November 2013 Archives
Then a freshman, Thompson had the best game of her first season at UK almost exactly a year ago. On an evening when her teammates could hardly make a shot, she scored 13 points in just 16 minutes.
Thompson saved her best for last, scoring the game's final six points in a 48-47 comeback win, the last coming on a broken-play 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left and the shot clock about to expire. It's a play she won't soon forget.
"I remember that I was dribbling a lot," Thompson said, laughing, "and I was really just trying to make something happen and the shot clock was running down and I had to make a play."
Even if she did somehow forget, her teammates would surely remind her quickly, but not so much for the shot itself. They enjoy how Thompson reacted. In her words, she "looked a mess" as she celebrated.
"I don't have it on DVD, but I've seen it a million times and my teammates like to make fun of the reaction after I hit the shot," Thompson said. "So I see it a lot."
Makayla Epps remembers it too.
"Janee hits that 3 and literally almost threw my remote through the TV," Epps said. "I was ecstatic."
Epps, now a freshman, is set to play her first game in the in-state rivalry on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum. She wouldn't mind making her debut in a fashion similar to Thompson, but the game will hardly serve as an introduction to UK-U of L. Not only did Epps grow up Lebanon, Ky., she also came to Kentucky after originally verbally committing to play at Louisville.
She attended multiple UK-U of L games as a fan, including the one two years ago in Memorial when the Wildcats won 74-54.
"At the time, I was a (junior) so I was like, 'This is nuts,' " Epps said. "I was loving it. It was a heck of a game. Kentucky-Louisville, regardless of who it is or what you are, this is going to be a crazy game to you."
Adding to the crazy is the fact that Kentucky and Louisville enter the matchup as two of the nation's top teams. No. 7 UK is 7-0 with each victory coming by double digits, while No. 4/3 Louisville sports the same record and wins over LSU, Oklahoma and Florida State.
It's only December, of course, but whichever team comes out on top will have an early resume win as both bid for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. On Wednesday, UK announced that tickets to the game were sold out, meaning a capacity crowd will be there to watch.
UK fans in attendance will likely see shades of their own team in U of L, as the Cardinals play at a pace and apply pressure similar to the Wildcats. Kentucky is averaging 98.1 points and forcing 26.9 turnovers a game, while Louisville has averages of 88.4 points and 21.1 turnovers in the same two categories.
"You have to be ready to handle a double-team and sometimes triple-team," Mitchell said. "They are bringing some people at you, so you have to be prepared for that. It's unlike anything we've seen up to this point. They are clearly the best defensive team we've faced."
U of L isn't half-bad on offense either.
The Cardinals boast a balanced attack, led by Shoni Schimmel. The senior helped carry Louisville to the national championship game a season ago and headlines seven players scoring more than eight points a game with averages of 12.9 points and 4.7 assists in 2013-14. The senior guard is on the watch list for every major national award for good reason.
"Schimmel, what a terrific career she's had," Mitchell said. "She's a really, really good player. She can make deep shots and handle the basketball and is a real smart defender."
UK's effectiveness in limiting Schimmel could go a long way toward determining Sunday's outcome. Kentucky and Louisville have matched up each of her first three seasons. In the two UK wins, she totaled just 30 combined points on 11-for-33 shooting. In U of L's lone victory, Schimmel scored 26 on 9-of-18 shooting.
"We'll just have to make her earn everything, which is what we've always tried to do, is to try to make her work hard to get everything," Mitchell said. "Rarely can you shut a player like that down. You have to make her work and make them really, really play hard throughout the course of the game."
Playing hard, in Mitchell's estimation, will be the deciding factor when it comes to both guarding Schimmel and for the game in general.
"I think the intensity level of the game will be terrific and we'll have to see if we can exceed their level of intensity and exceed their level of play," Mitchell said. "We'll see if we can play a little bit harder and see if we can find a way to win."
By no means would a loss prevent Kentucky from accomplishing its goals this season, but the Cats also don't hide from how much this game means.
"It's a big game," Mitchell said. "I think any time we get together in any sport it's certainly important for our fans, so no matter what the records are I think it's an important game, very important for us at Kentucky."
Intellectually, Calipari understands how young his team is. Because of that, he gets that it will take time for it to jell, for players to grasp exactly what it takes to win at the college level.
Then his habits kick in. He sees the talent on the floor and he wants to win.
"I can't get caught up with winning and losing right now and I am," Calipari said. "I want to win every game, but what it's causing me to do is try to make these guys better than they are at this stage."
It's Calipari's job to get the most out of his players, but by March and April, not November and December. For that reason, his mind ultimately trumps his gut.
"But the reality of it is, we are what we are: a bunch of freshmen trying," Calipari said. "I'm trying to figure them out; they're trying to figure each other out. We're still not locked into how we're going to play."
Which makes this stretch of six games before the start of Southeastern Conference play a challenge.
Starting on Sunday vs. Providence in Brooklyn, N.Y., UK will face six straight opponents with at least realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Three games will be at home, two at neutral sites and one on the road at North Carolina.
While fans might allow their attention to drift to that matchup with the Tar Heels or even the showdown with Louisville looming at the end of the month, Providence is plenty for Coach Cal to think about.
With the Friars boasting a 6-1 record and wins over the likes of Boston College, La Salle and Vanderbilt, Calipari sees them as a natural next opponent in UK's path of increasingly more challenging games.
"They run good stuff, they play hard," Calipari said. "It's the next step up for us. It appears as though every game has been like a stepping stone if you take out Michigan State."
Senior guard Bryce Cotton leads four Friars scoring in double figures with 17.7 points per game, but defense is where Providence's strength lies. The Friars are sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com and have held opponents to 40.6-percent shooting from the field.
"We're just now watching film on them, but we know they're a good team," Dakari Johnson said. "Coach Cal told us they're going to be one of the better teams we've played thus far, so I'm just real excited to go back home and get to play a good team."
Home for Johnson -- a Brooklyn native -- is not far from the Barclays Center.
"My whole family's up there," Johnson said. "They're real excited to come watch me play 'cause they haven't really had a chance to see me play, so just happy to get to play in front of them."
Johnson will look to continue his strong play from his last outing on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET. In just 10 minutes against Eastern Michigan, he posted 10 points and seven rebounds.
"I think it's progressing each and every day," Johnson said. "I think I'm getting all the things Coach Cal wants me to do."
With the Wildcats set to leave for New York on Friday afternoon, Johnson will get to spend a little extra time back home. Calipari isn't yet sure of his plans for the team, but he does plan to take advantage of being in the Big Apple.
"On this trip and other trips, I want to take trips for the sole reason of teaching whether we go to the stock exchange and do stuff," Calipari said. "If we'd have left today we would have done that. If we had left earlier today or last night and we didn't, so, but we may go to a theater or we may go down to the district."
A little sightseeing would be a welcome reprieve for the Cats, who have experienced some pre-practice changes over the last week. In an effort to emphasize staying in a defensive stance, Calipari is making players do wall-sits while passing a 50-pound sand bag.
"I don't like it at all, but it helps us stay down and that's how low we have to stay throughout the whole game," Johnson said.
That's just one item on a list of improvements the Cats are making, even if they might happening a little more slowly than Calipari might like. Regardless -- though he didn't say the exact words this time -- Coach Cal likes his team.
"Of all the teams in the country, we have the most upside so deal with that," Calipari said. "If you didn't want to deal with it, either convince kids to stay or recruit bad players, they'll all stay, you won't' have to deal with this."
Don't expect Calipari to do either of those things anytime soon.
You can add another to the list.
Willie Cauley-Stein tied a career with seven blocks, anchoring the UK defense against Eastern Michigan.
Cauley-Stein had five of his blocks after halftime, helping to turn a three-point lead into an 81-63 win -- UK's 500th in Rupp Arena -- in the finale of the Keightley Classic in Rupp Arena on Wednesday. The sophomore -- at least based on his play -- seemed intent to carry his (only slightly) younger teammates, but he said postgame his motivation was primarily internal.
"I was just kind of mad because the first half, I missed some bunnies and I wasn't really rebounding that much and Coach was getting after me for not blocking some shots," Cauley-Stein said. "So then I just decided I'm going after everything."
Whether it was intentional or not, Cauley-Stein's play did serve as an inspiration.
"It doesn't really surprise me anymore," said Julius Randle, who did the bulk of his damage after halftime in posting his seventh straight double-double. "Just seeing how active he is and how much energy he has on the floor, I kind of feed of it too. It's just something that we expect from him every game."
Cauley-Stein's solid play extended well beyond shot-blocking, as he posted 15 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a steal to go with all those swats. His coach, however, still knows he has areas to improve.
"Willie is playing well," Calipari said. "He still faded away on a couple shots that he didn't need to."
Calipari isn't talking about the free-throw line, where he says Cauley-Stein has built confidence after shooting just 37.2 percent as a freshman.
"I mean, eventually I just in my mind was like, 'If I make it I make it. If I miss it I miss. The game's gonna go on,' " Cauley-Stein said. "And that's kind of how I've been playing now and it's working out. I'm going to keep on playing like that."
It didn't necessarily show in the box score -- Cauley-Stein hit 3-of-7 free throws against EMU -- but the new mentality has completely changed his game.
"That makes a big difference in how you play because now you'll be aggressive and try and score because you're not afraid to get fouled," Calipari said.
Over the last four games, that effort has come off the bench with Marcus Lee inserted into the starting lineup to win the opening tip. That streak was set to end on Wednesday, but a pregame miscommunication undid those plans.
"He was going to start today. John Robic screwed with that," Calipari said, smiling.
Cauley-Stein was aware of the confusion, but doesn't much care whether or not he starts. That makes sense, because he's played no fewer than 24 minutes in any of the games in which he's come off the bench.
"I've been playing good off the bench, but just either way," Cauley-Stein said. "It doesn't really bother me if I don't. If I do, hooray. If I don't, I come off the bench."
Cauley-Stein is averaging 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in a reserve role. But make no mistake: That will end on Sunday when UK takes on Providence in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Willie, he was going to start today," Calipari said. "He'll start from here."
The Braves weren't afraid to run with the Wildcats. They took advantage of holes in the UK press and scored in transition. And for the 34:47 outside that first-half spurt, the Wildcats only outscored the Braves by 15.
But fortunately for UK, there's no ignoring a 25-0 run.
"It was a devastating run for Bradley," Matthew Mitchell said. "Just really hard for them to recover from that."
It began halfway through the first half. UK's lead was a tenuous five points as the visitors were proving Mitchell right about how formidable an opponent Bradley would be.
It ended with 4:33 to go before halftime. In a flash, Kentucky was up 51-21 and well on its way to a 117-77 victory to move to 7-0 on the season entering a Sunday matchup with archrival Louisville.
"That stretch, we got kind of rattled a little bit with their pressure," said Bradley assistant Skyler Young, who was filling in for head coach Michael Brooks after the birth of his son. "We had some turnovers, but more importantly I feel we had some bunnies and layups that we had to make to stop the bleeding of that run."
UK scored 16 points off seven Bradley turnovers during the back-breaking run. The Braves missed all seven of their shots from the field, while UK shot 8 for 9. Six different Wildcats scored, led by Jennifer O'Neill, who scored eight of her 14 points during the stretch.
In Mitchell's estimation, the run was all about defense.
"We finally got some good traps set and hustled enough to get some good traps set," Mitchell said. "I think today the pace was such that that was really the only time in the game where we had enough energy and substitutes came in off the bench and were able to get into Bradley's conditioning."
As impressive as the run was, the Cats didn't even process that it happened until after the fact.
"Actually, we're not aware of what's going on," said DeNesha Stallworth, who had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. "We just try to break it down and win every four minutes at a time, just play hard and play Kentucky basketball."
There, Williamson drew praise from nearly every speaker. University of Kentucky Athletics Committee Chair Dr. C.B. Akins, Sr., praised Williamson for being the model student-athlete, while Mark Stoops said he wished he had a team full of players like the star senior linebacker.
Now, Williamson will play the final game of his collegiate career on Saturday.
"It'll be pretty crazy, just knowing that it's going to be my last time on the field," Williamson said. "I really don't know how I'm going to feel. Like today, I realized it's my last Tuesday practice, so it's definitely different knowing I'm going to be moving on to something else."
Though he won't be putting on the uniform again after Saturday's game against Tennessee (7 p.m. ET on ESPNU), Williamson's legacy will last. Not only is he 10 tackles away from 300 on his career, but Williamson has also played an important role in a foundation-setting season.
"I feel like I was a part of building the building blocks of this, call it the new Kentucky, I guess," Williamson said. "This new era. I really feel like these coaches are going to get this thing turned around."
In his first year on the job, Stoops has consistently called on Williamson to be the most visible example for the kind of commitment needed to succeed.
"You've heard me talk about that, but when you walk in the door, when you walk into these meeting rooms and into the practice sessions and things, just how you go about your business and attention to detail," Stoops said. "That doesn't mean he's perfect all the time. We all make mistakes and all that. But he's just got a great attitude, and it's very important to him."
Williamson has helped shaped the highest-rated incoming recruiting class -- potentially the next generation of UK stars -- with his vocal leadership and example. Stoops sees the results.
