legacy.

Kentucky rifle is a special program that continues to put itself into positions to be successful and give itself an opportunity to prove that it is the best rifle program in the country on an annual basis. While many have taken that success for granted over the years, the team itself, coaches and shooters alike, do not.

"Going into the championships, we've worked hard all year," said head coach Harry Mullins. "We bring a good body of work to the table. I feel we've put ourselves in a position that if we can continue to work hard and things bounce our way, we'll be prosperous at the end."

The run for the 2013 NCAA Championships starts Friday morning in Columbus, Ohio.

To find out how to follow along with the NCAA Championships, visit this link.


In 2011, after many years of successful runs at the NCAA Championships, the Wildcats were finally crowned as the best in the sport. The opportunity was there, and UK seized it.

As important and validating as a national championship was for Mullins and his program, it's certainly changed his philosophy on the sport. After figuring out what it took to get there and why maybe it took as long as it had, Mullins has taken away the emphasis of winning a national championship, even though it's the ultimate goal.

"After we won it and having the feeling of finally breaking through and winning an NCAA Championship, was it different than all the other meets?" said Mullins. "Yes and no. It was achieving that dream and that goal, but not to take anything away from any of the other squads that came close that gave me everything that they had, they did a pretty good job too. There's something special about winning, no doubt about it."

Mullins learned, however, the only way to get to that point is an even more important process that even allows them to experience the NCAA championship opportunity in the first place.

The pressure is not applied to just the postseason or big meets against the top-ranked teams in the country during the regular season. Every meet, every shot, every skill is equally important. That way, when UK reaches the final two days of the season this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, though the environment and setting might look different, the overall functions and execution are exactly the same, at least in theory.

"If we go into the meet worrying about winning the NCAA Championships, I say there's a high probability that we fail," Mullins said. "We've got to go do what we always do, and do it to the best of our ability and see where that lands us."

That starts at the beginning of the season when the team convenes officially for the first time. Everything from that point forward shapes and molds the type of shooters and competitors that these athletes ultimately become.

Though skill, focus, and talent are traits that ultimately lead to success, Mullins believes that the Cats fate is not ultimately in their own hands, at least not entirely. It takes a little bit of luck to come out on top on the final day of the NCAA Championships, but even though that may be true, Mullins believes that luck can be influenced.

"I think you create your own luck and your own fortune starting in August and how hard you work," said Mullins. "I feel we put in a pretty good body of work in that sense."

That body of work on paper shows that UK is the No. 3 team in the nation heading into the championship, having defeated the No. 1 and No. 4 teams in the country during the regular season with the lone regular season loss coming at the hands of No. 2 TCU. Yet again, it's been one of those patented UK rifle seasons.

Despite the success and the body of work they've put together in 2013, Mullins and his team still feels there is another level they can reach. They've worked hard on the range with the intent of peaking at exactly the right moment. That is perhaps the toughest part of Mullins' job: structuring a training schedule that allows for that to happen.

The hope is that by this point in the season, needing two days of peak performance from its shooters, Kentucky can put together its best event of the season. If that happens is anyone's guess.

"Did we burn it all out? Are we going to be spent?" said Mullins. "Is our tank going to be empty by the time we get there? That's going to be hard to measure until we get there because we're dealing with humans. You try to take away as many distractions as humanly possible."

The distractions are numerous, and each one is magnified in a sport where ultimate focus and stillness is the key to success. Even the smallest flinch could ruin a good day, or worse, cost an NCAA championship.  That's what this season has been about, however: reducing the chances of that happening.

If it all comes together for Kentucky, it won't be a surprise. The Cats have set themselves up for this opportunity. They've worked for it. Mullins just hopes that his team has an opportunity at the end of the day to win that trophy.

"Every coach hopes their first shooter comes out of the gate just smoking and that the team picks up the momentum and starts stacking points," said Mullins. "It will probably boil down to the last few shots in air rifle. I'd like to see it that we're either far enough in the lead that those last few shots don't matter, or that if we're not in the lead, we're within striking distance at the end."