"I don't want to single out guys, but I really feel good about a lot of the younger guys," Stoops said. "And a lot of our guys are starting to get it, but I feel good that the younger guys are willing to step out there and be more vocal, and I feel like there's a very good unity with some of the young guys, and even some of the guys that are redshirting."
Williamson hasn't been the only veteran helping his younger teammates along that path.
Clearing space for Williamson to make plays all season have been defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. They have only played better as the season has worn on and they expect Saturday to be emotional.
"Exciting, sad and fun all at once," Cobble said of Senior Night. "I've been thinking about this day since the day I signed, really."
Cobble had to wait a year after originally signing to come on campus, while Rumph attended prep school for two years before finally arriving. That will add even more meaning to their final game.
"Just going through the adversity that I went through in the past in the two-and-a-half years of prep school and trying to get eligible and the whole situation of trying to get here and then finally getting here and four years just flying by," Rumph said. "It's like, man, where did the time go? I remember still getting a call saying, 'Hey, you're accepted.' And now I'm on my way out."
With it coming to an end, the seniors couldn't be any more motivated to close with a win.
"Oh, we're desperate," Rumph said. "But at the same time, we're just trying to hold it together and stay focused on the task at hand and just make memories this last week."
For every member of this class, one the best memories from the time spent at UK was made the last time Tennessee visited Commonwealth Stadium. It was then that Matt Roark quarterbacked the Wildcats to victory and was carried off the field on his own Senior Day.
Tennessee enters the season finale with a 4-7 record after a last-minute loss to Vanderbilt last weekend.
In scouting the Volunteers, Stoops sees shades of his own team.
"They are a team I think a lot like us in that they play some games extremely hard trying to do anything they can to get a win," Stoops said. "They are a team that's getting better and their program is moving forward as we all know. I think similar to us in a lot of ways, and I think I respect the way they coach them and the way they play them."
Williamson, having grown up in Milan, Tenn., shares that respect, but also can't think of a better way to put a final stamp on his career than to beat his home-state team.
"I know people on the team and everybody back home is a UT fan so it would really be great to go ahead and beat them again like I did my sophomore year because when I went home I got a lot of praise for that," Williamson said. "So it would be real good to beat them."
Neither immediately after Kentucky's loss at Georgia nor on Monday after he had two days to process it did Mark Stoops hide his displeasure at the Wildcats' performance.
He described the defeat, at various points as "disappointing," "frustrating" and "unacceptable," saying he would challenge his team to respond with a strong week of preparation for a season finale against Tennessee.
So far, the Cats are doing just that.
"We've had some good meetings and a good practice yesterday," Stoops said. "Very good practice today and, yeah, I think we're bouncing back fine."
With winter weather on the way, UK practiced indoors on Tuesday. Quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith each participated, though Stoops didn't give any insight into who will start Saturday's game.
Whoever lines up at quarterback, this weekend will serve as Stoops' introduction to UK-Tennessee. Two days into game week, it feels like a rivalry to him.
"I know it's very important to us and I'm sure they feel the same way," Stoops said.
This will be the final season Kentucky and Tennessee play the week of Thanksgiving with UK-U of L moving to the last game of the regular season in 2014. On Tuesday, Stoops detailed the team's plans for the holiday.
UK will hold regular Wednesday and Thursday practices, but the Cats will spend extra time together as well.
"We're gonna practice and then we're gonna have a dinner together (on Thanksgiving Day)," Stoops said. "And because they're out of the dorms and out of school and all that, tomorrow after practice, each position coach will take them to their homes for dinner as well. So they'll have dinner with their position coaches on Wednesday night. Thursday after practice we'll have a team Thanksgiving dinner."
A matchup with No. 4/3 and archrival Louisville will tip it off, while games against No. 9 Baylor, No. 25 DePaul and No. 2 Duke follow.
But as intimidating as the December schedule may be, Matthew Mitchell isn't thinking about it. Not yet. The Wildcats have another tough opponent to think about first.
"There's not one thought in our mind but Bradley Braves," Mitchell said. "They are a very dangerous team, very tough team and (have) more than enough talent to make plays to win the game."
Bradley may enter Tuesday's game -- which tips at noon ET in Memorial Coliseum -- at 2-3, but Mitchell has been impressed by the Braves in scouting them. They boast a win over Illinois and a starting lineup featuring five players who are averaging at least 9.4 points per game.
"Their starting five is very, very impressive," Mitchell said. "We need to do everything we can to make our depth a positive factor in the game for us and this'll be a tough challenge for us tomorrow at noon."
Kelsey Budd, in Mitchell's mind, is the standout. The senior point guard has made 51 consecutive starts and is averaging 15.2 points, 3.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds.
"As you watch our personnel tape on her, she's able to make all the plays, get to the basket, push it in transition, get to the basket," Mitchell said. "She's able to hit the mid-range jumper, she has deep range from 3, so she can really push the ball."
Like the Central Michigan team UK defeated last Sunday, Bradley won't be afraid to run with the Wildcats. For that reason and a few others, the Braves have UK's undivided attention.
"Those are really good teams (UK will face in December), but the main focus right now is Bradley and taking it one game at a time," Bria Goss said. "Right now, we have a tough team in front of us and we're going to look at them as the top team in the nation."
Goss benefiting from more Mitchell attention
Mitchell has never been afraid of self-critique.
On Tuesday alone, he admitted to not using statistics well enough in evaluating his team and even questioned the way he handled Goss last season.
The junior guard was an immediate impact player, so Mitchell didn't feel the urgency to lead her that he did with other Cats who had a tougher time.
"She showed up and she just really had a great work ethic and did everything that you ask her to do, very little problems," Mitchell said. "Sometimes I don't do great with those players because, SEC Freshman of the Year, great success, I don't know that I did a great job of helping her until it was sort of too late last year and being more aware."
By no means did Goss have a bad season as a sophomore (she averaged 8.8 points while consistently taking on the toughest defensive assignments), but she shot just 38.5 percent from the field. But through six games this season, Goss is shooting 50 percent and scoring 11.7 points a game.
Mitchell attributes that improvement to Goss's work ethic, above all else, but also says a little added attention from her coaches has helped as well. That started with an offseason meeting during which Mitchell asked her to outline her goals and has continued throughout the season.
"It's just constantly trying to make sure that we stay connected and checked in with her and she's doing a terrific job and I'm so happy," Mitchell said. "When someone works hard like that and they see rewards from that hard work, it makes me very happy for Bria."
Goss never felt neglected but she does acknowledge the change over the offseason has helped.
"Over the summer we worked hard and I was in the office more, just building relationships," Goss said. "There will be times when Coach will take me out to eat and just talk. That carries over to the court and I think our bond has become stronger."
Mitchell talks 2014 signing class
On Tuesday, UK officially announced its four fall signees for the class of 2014.
Jaycee Coe, Ivana Jakubcova, Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice will join the team next fall and comprise a class that currently ranks among the top 20 nationally according to every major outlet.
"Not only do you have to have a high level of talent, you have to have the desire to be in this atmosphere and in the environment every day where we are really trying to push young women to be their best," Mitchell said. "We are so thrilled with the four players that we signed."
This was an important class for Mitchell because he will lose four seniors to graduation following the season, including starting post duo Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth. In Jennings and Rice, Mitchell sees shades of Walker and Stallworth.
"What I really loved about the high-school players, Alyssa Rice and Alexis Jennings, is they have very good size, big post players, strong, but have the athleticism and the speed for us to continue to play an up-tempo style," Mitchell said. "Those are not the easiest players to find. It really is a small group of players each and every year."
Coe, a shooting guard, fills a need as well.
"Losing Kastine, losing Bernisha, two players who have throughout their careers made significant contributions," Mitchell said, "but both of them have been able to make shots from the perimeter and help us there and Jaycee Coe is one of the elite-level shooters in this class and what a high-character young woman she is."
Jakubcova -- a 6-foot-6 junior-college center -- doesn't have a facsimile on UK's current roster, but is still a welcome addition.
"She has great size and is really, really tall but still mobile," Mitchell said. "She is not a plodding, slow post. She has some great length and can be disruptive around the basket just with her size. The thing we liked most about her is her skillset. She can really run and catch and has great hands. You know, 15- to 17-foot range that is just knockdown deadly and we feel like she can make the 3 enough to keep people honest."
- UK earned a 105-76 triumph over visiting UT Arlington in its only competition of the week. UK's 105 points is the second-most ever scored in the John Calipari era.
- Freshman James Young had a career-high 26 points after knocking down a UK season-best five 3-pointers. Freshman Julius Randle logged his fifth-straight double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He's the first freshman and just the fourth player in program history to begin a season with five-straight double-doubles.
- Kentucky forced a pair of shot clock violations in the game to run its season total to seven for the year, surpassing last year's total of six just five games into the season. The Wildcaats won the battle of the boards by 12. Kentucky has out-rebounded its opponent in every game this season.
- UK will have three games in the next seven days. The Wildcats host Cleveland State Monday and Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, before traveling to Brooklyn to face Providence at the Barclays Center.
- No. 7 UK improved to 6-0 with wins over Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee. The Wildcats averaged 100.0 points per game, defeating Lipscomb 116-49, the second-most points in school history. UK downed MTSU, 84-72.
- A school-record eight Wildcats scored in double figures against Lipscomb, led by junior Bria Goss' 18 points in 17 minutes. Sophomore Janee Thompson had 16 points and a career-high seven rebounds, while senior Bernisha Pinkett added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Senior Samarie Walker charted her second straight double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
- UK led by as many as 17 points and shot 50 percent from the field to open at MTSU. Goss netted a team-high 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting while senior Kastine Evans followed with 15. The win snapped a two-game losing skid at Middle Tennessee, giving UK its first road win since 1989.
- UK returns to Memorial Coliseum for its two games, playing host to Bradley at Noon on Wednesday and intrastate rival and third-ranked Louisville on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
- Cally Macumber battled back brilliantly from a tough-luck break to finish 13th at the NCAA Championships with a time of 20:26.40 Saturday. She finished in the NCAA Championship top-15 for the second straight season as she was sixth in 2012.
- The Kentucky football team fell over the weekend in its final road game of the 2013 season, 59-17 to Georgia.
- In his first career start, sophomore running back Dyshawn Mobley rushed 10 times for 92 yards, including a career-long 69-yard touchdown rush.
- Defensively, Kentucky recovered its SEC-leading 11th fumble of the season in the second quarter. The Wildcats rank top-10 nationally in that category. Freshman nickelback Blake McClain led the UK defense with a career-best 12 tackles.
- No. 1 Kentucky dropped a pair of contests over the weekend at No. 2 Alaska-Fairbanks, 4695-4689 Sunday and 4702-4671 Saturday.
- The loss on Saturday snapped UK's nine-match winning streak dating back to December 2012.
- After the fall season, UK is 5-2 on the season and will return to action on Jan. 11, 2014 at Ohio State.
- Kentucky fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 2 UCLA, 3-0 Friday at Drake Stadium in Los Angeles.
- Arin Gilliland had one of the best seasons in school history, setting a UK record in shots (100), finishing with 12 goals, three off the school record, 10 assists, one off the record and 34 points, just four shy the UK record.
- This season marked Kentucky's second straight season advancing to the NCAA Tournament second round for the first time in program history. The Wildcats finished with a 14-7-1 record, the same as 2012.
Swimming and diving
- The UK swimming and diving team competed at the Ohio State Invitational Nov. 22-24. The five-team field featured three squads ranked in the top 15 in both the men's and women's rankings.
- UK junior Christina Bechtel set two school record times, with a 1:54.21 to win the 200 yard butterfly and a 51.36 for a second-place finish in the 100 yard butterfly. Bechtel also placed second in the 400 medley relay along with four more top-11 finishes.
- Junior diver Christa Cabot won the platform event with a score of 283.50. She finished in the top five in both the 1- and 3-meter springboard events.
- The OSU Invite is the end of the fall season. The Wildcats will compete at several individual events before competing as a team on Jan. 11 vs. Alabama and Arkansas.
- No. 16 Kentucky went 1-1 on the weekend against Texas A&M and No. 4 Missouri.
- UK began the weekend with a balanced effort in a sweep of the Aggies. Three UK players had double-figure kills including a team-high from senior Whitney Billings who had 15. Billings also added 10 digs for her 39th career double-double. Four players logged double-digit digs as UK had 62 for the match, a new program record for scoops in a three-set match in the 25-point rally scoring era. Senior Alexandra Morgan continued her assault defensively with her 10th match of the season in league player with five or more blocks, this time coming up with a squad-best eight against Texas A&M. Missouri swept the Cats on Senior Day as the Tigers remain undefeated.
- Kentucky concludes the regular season with No. 7 Florida at home Wednesday before the NCAA Selection Show on Dec. 1. UK is in pursuit of a program-record ninth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Monday, Nov. 25
Men's Basketball vs. Cleveland State - 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 27
Women's Basketball vs. Bradley - 12 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. Eastern Michigan - 4 p.m.
Volleyball vs. Florida - 8 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 30
Football vs. Tennessee - 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 1
Women's Basketball vs. Louisville - 1 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. Providence - 8:30 p.m. (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 24:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Senior Whitney Billings recorded her 39th career double-double against Texas A&M. Her 15 kills marked a three-set high for the season. She also added 10 digs and was one of four players to log double-digit digs as UK set a new program-record for digs in a three-set match in the 25-point rally scoring era. She also added a pair of blocks in the victory. Against Missouri, she had team-highs in kills (9) and digs (8). For the weekend, she received 39 serves the second most on the squad and she did not commit a single error. For the week, she averaged 4.00 kills per set and 3.00 digs per frame while posting 4.50 points per set.
Volleyball: Zan Morgan
Senior Alexandra Morgan had another tremendous weekend defensively for the Cats. In a win over Texas A&M she posted a team-high eight blocks. She has now logged five or more blocks in a match against SEC opponents in 10 matches. She also contributed 10 kills on a team-high .529 hitting percentage and added a pair of digs. Against Missouri, she again led the team in blocks and also contributed seven kills. For the week, she averaged 2.83 kills per set on a .394 hitting clip. She also picked up 0.67 digs per set and had a team-high 1.83 blocks per game.
Men's basketball: Julius Randle
- Julius Randle is first freshman and just the fourth Wildcat in program history and the first since Jim Andrews in 1971-72 to open the season with five-straight double-double efforts.
- He's the first UK player to have five-straight games with double-figure rebounding since Anthony Davis to conclude the 2012 season.
- Has scored 20 or more points in four of five games this season.
- Randle's 68 rebounds is the most for any UK freshman in the John Calipari era, besting Terrence Jones' 51. Randle is just two points shy of matching Jones' scoring output through the first five games with 104 points.
- Dished out four assists against UT Arlington and that number is a season-high.
- The two blocks ranks as a season-high.
Men's basketball: James Young
- Scored a career-high 26 points to lead all scorers in a win over UT Arlington
- Knocked down a UK season-high five 3-pointers
- Has hit at least on 3-pointer in all five games this season and is the only Wildcat to do so
- Dished out a career-high three assists
- Two steals also marked a career-best
- Has scored in double-figures in each of Kentucky's last three games
The freshman had four fouls, but with Kentucky trailing 54-44 John Calipari had no choice but to reinsert him. The Wildcats couldn't afford to have their point guard on the bench even though he had struggled to that point.
Much the same, Harrison knew he couldn't afford not to step up.
"I knew I had no choice," Harrison said.
With UK facing the biggest upset of the young college basketball season, Harrison took the only path available to him. He was Kentucky's anchor during a decisive 21-3 run, leading the way as the Cats completed a comeback from as many as 11 points down to win 68-61.
"He really stood out, he directed us a lot," James Young said. "He told us where to go, what to do. He just really stepped up."
Harrison scored six of his 12 points -- all on driving and-one layups -- and dished three of his five assists during the spurt. He had a direct hand in 13 of the 21 points scored during the run and only exited after he finally picked up his fifth with 27.6 seconds left and the outcome in hand.
"I thought Andrew made the plays," John Calipari said. "It's nice to know we got two or three guys now we can go to if the game is in the balance."
Harrison showed as much emotion following his two and-ones as at any point in his six-game UK career, glimpsing some of the fire Calipari wants out of the latest in his line of highly regarded point guards.
"Just having a competitive spirit and wanting to win and making big plays to win really," Harrison said. "It's not about me or anything. I just wanted to win. Those reactions kind of come out a competitor, any competitor really."
Harrison has surely heard some of the talk about his early-season body language, but he wasn't thinking about any outsiders during the Cats' rally. The only opinions he cares about are those of his teammates and coaches.
"I feel like I was letting my teammates down pretty much by getting those fouls in the first half and not being as aggressive as I should be," Harrison said. "Hopefully it's a turning point. Tomorrow we're just going to go to practice and start getting better."
Like a true point guard, Harrison was quick to deflect praise following the win over Cleveland State.
"All of us stepped up," Harrison said. "James Young played great. Julius (Randle) in the paint, nobody was getting a rebound at that point, nobody but him. It wasn't me at all. It was them. I was just getting them the ball. They were just making me look good."
Young struggled with his shot for most of the night and even contended with a box-and-one defense geared toward stopping him at times, but that didn't slow him. He hit just 3 for 11 from the field and scored nine points, but it was his energy that buoyed the Cats and his example that Calipari used to inspire his teammates.
"James Young just fought like crazy and came up with balls when we were dead," Calipari said. "If they got those balls, we would lose. That's why I looked at the other guys and I say, 'Fight like he's fighting.' "
Young had a career-high five rebounds, while Randle posted his sixth straight double with 15 points and 15 rebounds in spite of facing constant double and triple teams from Viking defenders. Randle had five more turnovers on Monday night, bringing his season total to a team-high 22, but Calipari has trouble picking nits when he looks at his star freshman.
"Pass a little bit, stop turning it over, but keep getting those double-doubles," Calipari said. "They're really nice."
With Kentucky's upcoming schedule, Randle will face some challenges in looking to extend his double-double streak, which now sits just one shy of Jim Andrews' UK record of seven to begin a season. The Cats have just one day to prepare for matchup with Eastern Michigan at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday to conclude the Keightley Classic.
The Eagles are unbeaten at 5-0, so Calipari sees them as a natural segue into a brutal December schedule that features six opponents ranked 61st or better according to kenpom.com in six games.
"The good news is other than Michigan State, we kind of built them up," Calipari said. "Now Eastern Michigan is the next step. When we go farther, every other team takes us to another level."
Some pundits will sound alarms about Kentucky after a narrow home escape against a heavy underdog, but the Cats believe this is an experience that will benefit them down the road.
"It could have been easy for us to sit back and be like, 'Man, we're not coming back from this,' " Randle said. "But we kept fighting, fighting and we learned that even when we're down we can come together and still win games."
He had long worked toward a renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, but as it became closer to reality, Mitch Barnhart began to sort out exactly what he wanted to accomplish through the project.
His priorities were clear. Above all else, Barnhart wanted the transformation of Commonwealth to serve three groups: fans, current Wildcats and future Wildcats.
With plans now set, Barnhart believes that mission will be accomplished.
"I think we've changed the personality of the stadium," Barnhart said. "It is hopefully more intimate, hopefully it is more fan-friendly, and at the end of the day it provides our program with things we need for recruiting and people that want to come and participate in a great league and a great facility."
With construction set to start in December, designs for the new Commonwealth Stadium were revealed in front of hundreds of season-ticket holders and media at the Nutter Field House on Monday. Gerardo Prado -- the principal architect for HNTB, UK's partner in the project -- walked attendees through a presentation detailing the highlights of the renovation that started by showing a view of the East end zone.
"I want to fast-forward and get to that look right now," Stoops said after seeing renderings of the new stadium. "That's beautiful."
Senior linebacker Avery Williamson represented his team at the ceremony. Like everyone else in attendance, he was impressed by what he saw. In fact, his only regret was not getting the chance to play in the new Commonwealth himself.
"I'll bleed blue until the day that I die," Williamson said. "I love this school and I love this community and I love the fans and I feel like it's really going to be a turnaround. I just can't wait for the future of Kentucky, and ready to go beat Tennessee this weekend."
Adding to an already exciting day, Stoops announced the signing of five talented members of UK's 2014 class. Quarterback Drew Barker (Burlington, Ky.), linebacker Dorian Hendrix (Huber Heights, Ohio), running back Mikel Horton (West Chester, Ohio), wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio) and wide receiver T.V. Williams (McKinney, Texas) have signed scholarship papers, laying the foundation for what many expect to be the highest-ranked recruiting class in school history.
"This is a great start to our 2014 recruiting class," Stoops said. "They will benefit from enrolling in January. Going through our winter conditioning program and spring practice will give them a much greater ability to compete for playing time next season. In addition to being outstanding players, their academic commitment is shown by graduating high school in three-and-a-half years."
Barnhart and Stoops were joined at the unveiling by UK President Eli Capilouto; Senate President Robert Stivers; House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly; Dr. C.B. Akins, member of the UK Board of Trustees and Chair of the University Athletics Committee; and Gov. Steve Beshear, who signed the legislation approving the $110-million project in February.
"This stadium upgrade will ensure the continued financial success of UK football -- an integral part to a truly self-sustaining athletics program that also funds millions of dollars to the university's academic programming," Gov. Beshear said. "I am proud to have supported the agency bond legislation that is making this renovation possible and I congratulate UK's officials and leaders for taking this visionary action."
The renovation -- a result of an unprecedented partnership between UK Athletics and the university it represents -- will decrease the capacity of Commonwealth from 67,606 to approximately 61,000 when construction is completed in time for the 2015 season. That was no accident.
"We have got to provide an experience that people want to come, competitively and from a fan amenity perspective," Barnhart said. "And then we've got to create an environment that's fun for people to want to come. And I think that this is the right size for us."
Not only does Barnhart believe it to be the right size, he also thinks it has the right look.
"Now, as I'm looking at this picture, my first thought is, 'Pretty cool. Pretty cool,' " Barnhart said. "Then we can walk in and it has a different feel to it on the inside. I just wanted from start to finish, as you begin the process of coming into this stadium and you see it from the road or you see it for the first time, that it's a different-feeling stadium and it's something that is classy and can span the test of time a little bit, and I think it is."
UK launched a website (www.TheNewCWS.com) featuring the designs of the new stadium and pertinent information regarding tickets and the history of the project. It will be updated regularly throughout the course of the renovation.
The revamped exterior of the stadium will take on a uniquely Kentucky feel with Kentucky limestone and reclaimed barn wood. Inside, concourses will be widened and modernized, while new concession stands and restrooms will also be built, improving the game-day experience for every fan.
The amenities available in premium seating areas are not yet finalized, but they will include separate restrooms and covered concession areas.
These new premium seating areas, as well as the multipurpose recruiting room, will be rentable spaces at the conclusion of the 2015 season. The field-level club area will also house a new training table where football student-athletes will eat many of their meals. Other player-centric upgrades include a special game-day locker room and state-of-the-art training room.
When UK was granted bonding authority for the $110-million football project in February, plans initially included upgrades to the Nutter Training Facility, which houses football offices and day-to-day practice facilities. After seeing everything that could be done for players at Commonwealth, the decision was made to spend all of those funds on the stadium.
"We are absolutely committed to getting this program to the spot where we can all enjoy some very special moments," Barnhart said. "We're resolute in that. I am absolutely not backing down from the fact that we can compete at the highest level in this league. I want to get to Atlanta (for the SEC Championship) and that's the goal, make no mistake about it.
"The transformation of Commonwealth Stadium is the first step in that process, but it's not our last. We have more plans that we are still working on, but today is a celebration of our new home."
Construction on that new home will begin shortly after UK's season finale vs. Tennessee on Saturday. Crews will work through the start of the 2014 season to prepare the site and take steel deliveries, and the Cats will play next season in Commonwealth with construction ongoing.
The majority of fans will be unaffected, save for approximately 2,000 seats in the South upper level. Rows 22-39 in sections 219-232 will be unavailable in 2014. UK Athletics staff will contact affected season-ticket holders personally in December to provide a variety of alternative seating options for next season.
UK will conclude its 2014 home schedule on Nov. 8 of next year, more than three weeks earlier than this season's finale, which will provide important extra time ahead of the 2015 season opener.
"We're very fortunate in that respect," Barnhart said. "It gives those guys a chance to really jump in there and get going on that."
Ticket information for the 2015 season is still being finalized and will be announced in the first quarter of 2014.While significant premium seating is being added through the renovation, approximately 25,000 seats will be available at the current $100 K Fund annual donation level or lower.
"What I can tell you now is that the process will be fair, equitable and transparent," Barnhart said. "We will work closely with each fan to help them choose the right seats."
Barnhart encouraged fans to put themselves in the best possible position for 2015 tickets by purchasing 2014 season tickets when renewals are sent in January.
As curious as fans may be to learn details about ticketing, Monday was primarily about the overarching vision for the future of Commonwealth Stadium and the Kentucky football program. Too much work by too many people -- from UK Athletics to the university to the Big Blue Nation -- for it to be anything other than a celebration.
"When the Wildcats take the field and you fill the stands for our eight home games -- I repeat, eight home games -- in 2015, you will be proud of the new home we have created together for Kentucky football," Barnhart said.
Ahead of Kentucky's season finale against border rival Tennessee, Stoops was still feeling disappointed about his team's performance the previous Saturday.
"This past Saturday, there's no denying it, that was a blow to our progress and that's disappointing because it's a mentality to me more than anything," Stoops said. "So that we need to get over and bounce back and move forward, but throughout the year, I did think we were improving. I think we are getting better as a program, as an organization; I know we are ... There's (also) a lot of positive things."
Still, the Wildcats have one remaining game and the head coach made it clear he will challenge the team to improve during the final week of his first season at UK.
"We have a big game coming up with Tennessee," Stoops said. "It will be our last game at home for these seniors, and we need to see where we're at and how much progress we've made throughout this year. I think we've been up and we've been down, and it will be very important for us to come out and have a good week of preparation and play a great game versus Tennessee."
Stoops and his staff certainly saw the Georgia game as a step back for the program. He admitted that many of the players didn't give their top effort every snap, but was also adamant that the Wildcats are now turning their attention to Tennessee.
"We all have to look at ourselves," Stoops said. "It starts with me. I said that after the game; it starts with me and what I'm doing to prepare the team and to prepare the coaches. It goes on with the assistant coaches and it goes on with the players.
"I think a big part of it is your attitude. We talk about that all the time. You walk in that building and you go to work, you've got to have an attitude about you and you've got to have a toughness about you. We (didn't) play with it (vs. Georgia) so we are going to challenge them to have that attitude today."