And if that happens, the opportunity to be the best will be within their grasp. Winning this event could change their lives.

"They, for the rest of their life, will be treated different," said Mullins.

After Thursday's loss to Georgia, Kentucky no longer controls its own fate in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. However, the Wildcats put themselves in good position for the second seed with a win vs. Florida on Saturday.

In fact, there are only two ways in which UK would not be the No. 2 seed if the Cats win Saturday of the eight possible outcomes. The two seed, however, is out of the question with a loss to Florida. Here are all the scenarios heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

1. UK defeats Florida.

  • If Missouri beats Tennessee, Ole Miss beats LSU and Alabama defeats Georgia, UK wins the four-way tiebreaker and receives the No. 2 seed based on its 2-1 record against Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama. Missouri and Ole Miss are both 2-2 against tied teams in that case, Alabama 1-2.
  • If Missouri and Ole Miss win, UK wins the three-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 2-0 record against tied teams.
  • If only Missouri and Alabama win, all three teams would have identical 1-1 records against tied teams. Missouri and Kentucky would both have 1-1 records against No. 1 seed Florida, while Alabama is 0-1. Missouri would then win the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 record against No. 4 seed Alabama. UK would be the No. 3 seed.
  • If only Ole Miss and Alabama win, all three teams would have identical 1-1 records against tied teams. UK would be the only team of the three with a win over Florida, so UK would win the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed.
  • If only Missouri wins, UK wins the two-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 head-to-head record against Missouri.
  • If only Ole Miss wins, UK wins the two-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 head-to-head record against Ole Miss.
  • If only Alabama wins, Alabama wins the two-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 head-to-head record against UK. UK would receive the No. 3 seed.
  • If Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama all lose, UK finishes second outright and receives the No. 2 seed.

2. UK loses to Florida.
  • Florida wins SEC title.
  • If Missouri beats Tennessee, Ole Miss beats LSU and Alabama defeats Georgia, UK receives the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Missouri and Ole Miss win, Alabama wins the two-team tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed based on a 1-0 record against UK. UK would receive the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Missouri and Alabama win, UK wins the two-team tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed based on a 1-0 record against Ole Miss.
  • If only Ole Miss and Alabama win, a three-team tiebreaker between UK, Tennessee and Missouri would be decided based on combined records against tied teams. UK and Tennessee would both be 2-1 and Missouri 0-2, so it would return to a head-to-head tiebreaker between UK and Tennessee. The two teams split the season series, so Tennessee would receive the No. 4 seed based on a 1-1 record against Florida. UK would be the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Missouri wins, UK, Ole Miss and Alabama would be tied at No. 3. Each team in the tiebreaker has a 1-1 record against other teams in the tiebreaker and all three teams are winless against Florida, so seeding would be determined based on records against No. 2 seed Missouri. UK would win the tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed based on its 1-0 record against the Tigers.
  • If only Ole Miss wins, Tennessee wins the four-team tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed based on a 3-2 record against UK, Missouri and Alabama. Alabama and UK would both be 2-2 against tied teams and Alabama would then win a head-to-head tiebreaker with UK for the No. 4 seed. UK would receive the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Alabama wins, UK, Tennessee, Missouri and Ole Miss would be tied for the No. 3 seed. UK would win the tiebreaker based on a 3-1 record against tied teams.
  • If Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama all lose, there would be a five-way tie for the No. 2 seed. Ole Miss would win the tiebreaker with a 4-2 record against tied teams. UK would receive the No. 3 seed based on a 3-2 record against tied teams.


Competition in the 2013 NCAA Rifle Championships begins on Friday morning at 8 a.m. ET and third-ranked Kentucky in trying for a second national title in three seasons.