Dyshawn Mobley emerges
After going through the game tape from Georgia, Stoops was less than pleased with almost all his players performances, except for one.
Dyshawn Mobley, who had seen limited action in the backfield throughout the 2013 campaign, saw significant action against Georgia and turned some heads in the process, most notably his head coach's.
"Dyshawn is about the only guy I could really say that I thought played extremely hard for every play that he was in there," Stoops said of the sophomore running back, who busted a career-long 69-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Mobley ending up rushing for a team-high and career-best 92 yards.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown also took note of Mobley's breakout performance at Georgia as well.
"He did some positive things," Brown said of Mobley. "I think he had 10 carries for 92 yards, and the touchdown went for 69. We weren't doing a whole lot of good things in the run game so I thought he did a good job with some leg drive, and getting some yards after contact. I've always thought he could do the things in the run game that he did.
"Now I didn't think he was going to bust open on a short-yards run for 60. I was pleasantly surprised on that. What Dyshawn has to get better at is the pass protection and some of those things when he's not getting the ball."
Williamson embodies senior spirit
Saturday's game will also be Senior Night, with the UK seniors set to be honored on the field before the game.
Linebacker Avery Williamson has emerged as UK's emotional and on-field leader in 2013. Given his play and contributions to the team in other ways, Stoops took time to reflect on the contributions of the defensive play-maker.
"He definitely is a guy that jumps out at you right away," Stoops said. "(It would be great) to be a senior (and) get a victory here. But Avery is definitely a guy that you think about when you think about this group that has done an awful lot for this program. Since I've been here, he's been a great leader and a great person to coach.
"I'm going to miss him. It will be very important for us to help him get a victory in this last game, along with all the seniors.
Coordinators name MVPs on the spot
Given the late-season nature of Monday's media opportunity, both of UK's coordinators were asked to reflect on the year and name their respective unit's most valuable players.
UK's top defensive performers have been relatively clear, and so D.J. Eliot praised senior linebacker Avery Williamson and junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree.
"It would between Bud or Avery," Eliot said. "Bud is not only athletic and he has all the tools, but he's very smart too. You tell him to do something and he does it. He can adjust on the run and his football IQ is part of what makes him special.
"Avery is just a tremendous worker. He studies the game and wants to always be one step ahead of his opponent. He puts in the extra time, and is focused every practice and every meeting."
Brown's praise of offensive linemen Jordan Swindle and Darrian Miller may have seemed a little more unexpected. After all, rarely do offensive linemen, no matter how good, earn such praise so publically.
"The two guys that have played at the highest level all year are Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle," Brown said. "I'm really excited about Swindle. I know the right tackle position doesn't get a whole lot of thoughts in the media, but he has really played well, even last week. He's a true sophomore that played very little last year. He struggled early to be honest, so his growth has been a surprise."
Coaches look forward to the new CWS
Even with a big game coming up on Saturday, just about everyone on the UK campus couldn't help but look forward to the unveiling of the plans for the New Commonwealth Stadium, which will take place on Monday afternoon.
Stoops withheld his thoughts on the occasion as he was no doubt saving up for his remarks at the event later in the day.
Neal Brown, himself a Kentucky native, expressed his own excitement.
"It's a great day for the Commonwealth," Brown said. "It's something that's needed. (I'm) very glad the Legislature, Mitch Barnhart and Dr. (Eli) Capilouto were working behind the scenes got it done. It's going to provide another burst of energy in our program. To have the unveiling today, and then (if we can) go win Saturday night. That would be huge going into what's going to be a pivotal next two months recruiting."
Max Godby or Teven Eatmon-Nared
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
By Sonya May
Still not completely adjusted to four-hour time difference, I woke up early this morning and did some homework until my roommate, Heather (Kirby), woke up. I spent the morning working and packing to head back to Kentucky.
Packing was a little bit of a challenge. Our bags coming up here were already stuffed with warm clothes and the souvenirs we all acquired just made it that much more difficult, but we managed to fit it all in.
Once I finished packing I headed downstairs for breakfast at the hotel. We all ate together as a team since we shot as one relay rather two like Sunday. Post-breakfast we headed over to the range a little earlier than yesterday, making sure we were prepared for the match in hopes of performing better than Saturday.
With all five counters for each team competing in the first relay, the ending was intense as both teams were neck and neck set to finish at the same time. Once I finished with air rifle, I sat with my team anxiously watching the last few wrap up, hoping the match would fall our way.
The results of the match didn't turn out as we had liked but there were positives to take out of Sunday's match. Our efforts were definitely better than the day before. All of us learned something from how we performed yesterday and we used that to our advantage in order to close the point gap by 25 and finish just six points behind Alaska today.
After we finished packing up our equipment we listened to a recommendation from some members of the Alaska team and headed to Loose Moose Cafe for lunch. The local burger joint featured some interesting meals, including buffalo burgers, moose chili and reindeer steak sandwiches.
Coach Mullins used the opportunity at lunch to talk to us about today, recapping how he was proud of us although we didn't come away with the win. He definitely wanted to make sure that we were all using this experience to grow and learn together.
During lunch everybody wasn't too hung up on the loss, we were still able to giggle and have fun while enjoying our last hours in Alaska together.
After lunch, we headed to the airport with our cars stuffed full of equipment. The views on the drives around here are amazing, so I tried to soak it in one last time during our final car ride.
We got to the airport a little early to make sure all our equipment was checked and through security. With the extra time, almost everyone took the opportunity to do some last-minute souvenir shopping at the gift shop in the airport, buying gifts and personal mementos to remember the trip.
We're on our flight from Fairbanks to Seattle as I write this and we have a long journey ahead of us before we get back home. The total trip time is about 15 hours through the night so hopefully we'll be able to get some sleep and catch up on some homework during the flights.
Now that the trip is coming to a close, I look back at how much fun I had and how fortunate I am to have been a part of it.
This was the biggest trip of the year in my opinion and I was pretty stoked when I found out I was going to be on the traveling squad for it. I must admit though, when I stepped out of the airport on Thursday night and it was negative-23 degrees, I was rethinking my excitement for the trip. I adapted to the cold though and it all got better because Alaska is one of the prettiest places I've ever been.
From going to North Pole, Alaska, to seeing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, I really enjoyed getting to bond with my teammates and make these memories with them as we explored the wonder of Alaska.
We obviously would have liked to win both matches but the two losses did not ruin our trip. This was a great experience and we still have a long season ahead to prepare for the postseason.
Catching up on sleep is going to be a challenge when we get back as we will all be jetlagged, and lots of us are returning to classes and makeup exams. Fortunately, everyone is leaving for Thanksgiving during this week, so it will be a nice break before we head out to Winter Air Gun in Colorado.
As I look back now, I can't help but think about how blessed I am to have been able to come on this trip and to be able to shoot for the University of Kentucky Rifle Team, I don't think I could have asked for much more in my first semester of college.
It's not March yet.
Looking to drive that message home, Coach Cal asked his freshmen-laden team what having fun on the floor meant.
"They said winning," Calipari said. "I said, 'No, not necessarily.' "
He used that as an opportunity to educate the Wildcats.
"It's coming out and having an unbelievable effort by everyone that's on that floor and who comes in the game and forcing your will on the other team, doing it together and talking and having fun doing it," Calipari said. "That's fun."
With six days between games -- UK's longest such break of the season to this point -- Calipari has gone to work on making his Kentucky team understand that, and it begins on the defensive end.
The Cats are coming off a game in which Texas-Arlington scored better than a point per possession in Kentucky's 105-76 win. UK repeatedly allowed drives to the basket, but not because of a lack of quickness or ability to guard.
It's all about effort.
"We're trying to get them to play through a whole possession, stay in a stance," Calipari said. "Someone said 'Wow, you guys got beat on the dribble.' Yeah, if you're standing straight up and down, it's pretty easy to get beat on the dribble."
Ahead of UK's matchup with Cleveland State at 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Calipari has honed in on defense.
"He really got on us (Thursday), you know, after our off day just to compete and stuff like that and play better defense," Dakari Johnson said. "So we've been doing a lot of defensive drills lately and just competing throughout the whole shot clock and just getting more stops."
In the preseason, practices were all about offense and playing together. Of course, learning the Dribble Drive allows for plenty of opportunities to play defense, but the Cats are focusing on the other end of the floor like never before.
"If you're not doing your best, if you're standing around, if you stop playing - for most of these kids, they were always bigger and stronger and longer and faster, you didn't have to outwork the other guy," Calipari said. "If a team's effort level is far beyond yours, it will smash a talented group."
There's a lesson that front even within UK's team.
Dominique Hawkins came to Kentucky as the least-heralded signee in a class labeled by many as among the best in the history of the game. The Richmond, Ky., native always believed he would carve a role out for himself, but through sheer force of will and a tireless commitment to defense, he's found his way into the rotation even earlier than he expected.
"I knew when I was on this team that I would probably get in games because of my defense," Hawkins said. "I'm trying to learn to become a better defensive player, definitely putting pressure on the ball and trying to be a defensive force for our team."
Hawkins has played a combined 31 minutes in UK's last two games. He has taken just seven combined shots and scored seven points, but has embraced the assignment of hounding the opposing point guard.
"Dominique is probably closest to what we're looking for of anybody on the team (defensively), but it's not where we need to be right now," Calipari said.
Even Hawkins has a ways to go in the communication department.
"I'm kind of a shy person and I don't really talk that much, but he's making me have to talk and yell out stuff because when I'm talking I'm usually quiet, I'm not loud enough," Hawkins said. "So he's working on talking louder with me."
Already, the Cats are seeing progress.
"I think we've gotten better," Johnson said. "I think we're starting to get it now, that we have to just compete the whole time and not stop and we just have to just keep on playing with energy and keep on working hard every possession."
But with seven freshmen and two sophomores playing regular roles, it's going to take time for the message to fully sink in.
"This is all stuff that's new to them," Calipari said.
By Emily Holsopple
The day started like a typical morning of a road match. I woke up at 6 a.m., and got ready like any normal day, of course the only difference being I put my long johns on and bundled up in many layers to prepare to venture out in the cold.
The four of us shooting the first relay, Connor (Davis), Heather (Kirby), Sonya (May) and I, met downstairs in the hotel for the breakfast buffet to eat before we headed to the range.
Following breakfast we all hopped in the cars to head to the range around 7:40 a.m., hoping to get to the range about an hour before the match. We may have accidentally taken a bit of a detour because we took the wrong road but we made it there with more than enough time to prepare.
With seven of us traveling, we split up into two relays with four on the first and three on the second. The relay was different, normally we have six or seven lined up together competing. You could tell a difference with only four of us there but it was something we quickly forgot about.
We were a little rusty and got off to a somewhat rocky start. We were coming off a two-day break and tired from all the travel and I don't think we were as mentally prepared as we could have been but that's a lesson we had to learn the hard way today. It's a valuable lesson for us to learn at this point in the year, if we take it in stride and grow on in it then it will be very beneficial for us down the road.
While we didn't put up the overall numbers we were looking for today there were still some definite bright spots. The freshmen did a great job, for it being the second road matches of their careers; they really put together some strong performances and didn't get caught up in the early struggles. Kirby and Sonya are both still young and learning but I was really proud of their efforts today.
With the first relay complete and the second relay preparing, we took suggestions from members of the Alaska-Fairbanks team about where to go to lunch and eventually journeyed to a local restaurant called Ivory Jack's. The trip to the hole-in-the-wall led to some amazing views as we weaved in and out of the mountains north of Fairbanks. As we walked out of the local spot it was fascinating to see a group pull up to the restaurant on snowmobiles.
We headed back to the range to support the second relay and the three of them really worked hard to put together some good numbers. Aaron (Holsopple) had a really good performance, his 581 in smallbore bumped up our aggregate and (Elijah) Ellis's 588 in air rifle also gave our score a boost.
The results obviously weren't what we had planned for, but we held together well today when things went south. It could have gone a lot worse.
Honestly, we've now had one bad day this year... It was bound to happen. But we must take it in stride, learn from it and use what we learned to try to prevent it from happening again.
There's a lesson to be learned from today. It kind of opened our eyes a little bit and I think we can go forward with what we learned. It's not all rainbows and butterflies from here on out; it's hard work and it's back to working hard on Sunday.
By Connor Davis
Not having adapted to the four-hour time change, our first morning in Alaska came early. Being used to Eastern Time I woke up around 3:30 a.m., luckily I managed to fall back asleep until around 7.
We all met downstairs at 8 for our team breakfast and ate before we started our full day of tourist activities and exploring the area.
We opened the day by heading a few miles out of town to the see part of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The pipeline runs from the north shore of Alaska at Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in southern Alaska. It was neat to see how it weaves through the mountains and frontier of Alaska.
Driving around up here is a very different experience. A layer of snow covers most of the roads but it doesn't seem to affect any of the drivers. The views driving out of Fairbanks are impressive, with snow-covered trees followed by mountain ranges in the distance.
After the pipeline we went to the University of Alaska Museum of the North on campus. The museum had a lot of interesting items on the history of Alaska. I was most fascinated by the exhibit showcasing the progression of the weapons Alaskans have used for whale hunting. It was wild to see how whale hunters overcame the challenges before the technology and tools we have today existed.