Just eight teams are competing in smallbore on Friday and air rifle on Saturday. Here is the Wildcats' schedule:

March 8 (smallbore):
Relay 1 (8 a.m.): Emily Holsopple, Stacy Wheatley, Elijah Ellis
Relay 2 (8:45 a.m.): Aaron Holsopple, Heather Greathouse
Relay 3 (9:30 a.m.): Connor Davis, Henri Junghänel
(The smallbore final will take place after the third relay)

March 9 (air rifle):
Relay 1 (8:00 a.m.): Emily Holsopple, Aaron Holsopple, Heather Greathouse
Relay 2 (8:45 a.m.): Connor Davis, Henri Junghänel
(The air rifle final will take place after the second relay)

There are a number of ways fans can keep up with the action. First of all, NCAA.com is airing live streams of all events. Here's how you can find those:

March 8 (smallbore):
Relay 1
Relay 2
Relay 3
Individual Finals

March 9 (air rifle):
Relay 1
Relay 2
Finals
Individual Finals

If you are unable to watch live, you have other options too:


Live blog: Men's basketball at Georgia

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Head coach Matthew Mitchell



Senior guard A'dia Mathies




Kentucky begins play in the SEC Tournament at 6 p.m. ET on Friday against either Vanderbilt or Missouri. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky begins play in the SEC Tournament at 6 p.m. ET on Friday against either Vanderbilt or Missouri. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky women's basketball team arrived in Duluth, Ga., Thursday evening to settle in for what the Wildcats hope is a run at a Southeastern Conference Tournament championship. The Wildcats started that journey Thursday afternoon at the Suwanee Sports Academy where they held their first practice in the Peach State. Kentucky won't know whether it will face Vanderbilt or Missouri in the quarterfinals until later in the evening, but the Cats practiced the things that they do well to stay sharp.

Head coach Matthew Mitchell and senior guard A'dia Mathies spoke with the media after practice about the 2013 SEC Tournament. Here are a few quick hitters from today's media opportunity:

Cats not just happy to be here

Mitchell knows that his team is excited about being in Duluth for the SEC Tournament, but they aren't just happy to be competing. They have come down to Georgia not looking for a soul to steal, but rather an SEC Tournament championship, a run that will begin at 6 p.m. ET on Friday.

After experiencing disappointment over not repeating as SEC regular-season champions this season, UK is looking to take revenge on anyone who stands in its way as the Cats look to win the tournament crown, a title that eluded them in 2012. While last year UK hoped to win the title, this year, it's an expectation.

"I think we're on a mission more so than we have been in years past," Mathies said. "We feel like we're the best team in the tournament and I think we're going to go out there and show it."

Mitchell would tend to agree. While he may not call UK the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, he knows he's got the team to do it.

"It really excites me to have the chance to (win the tournament)," Mitchell said. "We'll have to win (Friday) and we'll put everything we can into it. I'm really, really excited about having a team that has a legitimate chance to cut down the nets."

Kentucky has been playing championship-caliber basketball all season long, but hasn't had much to show for it once Tennessee locked up the regular-season title.

After defeating the Volunteers in convincing fashion last Sunday on Mathies' and fellow senior Brittany Henderson's Senior Day, the Wildcats know for sure that the tournament title, what would be the first for Mathies and a crowning jewel to cap off her career at Kentucky, is well within reach.

"Tennessee's a great team, always has been," said Mathies. "Just getting a win over a talented team and a top-10 opponent, we really needed that."

Mathies looking to go out on top

Mathies will be playing in her final SEC games this weekend here in Duluth, and nothing would be greater than walking off the floor Sunday with a brand new t-shirt, a ball cap and a strand of net in her hand. The senior has done it all of Kentucky. She's been a scorer, a defender, a facilitator, but even more so now, she's grown into a leader.

In her fourth season, Mitchell recounts just how much Mathies has grown during her time as a Wildcat and how important that is for their title implications this weekend.

"She's really progressed all four years, so she is more vocal than she was before," said Mitchell. "She knows what needs to happen for us to win. She's done a great job. She's in a great frame of mind right now for the tournament."

Mathies is starting to feel the finality of her time as a Wildcat as well. Urgency has set in. She knows it's now or never for her if she hopes to earn some SEC Tournament hardware. With that in mind, she's made a conscious effort to make sure that's she constantly communicating with her teammates to put them and herself in the best position to succeed.