Following the museum we headed to North Pole, Alaska, to check out the Christmas themed town. All the local businesses in the North Pole were decorated with Christmas decor in some fashion.
To get the full effect of the North Pole, we stopped by the Santa Claus House. As we arrived we were greeted by reindeer to the side of the building and proceeded to go inside and buy some gifts for friends and family. Santa Claus was there and not only admitted to being a Kentucky fan but also mentioned our national championship in 2011.
We listened to Aaron Holsopple's lunch recommendation and went with Chinese restaurant Pagoda in the North Pole. Aaron did not let us down, the restaurant featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" with Guy Fieri was delicious. (Elijah) Ellis and Coach Mullins were the only ones able to finish their plates and they deserve some sort of award for that. The portions were huge.
On the way back from the North Pole we stopped by The Great Alaskan Bowl Company and the Alaska Raw Fur Company to check out a few local shops. It was crazy to see all the animal furs; I would have loved to have been able to take one home with me.
Of course we finished the night by doing the non-tourist thing and going to see "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." I won't ruin the movie for any of you with spoilers but we all enjoyed it to say the least.
I'm looking forward to Saturday. Emily (Holsopple), Heather (Kirby), Sonya (May) and I will be competing in the first relay, while Aaron, Ellis and Cody (Manning) will shoot in the second relay. I've been pleased with how we've competed to this point in the season and I'm looking forward to seeing if it carries into a big match on the road.
I plan to stay for the second relay to see Aaron, Ellis and Cody. Normally you don't stick around because you'll go get lunch with family or something but I'd like to come back tomorrow after lunch and support the guys.
The trip has been fun so far, Coach Mullins has made sure to show us around. He's been here so many times for matches in the past that he seems to know everything about it.
While we spent today having fun and being tourists, the reason we're here is to compete and I'm ready to hit the range.
The tone was set from the first serve. This was going to be a nip-and-tuck match
The scores in the opening set between Kentucky and Texas A&M went from 0-0 to 10-10 to 20-20. Neither the Wildcats nor the Aggies led by more than two all set.
It was exactly what Craig Skinner expected.
"We knew it was going to be a battle," Skinner said.
The Cats knew everything they needed to about A&M. The Aggies started Southeastern Conference play 3-7, but had rebounded and lost just one set it the last two weeks to climb back above .500.
"We knew they were on a five-game streak, so we knew what they could do," senior Whitney Billings said. "We knew they were going to bring it and they did."
Knowing that, it seemed a certainty Friday's match would come down to end-of-set execution, but not quite to this extreme.
All three sets in Kentucky's dramatic sweep of Texas A&M were decided by two points -- the minimum for a volleyball match -- and two went beyond regulation. And when points counted most, the Cats were at their best.
"Our kids were better executing under pressure than we were at the beginning and middle of all three sets," Skinner said. "I'm proud of that."
The third set was the most dramatic example, as UK found itself in a 23-20 hole with A&M just two points away from forcing a fourth set. With a combination of tough serving, well-placed attacks and a sturdy block, the Cats won six of the next seven points to close out the victory.
"I just like the way we kept our composure," Billings said. "We didn't freak out that we were down a couple points and we pulled through."
Billings was central to that effort, tallying three kills in the match-deciding run. The senior, like much of her team, struggled with errors in the first and second set, but came on the final frame to hit .545 and register seven of her match-high 15 kills.
"The thing that Whitney did best: She went for everything," Skinner said. "That was as aggressive as I've ever seen her offensively and she made some errors, but she had some big-time kills when we needed it and made plays at the net. That's all you can ask for."
All season, the Cats have shown a knack for raising their game when it matters most. Set-ending spurts have become the norm and UK now boats a 15-10 record in sets decided by the minimum of two points.
As with pretty much everything else, that starts on the practice floor.
"We have a lot of drills that we're down and the other side is ahead and we have to come back and win and there's usually something on the line for it," Billings said.
Billings named taking down and setting up the nets for practice as one set of possible stakes.
"No one wants to do that," Billings said.
However UK has become so effective at the end of sets, it bodes well as the Cats out the regular season and prepares for the NCAA Tournament.
"It's important," Skinner said. "Every team we play from here on out is very good. And so you expect to be in sets after 20 in close games and you've got to be comfortable being uncomfortable and we definitely were that tonight."
UK will have to be "comfortable being uncomfortable" on Sunday with Missouri coming to town. The fourth-ranked Tigers are the nation's lone unbeaten team at 32-0 and clinched the SEC Championship as UK was playing Texas A&M on Friday.
"Well, we gotta get rest and get refocused," Skinner said. "We'll go through the game plan tomorrow on Missouri. They're obviously a great team. We gotta go for it, we gotta play well and let the chips fall where they may. But I like this team, I like how hard we play and I know we'll give Missouri everything that we can."
Adding fuel to the fire on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET is the fact that UK will bid farewell to the class of Billings, Alexandra Morgan, Jessi Greenberg and Desirre' Wilkerson with Senior Day festivities.
"It's going to be sad," Billings said. "It's not our last match at home (UK faces Florida on Wednesday), but just knowing that it's senior night, it's going to be a little emotional."
Skinner isn't hiding from that fact.
"There will be emotions flying everywhere," Skinner said. "It's a good thing though. You can't really anticipate what'll happen the first part of the first set, but as long as we just keep our composure and stay focused and have tunnel vision through each point, we'll give ourselves a great chance to be successful."
And if it comes down to the final points, don't bet against Kentucky.
After Kentucky's 116-49 win over Lipscomb on Friday, the Wildcats talked about their near-record-setting night.
They reflected on their impressive streak of four consecutive games with 20-plus assists. They were asked about how eight different players had scored in double figures.
But in the middle of all that, Bria Goss snuck something interesting in as she responded to a question about their improvement at the foul line in the second half.
"Usually when we go into the locker room, Kastine (Evans) makes a list of points of improvement and things we're already doing well," Goss said.
It's a common visual, a coach going to the whiteboard at halftime to highlight areas for a team to improve. For a player to do it is another story, even a senior leader like Evans.
It turns out, however, that it's not a new thing for UK Hoops.
Matthew Mitchell started it a few years back as he searched for ways to maximize the 15 minutes the Cats spend in the locker room for halftime. With that goal in mind, Mitchell directed his players to gather and assess the first half as the coaches did the same on their own.
"We just wanted to make sure that no matter if you are up or down or where you are, you will have some positive points and some points for improvement in the second half," Mitchell said. "That gives the players more of a focus while we're trying to get our thoughts collected."
As the years have gone by and Mitchell has built his program, he's noticed growth in that halftime routine. More and more, the Cats and their coaches are on the same page.
"It's been really good to see that evolve to what the coaches talk about and we walk in and what the players have written down has really matched up well, which tells you the players are in tune with what we need to be doing to be successful," Mitchell said.
Evans is at the forefront of that, which is why it should come as no surprise that she's the player who wields the marker.
The Salem, Conn., native has accepted every role assigned to her, from coming off the bench and playing out of position in the post early in her career to now starting and serving as UK's second-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. But regardless of what she's asked to do from a basketball perspective, she's always been a leader.
"I look to the veterans a lot to set the tone in every game and Kastine Evans is a good one as far as knowing what we need to do mentally to prepare," Mitchell said. "She's doing such a great job of that day in and day out in practice and in games. I feel good that we have some veteran leadership right now."
Mitchell will be counting on Evans' leadership this weekend, as UK (5-0) travels for a tough road test at Middle Tennessee State (1-2) on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.
"I think, clearly, the most gifted team we've played to date," Mitchell said. "Middle Tennessee has some really good players and you know they are going to be well-coached. Rick Insell is one of the best coaches in the country and certainly one of the great coaches in women's basketball right now."
UK-MTSU has become an annual series, with the Cats losing the last two times they've traveled to Murfreesboro, Tenn. For the players who were there two seasons ago, the 70-58 defeat is fresh in their minds.
"I haven't won there yet so this is definitely a game that I'm excited to play and really go down there with a lot of intention on winning this game," Evans said.
Behind Lexington native Ebony Rowe, the Blue Raiders won't make that an easy task. Rowe -- a senior forward -- is averaging 20.7 points and 12.0 rebounds.
"She's just a great, great college basketball player," Mitchell said. "I think the world of her; she has a great family, great people. I'm glad to see her have the success she's had, but I'm going to try hard for her to not have any success on Sunday, but that's hard to do with a player like that."
Rowe is certainly a Southeastern Conference-caliber player, helping to make MTSU the closest thing UK has seen to an SEC-level team this season. Add to that the fact that UK will make the same Thursday-Sunday turnaround it will have to throughout conference play and you have a challenge that could benefit the Cats down the road.
"I think it's going to be really good for us," Evans said. "Especially in the next week and a half, we have Louisville coming up, which is a great team. This MTSU team is really dynamic. They always go to the NCAA Tournament so it's always a great opportunity for us, as long as we use it how we should."
And if the Cats aren't doing that through 20 minutes, Evans will have something to put on that whiteboard.
By Cody Manning
The day started early; it seems like any time we fly somewhere we always leave at the earliest of hours. I set three alarms to make sure I got up on time, got up at 4 a.m. ET, was able to take a quick shower, get a banana and race out the door. Some of my teammates picked me up, we got to the range and from there we loaded up on the bus and headed to the airport. That's where our journey began. Probably the most extreme trek I've done since I've been on the team.
This is my first time to Alaska and to take part in any of kind of travel is always great because we have such a fun team. The trips are great opportunities for us to bond and come together as a team.
Flying out of Lexington is pretty typical for us so we've got that whole process down. Of course I managed to complicate it by leaving my duffle bag at security. Everyone made sure I didn't live that one down. The flight to Atlanta was pretty simple. Afterwards we had just enough time to grab a snack and board our first long flight from Atlanta to Seattle.
That second flight was long and we had to find stuff to do to keep occupied. I spent a majority of my time watching a movie with Connor (Davis). We watched "World War Z" with Brad Pitt.
It was my first time in the Seattle airport. Most airports tend to get meshed together in your memory but I'll definitely remember the task of getting to our next gate today in Seattle. We had to change terminal trains four or five times before finally getting to our terminal and I know I wouldn't have ever figured it out if I wasn't with the team.
Finally getting on that last plane for that last four-hour plane trip to Fairbanks, at that point it became a little more real that I was actually going to Alaska. It's pretty neat to look out your window and see the window starting to freeze up on the outside and see snow-covered ground below.
The last stint was probably the toughest because I had already watched my movie, I had already done the homework that I wanted to accomplish and then those last two hours on the trip were brutal. I had already slept and I was excited and just wanted to land.
In Alaska, we got down into the baggage claim, I added another layer, putting an extra sweater thinking that was going to be it, I'm not going to be cold. It's going to be negative-23 degrees but I'm going to warm. Then me and Connor step outside and it hits my face and It's just brutal. That weather just doesn't exist in Kentucky.
To illustrate how cold it is, the cars need to be plugged in to stay warm when parked, something I have never heard of.
Dinner, like any other team meal, was an experience; it's always a good time. Everyone was real tired after dinner because we've been up since 4 a.m., and now as I'm writing this it's around midnight back home. We're trying to stay awake to avoid jet lag. We're going to get ready for tomorrow which is going to be some time for us to just unwind and get acclimated to Alaska before we head into what we're really here for: our matches Saturday and Sunday.
In regards to tomorrow, we don't know exactly what's on the schedule but I'm looking forward to it. There have been talks of curling, going to see the trans-Alaska pipeline or maybe go dog sledding. All the typical Alaskan adventures that you would hear of, typical Alaskan things that are atypical to Kentuckians. I look forward to it, I'm excited.
Being in Alaska is awesome, it's something that I would have never gotten to do if I wasn't on the rifle team and I think that's just one more benefit of being a student-athlete at Kentucky.
By Jarrod Polson (Follow on Twitter)
What's going on, Big Blue Nation?
I'm happy to be doing this and get a chance to talk about my last year here at Kentucky. It's been a fun ride so far and I'm really happy to see what this season is going to turn out like. I hope we go out with a bang.
Team-wise, I think we're doing pretty good so far. I think we've been improving every day, and that's the biggest goal here is just not to worry about who we're playing but improving ourselves every day. With the big first test against Michigan State, I think we showed a lot of perseverance. We could have lost by 30 that game with the start we had, but I think that definitely proved how competitive our guys are and how much they want to win no matter what.
Even though we lost that game, I think that may have helped us a lot, kind of like the Indiana game did to us in my sophomore year. It was kind of just a wake-up call to realize that everyone is going to give us their best game every night. We always have to be ready.
I wouldn't say our new guys were nervous, but when Michigan State went on that big 10-0 run at the beginning, you could kind of see them like, oh wow, this is big time and something they had never been a part of before. I think that's definitely going to help them because that's how the tournament games are going to be in the SEC and in the NCAA Tournament. I think just having that in the back of their minds and finally getting through that game and actually coming back at the end and having a chance to win shows them that they're going to have to play hard. Knowing now that we have the fight and will to do it, I think it will prove to be an important game for us.