"I think I'm more vocal," said Mathies. "This is my last go-round. Our players know my capabilities and what I can contribute on the court, so when we're in the huddle, I'm telling them things we need to work on. I've taken more (of a vocal role)."

Not only would it mean a lot for Mathies to go out as an SEC Champion, but it would mean just as much for Mitchell to see his superstar, the one who has helped take his program to national prominence, put one more ring on her finger.

"I think she's really confident right now," said Mitchell. "She's had a terrific SEC season. She's clearly one of the top players in the country and I know that an SEC Tournament championship would mean a lot to her and Brittany Henderson as well. We're going to work hard to try and get it."

Depth, post play should give UK edge


Kentucky's "40 minutes" mantra has been a successful brand of basketball all season long for the Wildcats. On the surface, that type of constant energy and effort doesn't seem to translate well in a tournament setting when UK will have to play three straight days in order to win their coveted SEC Tournament championship. UK's not-so-secret weapon, however, has been their depth.

All opponents UK faces from here on out will have had previous games in the tournament under their belts, and therefore, will not be as fresh. Though UK, after Friday's game, will also have a game under its belt and a concerted effort to milk Kentucky's depth will be the focus for Mitchell this weekend. This will give Kentucky the chance to play at maximum effort, like the Cats have all season long, and give them plenty of rest when necessary.

"I think that we certainly have more depth than anyone else in the tournament," said Mitchell. "In the post, that's big if we can get our post players running the floor with a great effort and a lot of energy. I think that could be a big, big advantage for Kentucky in this tournament."

Kentucky bigs will play an important role, and with multiple, capable post players at Mitchell's command, the Wildcats should have no trouble continuing to play their up-tempo brand throughout the tournament. Mathies, a maestro of the fast-paced ball her team likes to play, knows her personnel as well as anyone. That's why she is confident her team is more than capable of making a championship run.

"I just feel like we have more talent and more people have bought into their roles," said Mathies. "I feel like we're doing a good job of using our depth this year and we really focus on that. I think it's going to help us."

As the northernmost school in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky is supposed to be at some sort of a competitive disadvantage in outdoor spring sports. Don't tell that to UK's baseball and softball teams.

As they prepare for their final non-conference weekend series vs. Michigan State, the baseball Wildcats sit at 11-1 and are in the midst of an eight-game winning streak. UK is hitting .325 as a team and is outscoring opponents by more than 6.5 runs per game.

Softball, meanwhile, is off to a school-record 16-3 start and is in the midst of an eight-game winning streak of its own. The Cats have already won four games against ranked opponents and two against teams that reached last year's Women's College World Series.

Pollsters have taken notice of the strong starts by both teams. Baseball is ranked No. 7 according to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, No. 10 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, No. 11 by Baseball America and No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches poll. Softball checks in at No. 17 in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches poll and No. 15 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll - UK's highest ranking in the history of the poll.

Those rankings put the Wildcats in a select group. UK is one of just five schools nationally to rank in the top 17 of every major baseball and softball poll. The other universities on that list are Oklahoma, LSU, UCLA and Oregon.

Baseball and softball aren't alone in their success either.

Men's and women's basketball are heading for postseason play. Third-ranked rifle bids for a second national championship in three seasons on Saturday. Men's tennis is 14-2 and is ranked higher that at any point since 2004. Women's tennis is on the rise and ranked No. 44. Edrick Floreal is ushering in a new era of UK track and field and has the women's team ranked No. 20 in indoors. The football team is on the cusp of spring practice and tickets to the Blue/White Spring Game are being snapped up at an unprecedented rate.

To put it another way, UK Athletics could be primed for a memorable spring.

Earlier this season, a crew from Reese's was in Rupp Arena to pay a visit to the eRUPPtion Zone, UK's student section. Take a look at the video below to take a look at what they found.


Holly Cunningham's 9.875 on beam against Ball State helped UK earn a program-record team score of 196.5 last weekend. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Holly Cunningham's 9.875 on beam against Ball State helped UK earn a program-record team score of 196.5 last weekend. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
All eyes were on Holly Cunningham. Her teammate had just fallen on UK's fifth balance beam routine at Ball State as the Wildcats looked to put the finishing touches on a record performance.

Needing a 9.75 to break the Kentucky team score record and to cancel out the fall, Cunningham did not deliver said score. She shattered it with a 9.875 by sticking her beam routine, picking up her teammate and the rest of her squad all the while.

It was the perfect ending to the best day in Kentucky gymnastics history as the Wildcats finished with a 196.5. It also began with an inspirational team meeting called by Cunningham before the meet in Muncie, Ind.

"I feel like knowing that we don't have any seniors on this team, I try to step up a little bit," said Cunningham. "Before the meet this time, I pulled everyone together. I made everyone tell me exactly what they were going to do and exactly how they were going to do it and for them to tell me that they knew they could do every single skill."

It was the first time that Cunningham had ever done this before a meet.

Before Cunningham could find the confidence and security to step up in front of her team in such a manner, she first had to take care of herself.

The junior had struggled to find a level of consistency on balance beam early on the in the season. It got to the point where beam coach Mary McDaniel opted to hold Cunningham out of the lineup against Georgia and Missouri. Coincidentally (or maybe not), Kentucky posted its lowest team score of the season against Missouri, including a 47.150 on beam, also the Wildcats' lowest output in the event all year.

It was at that point when Cunningham knew a change was in order.

"I've had a couple of rough months throughout the beginning of the season just trying to get my confidence level back and maintain the pressure of being the anchor," said Cunningham. "Mary had pulled me out because I kept falling meet after meet and I couldn't handle it I guess.

"I just changed my attitude in practice and told myself that this routine is easy for me; I've been doing it for maybe 10 years now. Being able to get up there and hit it (at Ball State) was really just one of the best feelings."

It's not that Cunningham didn't want to step up earlier. She just knew that she couldn't if she continued to perform at the level that she was. As a junior, she knew it was time that she took things into her own hands. Not that the Cats was struggling - because they weren't - but each one of them knew that they were each individually and collectively capable of so much more.

That's why the previous meet against Florida, where UK scored a season-high 196.075 and notched its first score of 196-plus of the season, was such a big deal.

Head coach Tim Garrison has been pushing and pushing all season long for UK to reach its potential. The Cats aren't there yet, but they have come a long way and seem to be on their way into uncharted waters. Well, perhaps with their performance against Ball State, they are at least in the shallow end.

"I think at Florida, with getting our first 196 of the season, it helped us realize that we have potential," said Cunningham. "From Florida, the coaches just told us that we each need to focus on little, individual things. I told the team, 'If you just work on making yourself two percent better just think how much better the team will be.' "

Everyone is taking notice of the team's overall confidence boost, but Cunningham's recent surge has been especially crucial and recognizable. A pressure-packed situation like the one in which she produced at Ball State was indicative of that.

"When you can go out and do what she did, that speaks to confidence right there," said Garrison of Cunningham's beam routine. "If you're not confident, you'll find a way to mess it up. On four inches of beam, it's really easy to mess it up."

But she didn't. She nailed it. She came up with a clutch performance and showed the attitude and fight that Garrison has been searching for from the beginning.

"Finally they've gotten to the point where they're not giving into senseless mistakes and they're fighting and gritting through," said Garrison. "That's what I've wanted since day one. I wanted a team that was gritty and not willing to give up a mistake.

"Obviously we had a fall off the beam, but then right behind her Holly goes up and just nails a beam routine and sticks the landing for a 9.875. That is what I'm looking for, and they did it."

It wasn't just Cunningham though who has shown resilience though. Garrison rattled off multiple performances from the Ball State meet that illustrated examples of fight and attention to detail, whether it's Kayla Hartley's continued improvement on bars, Audrey Harrison's consistency and stability or Jill Chappel's focus on sticking her landings, slowly but surely, this team is developing a more coarse grade of grit.

It's clearly been a gradual process for UK to develop its rough and tough attitude, but the results are indicative that it's happening. For Cunningham, she had to do some major polishing of her skills and her attitude before that grit could develop. Only then did she feel she could be one of the leaders on this team.