The Michigan State game was also our first time on the road this year. I've been through it a lot, but it was the freshmen's first time flying on the plane with us and seeing how we do things. We don't really get to do too many extracurricular activities when we're on the road; we pretty much just stay in the hotel and get focused for the game. At the same time, it puts everyone together. I think it's definitely a good bonding experience going on the plane rides together and just being in different cities together and being with each other for a 48-hour period non-stop. I really enjoy the road a lot. I think a lot of the players do just because it kind of lets us get away and we get to play.
For me, the trip to Chicago was cool because it was my first time in the United Center. Seeing Michael Jordan's retired jersey and stuff in the rafters, I think everyone was just kind of like, wow. I know some of them played in the McDonald's All-American Game so they had been in there before, but for me, I didn't even realize it until we went in there. I was just kind of like, oh yeah, this is where Michael Jordan played. This is where the Chicago Bulls made their legacy.
It's kind of crazy how many games we have played already. I feel like we usually don't play half the games that we've already played in November. But we're enjoying it. We enjoy playing. If we could play every day I think we would choose that over practicing. Honestly, sometimes it feels like a game is less tiring than a practice. It's fun for us to get started right off the bat and keep playing game after game after game, plus I think it's good for the freshmen because they're just getting g a ton of experience. I think it's a win-win situation for us.
Off the court, I think we're a really close team. Curfew has kind of helped with that. We're all in by 11 or midnight every night. A lot of us are still awake at that point so we're bringing out the pool table and stuff like that, just hanging out with one another. Actually me, Jon and Dominique just brought out the ping pong table the night after our game. I think I'm the best, but I've only played Jon and Dominique so far and it's really the first time we've played it this year. I'm not much of a pool shark, but Hoody is pretty good at pool. Alex is alright. Actually, not really.
In all seriousness, even though we would prefer not to have curfew, it's actually making us closer. We have to hang out. It's not like we don't want to hang out anyways because we love each other off the court, but we're getting closer because of it and we're having fun.
If we get to go home for Thanksgiving, I'll probably take a couple of the guys home with me since so many of them don't live close to here and won't have anywhere to go. Coach has had us over for dinner at his house in the past, but I think it would be fun to bring some of the guys home, and I know my family would be welcome to that. I haven't been home in a while, so just getting back to see my family and all my relatives would be really exciting for me.
When I think back to stuff like that and how we do things every year, it kind of hits me how fast this is all flying by for me. A lot of people told me that would happen, but I didn't really believe them at the time. I guess in one sense it feels like freshman year was a long time ago, but at the same time I've been in college for four years and it seems like a flash. I can remember back when I was a freshman, I could barely do one drill without messing up. For me personally, my development has gotten a lot better with basketball. Really, just with everything I feel like I've grown up a lot. I've been around the block. I'm really used to it now and it's normal for me. At the same time, I just want to enjoy my senior year.
Jon came up with this idea before our first game of calling our senior year our farewell tour. It pretty much just means no matter what happens this season, we're not going to get discouraged and we're just going to try to enjoy it as much as we can. We can't control playing time or anything like that, so we're just going to take everything in and work as hard as we can like we have for the last three years and try to enjoy everything that comes with this last season because this is it for us.
Jon and I have talked a little bit about possibly going overseas once our careers are over here. We don't really know about how to go about trying to do that, but it would be awesome if we have that opportunity. Obviously it would be totally different. It would be a huge commitment that we would have to make. A lot of people are good enough to go over there but they just choose not to because it's so different. We're going to have to look at that and weigh the pros and cons of each thing. I think as the season goes on, we're probably going to get a better feel for if we can even go over there and where we would go and stuff like that, but we're still in the beginning processes of that.
At the same time, it's not like a do-or-die thing for me. That's not been my main goal in life, to play professional overseas basketball, but I'm just trying to keep my options open. The good thing about me and Jon is that I do think we have a lot of opportunities whether it's going overseas or getting a job over here. We're excited for it just to enter a new chapter in our lives.
As we enter the final few chapters here, I think I'm looking forward to the tournament run the most. That's definitely the most exciting part of the season for the fans and for us. We get to go to class for like two days a week and then the rest of the week we're at whatever site we're at and just practicing. It just seems like everyone is watching college basketball during that time and that's what I think is most exciting. When I was a kid in March, I would just glue my eyes to the television watching every tournament game I could find. Just being a part of it is still a cool experience for me. I can't wait for it again.
Until then, we've got a lot of practice between now and then. I've got to head to one now so I'll catch you all later. Happy Thanksgiving!
When people think about Kentucky's "40 minutes of dread" style of play, defense is the first thing that comes to mind.
That was certainly the case on Thursday night, as Greg Brown lamented the way the Wildcats "mentally drain" opponents with their pressure after his Lipscomb team committed 32 turnovers in Memorial Coliseum.
But there's a side of UK's signature style that is ignored at times. The Cats don't only apply constant pressure with the way they hound their opponents; they also do it with the way they constantly push the ball.
"Well that's just the goal for us is to put 40 minutes of pressure on you and not just defensive pressure," Mitchell said. "I think the offensive push and the push on misses and makes us hard to deal with."
Sure, UK scored 40 points off Lipscomb's 32 turnovers. Of course, the Cats made the Bisons pay for their mistakes in a 116-49 victory on Thursday.
This Kentucky team, however, doesn't need a traditional fast-break opportunity to get out and run. Every new possession is a chance for a quick basket, whether it comes from a live-ball takeaway, a defensive rebound or even an opponent's basket.
After Thursday's offensive explosion -- which fell just five points shy of the school record for points in a game of 121 -- UK (5-0) is averaging 97.2 points, including 102.8 over its last four games. Against Lipscomb, the Cats had an astounding 92 offensive possessions. For the sake of comparison, the fastest-paced men's college team averaged just 73.2 possessions per game a season ago.
On average, UK's possessions lasted just 12 seconds, with the Cats often shooting before the 10 seconds women's teams now have to cross midcourt. That all begins with Kentucky's two-headed point-guard monster of Janee Thompson and Jennifer O'Neill.
Mitchell opted before the season to split minutes between the two equally, and they have responded. On Thursday, they combined for 27 points and six assists. On the season, they are averaging 20.0 points, 7.4 assists and 3.4 steals as a tandem.
"I'm just really proud of Jennifer and Janee for understanding that that's real, that the goal of that is real," Mitchell said. "It's not to placate one or the other or play mind games so one's not upset."
Mitchell restated his goal after the Lipscomb win that he wants Thompson and O'Neill to, together, become the top point guard in country. Thompson smiled as if to suggest she's heard that a few times before when asked about it postgame, but it's a challenge she's accepting.
"He knows that either one of us could be on the court at any time and he trusts the both of us equally," Thompson said. "So we just try to do our best and give Coach Mitchell whatever it is he's looking for when one of us is on the floor."
The two have come to complement each other well on the court, but that starts well before tip-off.
"I think that starts off the court," Thompson said. "Me and Jennifer have a really good relationship and then that just transfers onto the court."
That's not just idle talk or a quote that sounds good in a press conference either.
"They're really trying to come together," Mitchell said. "I saw them today at pregame meal sitting beside each other. Walked over to CATS (UK's tutoring center), I was driving back after pregame meal, they're walking, they're together."
Together, Thompson and O'Neill are guiding an offense that is clicking on all cylinders. The Cats dished out 22 assists against Lipscomb, marking the fourth straight game they have topped the 20-assist mark.
"That's almost unheard of," said Bria Goss, UK's leading scorer with 18 points. "I've never heard anything like that before, but that just kind of shows you where we are as a team right now."
Goss was one of eight Wildcats to score in double figures, something that had never before happened in school history.
"All of the players are working hard and have put our team in a good position," Mitchell said. "We need to stay very humble, work very hard and stay hungry in practice every day. When we do that we will have a lot of opportunities to win some big games this year and play well."
Four minutes rarely amounts to much in the lives of the 18-22-year olds who make up the teams remaining in the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament, but in 2013 that amount of time served as a blessing in disguise for Kentucky.
The Wildcats became a group of walking wounded late in the regular season due to the piling up of injury upon injury. Come last Friday's first-round game, the Wildcats had to recall a player who was thought to be out for the season: Courtney Raetzman.
In fact the UK staff had applied to officially end her season so as to grant her an entire additional season of eligibility due to injury hardship, but NCAA rules denied the request.
The technicality? She had played four minutes too many to qualify for a medical redshirt.
Those four minutes may have seemed trivial if not cruel earlier this season, but as it turned out they were key in allowing the Wildcats to advance to Friday's 10:30 p.m. ET second-round matchup at UCLA.
Raetzman was a revelation in UK's first-round victory over Ohio State.
Her performance was all-the-more impressive given she was wearing what looked to be an extremely restrictive brace, apparently to protect against reinjury.
"We've got a gutsy kid in Courtney Raetzman that was back," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "I mean, Courtney has been out since the seventh game of the year. She actually played four minutes too much for us to be able to look at redshirting her this year, so everything that she did was, I'm going to find a way back, I'm going to find a way, I'm going to get back on the field.
"And a week ago, she wasn't even really going full-go in training. Just two days ago, she was finally cleared to train, tackle, do everything. For that kid to come back in and play like that, it's unbelievable."
The impact of Raetzman's play cannot be overstated, and her return helped UK in tactical terms, but the comeback also was also helpful in ways less quantifiable. When a player works that hard and gets back onto the pitch so quickly and so effectively, teammates apparently take a great deal of inspiration.
"Anytime you get a player back on the field from injury, it's great," All-SEC forward Arin Gilliland said. "We're a family here and being able to have someone on the field that really makes a difference once again is a great feeling and it brings so much energy back to the field and it gets everyone excited."
The team's excitement at Raetzman's return translated into goals galore and a win, but similar stories have been widespread across the team in 2013. Such unexpected stories of perseverance seem necessary for a team like UK, which has lost so much talent because of injury to be able to make it as far as UK has.
Caitlin Landis's 2013 journey is yet another example of a player who spent part of the season on the periphery of Lipsitz's first choice lineup only to play a pivotal role once the NCAA Tournament came around.
Landis, a senior, began the season by losing a starting place which she had held for much of her career, but like many other Wildcats, injuries to others forced her back into heavy playing time.
Apparently the adversity brought out a new level in Landis's game, which was on full display when the forward opened the scoring in the 3-1 win over Ohio State.
"The way she sees the field and her ability to play other players in now is something she didn't have before," Lipsitz said earlier this season. "She was not starting early in the year, and we made some adjustments ... She has put a stranglehold on it ever since. I hope she feels like I was totally wrong when I wasn't starting her early.
"I hope she looks at me every day and thinks, 'You are an idiot,' because I want my players to want to be on the field and think they deserve to be. She was ready when her number was called and she's been ready ever since."
And then there's the case of Ashley VanLandingham, whose season has in many ways been best exemplified by not even four minutes, but only a matter of seconds.
The senior captain started the trend of UK women's soccer players suffering untimely injuries as she was declared out for the season with a knee problem last spring.
Nonetheless she was named a team captain, and served this season as UK's loudest player offering support from the sidelines during games and as one of the Wildcats' most influential leaders.
VanLandingham's symbolic minutes came on senior day, when she started the game with the opening kickoff being played out of bounds before she showed her rehab progress by jogging off for an immediate substitute. The move was a nice in-game touch of ceremony, which served as a sort of reward for a player who had given so much to the program.
"I had recruited Ashley to go to Charlotte when I was coach there as she is from North Carolina," Lipsitz said. "What a leap of faith on her part to come play here at Kentucky. That's special, but as much fun as it was to watch her on the field her progression as a leader this year despite not playing is the most special thing of all."
The senior captain's one minute of play this season had almost no direct impact on the events, which transpired on the field during UK's game that day or any other wins. Yet, just like Raetzman's return or Landis' ability to be a team-first player while on the bench, the ceremonial start represented off-field work, which helped UK in ways less visible but still important.
With the Tigers facing a one-point deficit and a fourth-and-18, quarterback Nick Marshall tossed a desperation heave over the middle of the field. Two Bulldog defenders converged and Josh Harvey-Clemons got a hand on the pass, but it deflected ahead to Ricardo Louis' for a game-winning 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left.
Stoops knows how the Bulldog staff coached its players to defend that situation, but also that predicting how anyone will react in the heat of the moment is impossible.
"Sometimes players' instincts take over," Stoops said. "They had two guys that are trying to make a play, with great effort, and it's unfortunate for them. But I know they talk about it and we talk about you have to knock it down right there."
The loss was the latest in the latest of a string of misfortunes for Georgia (6-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference). The Bulldogs opened the season ranked No. 5 but lost at Clemson in week one before climbing back to No. 7 in early October.
It was then that injuries -- particularly at wide receiver and running back -- befell the Bulldogs, who have lost three of five games in spite of holding fourth-quarter leads in each defeat. Never, however, has Georgia packed it in, not even down 20 in the fourth quarter on the road against a top-10 Auburn team.
The same will surely be true when Kentucky (2-8, 0-6 SEC) travels to Athens, Ga., for a game on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
"That's what I was so impressed with," Stoops said. "You know, kind of a fluke play to lose it, but to see them battle back, we had a chance to watch it on the way back (from UK's game in Nashville on Saturday). It was on the bus, we had satellite and were actually watching that game and just watching it live and then watching it on film."
That never-say-day attitude, in Stoops' opinion, begins with Georgia's quarterback and senior leader. Aaron Murray's name is all over the SEC's passing record books, as he now occupies the top spot in touchdown passes, total offense, passing yards and completions.