"I feel like it's taken some time," said Cunningham. "I didn't want anyone to think that I was trying to overpower them because there are some sophomores that are really close to my age and I didn't want them to think that, 'Oh, she thinks that she's the old junior and is in charge.' But I just want them to know that I'm here to encourage and help them in any way possible."

Kentucky's success at Florida was a huge momentum builder, but the meet was a big first step for Cunningham to regain what she'd lost with her return to the beam lineup after a brief hiatus. It served as an opportunity to prove to herself what she is capable of. It also gave her teammates an opportunity to reestablish the confidence that she would come up in clutch situations as the anchor of the beam lineup.

In front of a huge crowd against No. 1 Florida, Cunningham did not disappoint. She propelled UK to a 49.050 with her vault of 9.875 and promptly keyed a 9.850 to finish with a season-high 49.150 on beam. If it weren't for that performance, Cunningham likely doesn't take that step forward as a leader and a clutch performer last week against Ball State.

Now she and the Wildcats will look to continue to pile on the momentum in their final home meet of the season Friday against Bowling Green at 7 p.m. ET.

"It's a whole different story when you're out there and doing well and trying to boost up the team," said Cunningham. "If you're going out there and falling every weekend and then telling the team that they need to step up, then they'll say, 'Well, you're not doing it.'

"I think after this weekend, that's why they came up and thanked me for (talking to the team before the meet). They appreciated it. Me stepping up on beam obviously is a big step and I think they all trust me now."

The Kentucky baseball team won its eighth in a row on Wednesday night and moved to 11-1 on the season with a 6-3 win over Xavier on Wednesday. Freshman Kyle Cody was solid in a five-inning start, allowing two runs en route to his first career victory. A.J. Reed continues to smolder at the plate after picking up two hits - including his Southeastern Conference-leading fifth home run - and reaching twice more on intentional walks.

Video highlights from the win are below and you see player interviews and a full story at this link.


UK hosts Michigan State for three games beginning on Friday in its final weekend series before opening conference play. The forecast is calling for warmer temperatures (63 degrees on Sunday), so head on out to Cliff Hagan Stadium to see the seventh-ranked Cats in action. First pitch on Friday is at 4 p.m. ET, first pitch on Saturday is at 2 p.m. and the final will begin at 1 p.m.

A couple more results in the Southeastern Conference on Wednesday night and we are two steps closer to knowing exactly how the SEC Tournament field will look next week in Nashville, Tenn., and more specifically, what Kentucky's path looks like.

Florida defeated Vanderbilt, 66-40, to clinch the league title and the No. 1 outright, while Tennessee pulled away late for an 82-75 win over Auburn. UK still remains in sole possession of second place, meaning the Wildcats would open postseason play in a Friday quarterfinal against either the No. 7 seed or No. 10 seed (LSU or Vanderbilt as of now) at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Cats still control their own fate, but must win at least one game to secure a bye to the quarterfinals.

Let's take a look at exactly what could happen in the next three days.

1. UK defeats both Georgia and Florida.

  • UK clinches No. 2 seed outright regardless of all other results.

2. UK wins at Georgia and loses to Florida.

  • If Missouri beats Tennessee, Ole Miss beats LSU and Alabama defeats Georgia, UK wins the four-way tiebreaker and receives the No. 2 seed based on its 2-1 record against Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama. Missouri and Ole Miss are both 2-2 against tied teams in that case, Alabama 1-2.
  • If Missouri and Ole Miss win, UK wins the three-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 2-0 record against tied teams.
  • If only Missouri and Alabama win, all three teams would have identical 1-1 records against tied teams. Missouri would receive the No. 2 seed based on its 1-1 record against No. 1 seed Florida. UK would be 0-2 against Florida and Alabama 0-1, so the tiebreaker would go back to head-to-head matchups for the No. 3 seed. Alabama defeated UK, so the Crimson Tide would be the No. 3 seed and UK No. 4.
  • If only Ole Miss and Alabama win, all three teams would have identical 1-1 records against tied teams. All three teams are winless against Florida, so seeding would be determined based on records against the No. 5 seed proceeding through No. 14. In this case, Tennessee would be the No. 5 seed based on a 1-0 head-to-head record against Missouri. Ole Miss would therefore receive the No. 2 seed based on a 2-0 record against the Volunteers, while Alabama and UK are both 1-1 against Tennessee. Alabama would receive the No. 3 based on its 1-0 record against UK. The Wildcats would be seeded fourth.
  • If only Missouri wins, UK wins the two-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 head-to-head record against Missouri.
  • If only Ole Miss wins, UK wins the two-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 head-to-head record against Ole Miss.
  • If only Alabama wins, Alabama wins the two-way tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 head-to-head record against UK. UK would receive the No. 3 seed.
  • If Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama all lose, UK finishes second outright and receives the No. 2 seed.

3. UK loses at Georgia but defeats Florida. In this case, the scenarios are the same as above, only Kentucky would then have a 1-1 record against top-seeded Florida, altering the following two scenarios.


  • If only Missouri and Alabama win, all three teams would have identical 1-1 records against tied teams. Missouri and Kentucky would both have 1-1 records against No. 1 seed Florida, while Alabama is 0-1. Missouri would then win the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed with a 1-0 record against No. 4 seed Alabama. UK would be the No. 3 seed.
  • If only Ole Miss and Alabama win, all three teams would have identical 1-1 records against tied teams. UK would be the only team of the three with a win over Florida, so UK would win the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed.

4. UK loses to both Georgia and Florida.

  • Florida wins SEC title.
  • If Missouri beats Tennessee, Ole Miss beats LSU and Alabama defeats Georgia, UK receives the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Missouri and Ole Miss win, Alabama wins the two-team tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed based on a 1-0 record against UK. UK would receive the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Missouri and Alabama win, UK wins the two-team tiebreaker for the No. 4 seed based on a 1-0 record against Ole Miss.
  • If only Ole Miss and Alabama win, a three-team tiebreaker between UK, Tennessee and Missouri would be decided based on combined records against tied teams. UK and Tennessee would both be 2-1 and Missouri 0-2, so it would return to a head-to-head tiebreaker between UK and Tennessee. The two teams split the season series, so Tennessee would receive the No. 4 seed based on a 1-1 record against Florida. UK would be the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Missouri wins, UK, Ole Miss and Alabama would be tied at No. 3. Each team in the tiebreaker has a 1-1 record against other teams in the tiebreaker and all three teams are winless against Florida, so seeding would be determined based on records against No. 2 seed Missouri. UK would win the tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed based on its 1-0 record against the Tigers.
  • If only Ole Miss wins, Tennessee wins the four-team tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed based on a 3-2 record against UK, Missouri and Alabama. Alabama and UK would both be 2-2 against tied teams and Alabama would then win a head-to-head tiebreaker with UK for the No. 4 seed. UK would receive the No. 5 seed.
  • If only Alabama wins, UK, Tennessee, Missouri and Ole Miss would be tied for the No. 3 seed. UK would win the tiebreaker based on a 3-1 record against tied teams.
  • If Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama all lose, there would be a five-way tie for the No. 2 seed. Ole Miss would win the tiebreaker with a 4-2 record against tied teams. UK would receive the No. 3 seed based on a 3-2 record against tied teams.


Cats taking simple approach to Georgia trip

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Willie Cauley-Stein is averaging 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 1.2 steals in five games since Nerlens Noel's season-ending injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein is averaging 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 1.2 steals in five games since Nerlens Noel's season-ending injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Seemingly every game either puts Kentucky definitively in or out of the NCAA Tournament, depending on the outcome and the expert to whom you're listening. Every game has an impact on the Southeastern Tournament. Every game changes what the next one means.

For a team with a lot on its plate to begin with, that's a lot to think about. That's why the Wildcats aren't.

"We don't care about Florida on Saturday," junior guard Jon Hood said. "We don't care about the SEC Tournament right now. We don't care about the NCAA, any of that. All we care about is playing our best."