"He just knows where to go with the ball at all times and is a great leader and on top of that, he's got a very strong arm and a very accurate passer," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "I'd say the biggest thing about him is he's just so intelligent with how to handle the game."
Murray's leadership through adversity is what most impresses Stoops.
He has managed to throw for 2,892 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013 with many of his top weapons sidelined, including 415 yards against Auburn. Nine Bulldogs have at least 10 receptions on the season, including leading receiver Chris Conley (32 catches for 442 yards), who returned against Auburn after missing two games with a sprained ankle.
Also back in the lineup is sophomore running back Todd Gurley, who has 704 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in just seven games played and two starts. His presence is a game changer.
"(Defending a balanced offense) is always hard, so you've got to make sure that your defense is made where you're making the right call at the right time, you know," Eliot said. "If I want to stop the run, I've got to have a run called. If I want to stop the pass, I've got to have a pass called. That makes it very difficult."
Particularly in the passing game, UK's challenge against Georgia will be much different than the one it faced at Vanderbilt. The Commodores relied heavily on Jordan Matthews -- who caught 12 passes for 141 yards -- but Murray figures to spread the wealth.
The Wildcat secondary is still in search of its first interception of the season -- a statistic that both befuddles and maddens Stoops -- and now UK will look to get it against one of the best quarterbacks the SEC has seen.
"It's right there sometimes and just hasn't gone our way it seems like," Eliot said. "But it will. It will. We keep putting them in position, those kids keep fighting hard, we'll start making our side of the plays."
Georgia has made more than its share of plays on defense, particularly behind a stout defensive line. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC in sacks with 28 and have hurried the opposing quarterback an incredible 93 times. For the sake of comparison, Georgia has given up just 12 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries.
"It's going to be tough," offensive guard Kevin Mitchell said. "Fortunately we're not too banged up. Hopefully we're all going to be playing. Every week we go against good D-lines."
Mitchell has contended with a variety of maladies this season, ranging from a bruised knee to regular stingers to an ankle injury to balky AC joints, but has refused to let any of them affect his senior season for too long.
That kind of mentality has become more and more common as Stoops' first season in Lexington has worn on. The losses may be tough to take, but the Cats -- much like their opponent this weekend -- have refused to wilt.
"I think you're starting to see more accountability on this team as guys understand us and start understanding that whether it's off the field or little things, it all matters," Stoops said. "And I think we're starting to get some leadership."
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
Mark Stoops spoke to reporters on Wednesday for the final time before Kentucky's Saturday trip to Georgia. Once again, the Wildcats delivered the kind of effort he expects.
"Moving forward with the week," Stoops said. "Got some good work in today, and I thought our energy was good, thought the guys were practicing hard and doing as best we can. So, moving forward, looking forward to getting on with the preparation for Georgia."
Playing an important role in that preparation, both this week and all season, has been UK's scout team. Each week, the Wildcat backups are tasked with simulating the upcoming opponent's scheme while also working to improve.
Included in that group is a handful of players redshirting this season who might not be seeing the field, but that certainly doesn't mean they are putting in less work. In fact, they are in the weight room much more often with an eye on contributing next season and beyond.
"They do more than our travel team," Stoops said. "The guys that are redshirting and not playing are lifting much heavier and of course, when we're traveling and things like that, they get in some extra lifts over the weekend. So they are gaining some weight and getting some strength."
Freshman defensive lineman Regie Meant is foremost among those weight-gainers, as he now comes in at around 290 pounds according to his coach. Meant, at times, has been a menace on the scout team, drawing the praise of the offensive coordinator who calls plays against him.
"Regie Meant, he's gonna be a big factor," Neal Brown said. "I don't want to speak for D.J. or Mark, but he's gonna be a major factor in what they're doing."
Stoops also mentioned defensive lineman Jacob Hyde as a player who has improved his physique and flexibility and he was the first player Jalen Whitlow named when asked about the scout team. Amusingly, Whitlow compared the Manchester, Ky., native to the cartoon character Binky, a bulldog from the children's television show and book series.
"He is an animal out there sometimes," Whitlow said.
UK's crop of redshirting offensive linemen has been impressive as well, particularly Ramsey Meyers and Kyle Meadows. In fact, when asked which redshirt players could contend for immediate starting roles, Stoops named both.
"Ramsey's a guy that jumps out, Ramsey Meyers, right away," Stoops said. "He's got good size to him. I want to say he's in the 330 range right now. And again, he plays very hard. He's nasty and athletic. He's a guy that can help us inside definitely. Kyle Meadows. I like Kyle and all those guys, really."
Watching their development, Brown believes both Meyers and Meadows would provide needed depth right now. Even so, he knows redshirting both was the right decision.
"I just believe from a wear-and-tear point up front, I think the right thing is to redshirt those guys," Brown said. "They're gonna be so much better as redshirt freshmen. They have a chance to have four great years, where this year it would have been up and down."
Drake -- who will apply for a medical redshirt -- is now in the beginning stages an arduous recovery process that is expected to last seven to eight months.
Mitchell hopes Drake can return in time for the 2014-15 season. If her early approach to the injury is any indication, there's a good chance she will.
"I have been really proud of Samantha, she has responded with a very positive attitude and that is what she needs," Mitchell said. "The only thing we can do now is prepare every day to get herself into a position to get back on that court. It won't be this season, but she can get back on the court next season."
Drake is now the second Wildcat lost for the year, joining freshman Kyvin Goodin-Rogers. Goodin-Rogers was diagnosed with a blood clot before the season and recently returned to limited non-contact workouts, but is still being treated with blood-thinning medication.
"You never know why these things happen, but you have to learn the lesson that is there and you only do that by positive attitude and moving forward in a positive way," Mitchell said. "Both of those kids are doing that and I am proud of the team because they are rallying around them and helping them a lot. It is a good atmosphere from that standpoint."
Drake and Goodin-Rogers are around the team as much as possible while they sit out, but the fact remains that UK has games to play without them, starting on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum against Lipscomb.
The Wildcats began the season counting depth in the post as a strength, but are now down to starters DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker and reserves Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney. Stallworth and Walker have played up to expectations thus far, while Bishop has put together arguably her most extended stretch of solid play of her career, making the blow to UK's depth easier to absorb.
"We are fortunate that Azia is playing well, but we had six post players that can play and had talent and could really go," Mitchell said. "Now, we have four that can play and that is a good situation to be in as well."
Playing 15 minutes a game, Bishop has been one of UK's most productive players on a per-minute basis. She is averaging 7.8 points and 6.8 rebounds and has tallied 20 points, 21 rebounds and six blocks over her last two games.
The 6-foot-3 Bishop has had more than her share of moments during which her talent has been on full display, but never before has she been so well-positioned to turn potential into consistent production.
"This has been some sustained progress and that is where we need to be and where we have to stay with Azia," Mitchell said. "We have to keep her progressing. She seems to be in a great spot mentally and emotionally and those are key to you being able to go out and really turn loose and let your physical gifts shine."
Even if Bishop does become the player Mitchell knows she can be on a nightly basis, he knows there will come a time when foul trouble or other circumstances will force him to turn to a backup plan. Fortunately for the Cats, Mitchell has plenty of experience coaching a smaller lineup. UK began its run of success under Mitchell primarily playing four-guard lineups and he won't be afraid to turn to them again this year.
He already has a couple players in mind he believes can play out of position in a pinch.
"We've had a lot of success in the past here with some four-guard lineups and so I think Makayla (Epps) and Kastine (Evans) need to get comfortable with knowing the post position," Mitchell said.
Epps and Evans may be just 5-foot-10 and 5-8, respectively, but they each have a skillset that will allow them to succeed in a more post-oriented role.
"Makayla's strength can help her on defense," Mitchell said. "Get lower and be stronger and maybe keep a taller player away from the basket. She's very athletic, can jump and is very strong on the boards. Kastine's very, very sharp and knows all the plays and plays really hard."
A senior, Evans has proven her willingness to so whatever is asked of her time and time again, from starting to coming off the bench to playing the perimeter to playing the post. Mitchell has been around long enough to understand how precious that kind of team-first mentality is. That's why he was so thankful to see the same thing in Epps even though she's a highly touted freshman when he approached her on Wednesday about stepping into the post.
"Makayla was just very excited about whatever she can do to help the team, whether it's point guard or playing in the post and two or the three. That's a very rare talent, a very rare player, but it's more rare to have a kid with an attitude like she has, that I'll just do whatever you want me to do."
Five games in, the Wildcats are well on their way to proving him right.
"Our whole team can score," James Young said. "If we all have open shots, we just tell them to take it because we can all score or get to the basket. If a guy has a hot hand for the night, we just try to get them the ball as much as we can."
Tuesday night was Young's, as the freshman guard became the third Kentucky player to reach the mark. He poured in 26 points in UK's 105-76 win over Texas-Arlington in Rupp Arena, following in the footsteps of teammates Julius Randle -- who had his fifth straight double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds -- and Aaron Harrison in breaking Coach Cal's 25-point barrier.
"When you're 8 for 14 the way he played," Calipari said. "He had three assists, no (turnovers), played pretty good."
It took a little coaching from Calipari to make it happen.
Through his first four games, Young -- whom Coach Cal regularly calls the nation's best shooter -- had shot just 35.5 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range. Watching the tape from UK's win over Robert Morris on Sunday, Calipari noticed Young's problems were primarily mechanical.
He observed that Young was leaning back on his shot and not setting his feet, so Calipari summoned him into his office on Monday.
"You lean your shoulders back because your legs aren't under you and you're trying to get a little more oomph on your shot, and when you do that, you're basically fading away," Calipari said. "You're not going to be an aggressive consistent shooter on fade-away shots."
Unaccustomed to missing so regularly, Young applied his coach's advice willingly and immediately.
"I was frustrated," Young said. "I usually make shots, so when Coach Cal showed me that, I was just mind-blown. We easily fixed it."
Young would score 15 points on Tuesday before he missed a shot, rendering his struggles a distant memory. On the night, he made 5-of-10 3-pointers and 5-of-7 free throws.
"When I saw that most of the mechanics was right and just doing what Coach Cal told me to, I knew it was going to be a good night shooting," Young said.
To ensure that continues, Calipari is challenging Young. Even though shooting has always come naturally to the lefty, Young needs to hone his craft, says Coach Cal.
"He's one of those ones that you've got to love to get into the gym more," Calipari said. "Just get in there and shoot. You're 12 steps, you walk across the street."
But even if he does that, Young knows he won't be hitting shots every night. For that reason, he knows he needs to learn to respond better to misses. He's valuable to this Kentucky team in too many ways to disappear entirely because of a brick or two.
"I tend to put my head down a lot when I miss shots so he's just been getting on me and just saying let the shot go and keep moving on," Young said. "There will be more shots. I just listen to him and try not to put my head down and just keep moving on with the game."
And even if he did become the first shooter to ever avoid the occasional off night, Young is surrounded by too much talent to expect to be the featured scorer every time out.
"I can't score as much because we have a lot of people that can score," Young said. "If it's somebody's night, we just try to get them the ball as much as we can and I guess tonight was my night. They tried to get me the ball as much as they can and I just tried staying with my normal form and just getting some open shots I was hitting."
Young is one of three players to lead Kentucky in shot attempts through three games, and more will surely join the club in the coming weeks and months.
"We got too many guys that have that kind of talent so you know that some games you're feeling it you're going to get 10 or 12 (shots) and some games you're going to get four," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. "That's just how it is here."
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
Though he's a native of Youngstown, Ohio, Mark Stoops has grown accustomed to mild winters. He's made coaching stops at Houston, Miami, Arizona and Florida State since 2000.
Now at Kentucky, Stoops is once again becoming acclimated to cold November practices. On Tuesday, UK practiced in the coldest temperatures of the year.
"Pretty decent practice," Stoops said. "Little bit cool out there today, but the energy was up. Guys were moving around, bouncing around good, so overall fairly pleased with the practice."
Headed to Athens, Ga., (Saturday forecast: 62 degrees and rainy) this weekend for a game against Georgia, Stoops won't need to bundle up this weekend, but the Cats will have to prepare for a Bulldog offense that has rolled up 856 yards passing over its last two games. That starts with star senior quarterback Aaron Murray.
"They're very good and very efficient," Stoops said. "They have a lot of balance in their offense, and so when they need to throw it -- like you saw at the end of that game last week -- they can throw it as good as anybody, really. I think they have a really good group of receivers, good tight ends. They like hitting the back (Todd Gurley) and checking it down to him as well. But Murray's just a very special quarterback."
A young secondary is in for a test, particularly with junior corner Nate Willis unlikely to travel. It's a group that is without an interception this season -- UK's lone pick was by linebacker Josh Forrest -- a fact not lost on Stoops. His background is as a defensive backs coach, so he's having to balance between using the lack of interceptions as motivation and preserving confidence.
"There's a line," Stoops said. "There's definitely a line between beating them down and getting them to, you know. It'd be good to cover them and knock the ball down sometimes as well, honestly."
Over the Cats' last two games, they've dealt with Dorial Green-Beckham of Missouri and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, two players sure to play on Sundays. Georgia, only now recovering from a rash of injuries at skill positions, might not have that kind of top-end talent, but will still be a test.