As UK (20-9, 11-5 SEC) prepares for its final road game of the season at Georgia (14-15, 8-8 SEC) on Thursday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN), the Cats have narrowed the innumerable implications of the game down to a much more manageable two.

"The only thing that's on the line tomorrow night is a win and a loss," Hood said. "That's the only thing that we're worried about."

As for the factors will cause the Cats to win or lose, John Calipari has those narrowed down too. It's not about how UK has practiced since a loss on Saturday (Coach Cal said his team has been "fine"). It's not even about execution or spacing or schemes.

"Go in the games, the game's going to get rough," Calipari said. "Battle back. If you're supposed to be handling the ball, handle the ball. Go get it. If you're supposed to rebound the ball, guess what? Go rebound. 'Well, that guy's working really hard.' Well then work harder than him. Go get balls. Beat them to balls. Beat them to 50/50 balls."

After watching his team at Arkansas, it wasn't all that hard for Coach Cal to diagnose those things.

"What I'm worried about is just us being the best version of ourselves; we weren't at Arkansas," Calipari said. "We weren't. They wanted it more. They played more physical. They came at us and we kind of backed away."

Against the Razorbacks' physical defense, UK committed a season-high 19 turnovers. In front of a hostile road crowd, the Cats were outrebounded 44-37 and gave up 20 offensive rebounds. The players saw the statistics, but they didn't fully understood what caused them until well after the fact.

"During the game you don't feel like you was playing like the way that everybody was saying we played," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "And then when you go back on film, you can definitely see that they was playing more intensity, they was playing tougher, they was punking us. You see that in film and you don't want that to ever happen again. You just kind of have to approach it like that."

Georgia, however, is a team has shown itself to be capable of delivering a "punking" in recent weeks.

A little more than five weeks ago, the Bulldogs were 7-11 overall and 1-4 in SEC. They quickly followed that with a five-game winning streak during which they knocked off Tennessee once and Texas A&M twice. Georgia is 2-4 since, but three of the four losses came by seven points or fewer. The only other defeat was by 10 points in overtime against Ole Miss. In the Bulldogs' last outing, they beat Tennessee again, 78-68, in a game the Volunteers needed to win.

"(Georgia head coach Mark Fox has) done a great job," Calipari said. "I called him earlier in the year, and I just thought the job he's doing with his team to get them to be in a position to win games, which is what he's done, phenomenal job. We got our work cut out for us."

That work starts with sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the SEC's second-leading scorer (18.0 per game) and eighth-leading rebounder (6.9 per game). Caldwell-Pope has scored in double figures in every game this season and scored 25 in the win over Tennessee.

"I don't know (who will guard Caldwell-Pope)," Calipari said. "Don't know yet. He's good, though. He's a good player."

In spite of all that, what Calipari wants the Cats to understand is they need not do anything more than take Cauley-Stein's "enough is enough" approach to reach their goals. Even the pundits most critical of UK's resume agree the Cats control their future. Any bubble conversation will be rendered moot if Kentucky can string together wins over the season's final stretch.

"I think our team, whatever they want to be: Where do you want to go with this?" Calipari said. "How do you want to do this? Whatever you want it to be, it's gonna be. I think we've got a bunch of good guys that are still learning, and when stuff gets a little ragged they're not at their best, and that's where we got to learn."

Just two seasons ago, Hood was on a Kentucky team that put things together late. The 2010-11 Cats closed the regular season strong, won the SEC Tournament and eventually reached the Final Four. Hood can't remember exactly what came together to make that happen, but he's sees no reason why his current team couldn't do something similar.

"I believe that any team can do that if they come together," Hood said. "You see all these Cinderella teams in the tournament that are playing their best at the end of the year. Any team can do it. Why can't we? We just need to come together, play as a team and play tough and we'll be fine."

If the Cats can pull it off, they'll remember it forever.

"I still have the same vision," Calipari said. "I told them: I believe in the team and I'm going out with the idea that we're going to write a heckuva story. This is going to be a heckuva story before it's all said and done - if you want it to."

John Calipari


Willie Cauley-Stein and Jon Hoo