"We'll have our hands full each and every week in this league, but we're improving and we'll be out there ready to play," Stoops said.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 17:
Women's soccer: Arin Gilliland
Arin Gilliland, who is a MAC Hermann Award Watch List candidate, scored the game-winning goal in the 53rd minute, collecting her team-leading 12th goal of the season on a breakaway slotted far post. Gilliland also tabbed an assist on Kentucky's third goal from, freshman Zoe Swift, for her fourth multi-point game of the season, which also leads the team and ties for the SEC lead.
Women's soccer: Caitlin Landis
Caitlin Landis scored the game-opening goal in the 50th minute, putting home a rebound off a re-fire from a corner kick. The goal for the senior was her fourth of the season as she put Kentucky up 1-0 early.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Senior Alexandra Morgan had a tremendous week for the Wildcats as UK went 2-0 with a pair of sweeps on the road at Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Morgan opened the weekend by leading UK to a season-high 19 blocks. The Birmingham, Ala., native had a career-high 11 rejections which marked the most blocks by a Wildcat in a single match in the 25-point rally scoring era. She also contributed seven kills on a .438 hitting clip, as UK as a unit only managed to hit at a .186 clip. Against Ole Miss, she again led the squad with six total blocks to run her total to 17 for the two matches at a rate of a stunning 2.83 per set. She added six kills on .400 hitting. For the weekend, Morgan went errorless with 13 kills at a .419 clip and registered 4.00 points per set, just behind Whitney Billings' 4.08 per set who plays in every rotation.
Men's basketball: Julius Randle
- Recorded a double-double in both games this week. He's just the fifth player in program history to begin the season with four-straight double-doubles, and the first since Reggie Hanson achieved the feat to begin the 1989-90 season.
- His 27-point, 13-rebound effort against Michigan State gave him a third-straight 20-point, 10-rebound game to become the first Division I freshman to open with three-straight 20-10 games since Kansas State's Michael Beasley in 2007.
- His 54 rebounds to begin his career are the most of any player in the John Calipari era.
- Had a career-high two blocks against Robert Morris.
- Scored 23 points and had nine rebounds as UK erased a 14-point second half deficit to even the game late in the second half vs. No. 2 Michigan State.
Men's basketball: James Young
- Had a break-out offensive weekend for the Wildcats with a career-high 19 points against second-ranked Michigan State
- Scored in double-figures in both games this week
- Has sunk at least one 3-pointer in all four games this season for UK
- Had career-highs of points, rebounds and field goals made against Michigan State
- Logged career-highs in assists (3) and steals (2) in a win over Robert Morris
- UK went 1-1 on the week with a 78-74 loss to No. 2 Michigan State and an 87-49 victory over Robert Morris on Sunday.
- Freshman Julius Randle logged a pair of double-doubles during the week to become the first UK player since Reggie Hanson in 1989-90 to begin the season with four-straight double-doubles. Randle had 27 points and 13 rebounds against Michigan State to become the first D-I freshman to open his career with three-straight 20-10 outings since Kansas State's Michael Beasley in 2007.
- Fellow freshman James Young poured in 19 points against the Spartans and followed with a 10-point outing against Robert Morris.
- No. 7/8 Kentucky improved to 4-0 with wins over Georgia Southern (103-38) and Central Michigan (96-74) at home last week.
- Six players scored in double figures vs. GSU led by senior Bernisha Pinkett who came off the bench and scored a game- and season-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. Senior Kastine Evans netted a season-high tying 15 points, while seniors DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker added 13 and 12 points, respectively. Junior Azia Bishop came off the bench for her second career double-double with 10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in just 15 minutes of action and freshman Linnae Harper scored a career-high 13 points.
- Against Central Michigan, six players once again hit the double-digit mark, this time paced by Stallworth with a season-high 21 points. Sophomore Janee Thompson registered career highs in minutes played (28), points (17), field goals attempted (12) and steals (6), while tying her career high in rebounds (4). Walker notched her first double-double of the season and 12th of her career with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Bishop finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks.
- Cally Macumber earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship by finishing second individually at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships on Friday. With the result, Macumber was named to the All-Southeast Region Team for the second straight season. Macumber led the UK women's team to a fifth-place finish, as the Wildcats ended up with 186 points.
- Seniors Allison Peare and Anna Bostrom worked together to place 30th and 36th respectively with times of 21:22.20 and 21:25.90.
- The UK men's team finished 12th overall with 336 points. Seniors Matt Hillenbrand and Adam Kahleifeh finished 30th and 53rd respectively with times of 29:59.60 of 30:38.30.
- The Kentucky football team fell in a hard-fought defensive battle over the weekend at Vanderbilt, 22-6. The UK defense played one of its better games by limiting Vanderbilt to 22 points, which was the Commodores' fewest output in the last 16 games.
- Senior defensive lineman Donte Rumph had a career game for UK, recording a career-best 10 tackles to go along with a tackle for loss. Junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree had 1.5 sacks in the game, while fellow junior Za'Darius Smith had half a sack.
- The Kentucky offense rushed for 142 yards in the game, the second most vs. an SEC opponent this season. Jalen Whitlow, Raymond Sanders and Jojo Kemp all have rushed for more than 400 yards this season, the first time UK has had three Cats surpass 400 rushing yards in a season since 1986.
- The Kentucky men's soccer team completed its 2013 season with a 1-0 loss to the host and eventual champion Charlotte 49ers in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament on Friday.
- UK's berth in the C-USA Tournament Semifinals marked the first back-to-back trips to the semifinals in program history. UK had three underclassmen named C-USA All-Tournament Team, sophomore keeper Callum Irving, and freshmen defenders Charlie Reymann and Jordan Wilson.
- Kentucky won its first round match of the NCAA Tournament, 3-1, over Ohio State on Friday night, marking the first time in program history that Kentucky has advanced in the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons
- Caitlin Landis scored the game-opening goal in the 50th minute. Arin Gilliland scored the game-winning goal in the 53rd minute, collecting her team-leading 12th goal of the season on a breakaway slotted far post. Gilliland also tabbed an assist on Kentucky's third goal from freshman Zoe Swift for her fourth multi-point game of the season, which also leads the team and ties for the SEC lead.
- The Kentucky volleyball team enjoyed a 2-0 road swing through the Magnolia state with 3-0 sweeps at Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
- UK began the week with a season-high 19 blocks to take down the Bulldogs. Senior Alexandra Morgan had a career-high 11 rejections which marked the most blocks by a Wildcat in a single match in the 25-point rally scoring era against the Bulldogs.
- Against Ole Miss, Morgan again led the team with six blocks to run her total for the week to 17 and a 2.83 block per set rate. She also went errorless on the weekend with 13 kills at a .419 rate. Senior Whitney Billings led the offense against the Rebels with 11 kills, while also adding eight digs to her stat line.
Tuesday, Nov. 19
Men's Basketball vs. Texas-Arlington - 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 21
Women's Basketball vs. Lipscomb - 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 22
Volleyball vs. Texas A&M - 7 p.m.
Women's Soccer at UCLA - 10:30 p.m. (NCAA Tournament)
Swimming & Diving at Ohio State Invitational - All Day
Saturday, Nov. 23
Football at Georgia - 7 p.m.
Rifle at Alaska - All Day
Cross Country at NCAA Championships - TBA
Swimming & Diving at Ohio State Invitational - All Day
Sunday, Nov. 24
Volleyball vs. Missouri - 1:30 p.m.
Women's Basketball at Middle Tennessee State - 3 p.m.
Swimming & Diving at Ohio State Invitational - All Day
Rifle at Alaska - All Day
But by Monday, Stoops had come to realize that his team isn't the same one that dropped tough road games at South Carolina and Mississippi State.
"I think you're starting to see more accountability on this team as guys understand us and start understanding that whether it's off the field or little things, it all matters," Stoops said on Monday, "and I think we're starting to get some leadership."
That leadership translated on the field, as Stoops was more pleased with his team's overall effort than he has been at any point this season, in spite of the 22-6 final score.
"I thought last week was as good as we've played all year with that mentality, a toughness and a desire and a hunger across the board to go out and win," Stoops said.
The Cats were particularly sound on defense, holding the dangerous Commodores to 313 yards of total offense, the fewest for a UK opponent in Southeastern Conference play this season. Vandy's first touchdown of the game came on a short field following an interception and the only other on a fourth-down jump pass with less than a minute left.
"Defensively definitely our best outing since we've been here," Stoops said. "I thought we really did some good things and played well."
UK didn't execute quite as well offensively, but it wasn't for a lack of trying.
"I thought we played very hard," Stoops said. "On either side of the ball, and in special teams, we're not always the smartest and we don't always execute everything perfectly, but I thought for a team effort, that was as good an effort and the attitude was right and the fight was right, and that's something that I'm proud of and happy to see."
Stoops feels Bulldogs' pain after Auburn loss
Georgia played in arguably the game of the season over the weekend, falling in heartbreaking fashion at Auburn.
The Bulldogs mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback, rallying from a 20-point deficit to take a 38-37 lead in the final minutes behind start quarterback Aaron Murray. Georgia was a play away from sealing the upset on the next drive, but Nick Marshall's downfield heave on fourth-and-18 deflected off the hands of safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and to Ricardo Louis for a game-winning touchdown that will be on highlight reels for years to come.
"You know, that was an extremely tough loss," Stoops said. "I mean, unbelievable to see the way they battled back and to take that lead and to have an opportunity to win. That's what I was so impressed with."
In a bus on the way home from Nashville, the Cats watched the crazy finish.
"Unbelievable effort by that team, and you see the leadership with Murray and the talent around him to come back and take that lead and really--I'm sure they're sitting there kicking themselves, should have won," Stoops said.
That sympathy, however, only extends so far as UK prepares to travel to Athens, Ga., for a game at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday.
"It'll be another great challenge for us, a team that's led by a terrific quarterback, fantastic running back (Todd Gurley)," Stoops said. "They're a big, physical, athletic team across the board. It'll be a good challenge, and looking forward to getting out there and playing again."
Recruiting signs still positive
Since Stoops and his coaching staff arrived nearly a year, they have made waves on the recruiting trail.
It started with a 2013 signing class that was the highest-rated ever for Kentucky according to Rivals.com and has continued in 2014. Due to NCAA rules, Stoops can't comment specifically on unsigned prospects, but he continues to be pleased with the way UK's message is being received on the trail.
"I feel very good about the way things are going in '14 and off to a good start in '15," Stoops said. "You know, makes me very optimistic about the future. I think we're recruiting some great leaders, some great young men that will help our program."
But even if those two classes come together as Stoops believes they will, the work isn't done. In his words, "It takes time."
"So I think you see our freshman class this year being very good," Stoops said. "I think you know the '14 class is going to be a very good class. It's going to be a great class. And I anticipate those guys having a good impact on our program.
"Then you let them grow up a little bit and you let them get another year older and you bring in another good class on top of that, possibly a couple (junior-college) guys here and there, and you start putting together a very good team."
In talking at length about years to come, Stoops caught himself. He refuses to sacrifice the present for UK football's far-off future.
"I like our locker room," Stoops said. "We're improving. We're going to improve it next year, and we're going to improve it the year after that. We're building. We're going to win, and I can't tell you when, but I hope it's this week."
Update on 'banged-up' Cats
Like any team in mid-November, Kentucky is far from full strength entering this weekend's game.
TraVaughn Paschal is doubtful and Khalid Henderson will play in his place at weak-side linebacker. Cornerback Nate Willis is also doubtful, so UK will start Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller at the two corner spots.
The Vandy game was a tough one for the UK offensive line, as both Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller exited with injuries. Stoops, however, anticipates that both will be available. The same goes for wide receiver Ryan Timmons, who was limited to "four or five plays" by ankle injury.
Max Godby or Teven Eatmon-Nared
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
In fact, there are times when he even has to pull back on the reins with the freshman guard.
"The kid works so hard," Calipari said. "His heart rate is--I have to stop him because I'm afraid he's going to fall out."
Hawkins came to Kentucky as the final piece of a top-ranked recruiting class and the least-heralded of the eight Wildcat freshmen, leading most to assume the Richmond, Ky., native's future as a regular contributor was likely a year or more down the road. But just weeks into the season, Hawkins' tireless effort has become impossible to ignore.
He earned first-half playing time against Michigan State, holding his own in a 1-2 matchup. In the days that followed, Calipari said Hawkins' role would expand further.
In an 87-49 win over Robert Morris on Sunday, it was clear why.
"Coach Cal puts me in there to turn up on defense, give more energy," Hawkins said. "I know my role. What I'm supposed to do is put pressure on the ball and get our defense going. I'm doing great right now, I feel like, and Coach has been telling me to continue with the hard work that I'm doing."
A look at the final box score from the Wildcats' supposed revenge victory over the Colonials -- who ended UK's season a year ago in the NIT -- and Hawkins doesn't seem to have been a major factor. He scored four points -- the first of his college career -- and had three assists, a block, a steal and a rebound, but his impact went far beyond statistics.
Hawkins checked in at the 17:05 mark provided an instant shock of energy. Taking over the responsibility of hounding the opposing point guard even though he plays the wing on offense, Hawkins spearheaded the UK defense for all of his 18 minutes, often in a press that Calipari turned to extensively for the first time.
"Well, today when I was in I was putting a lot of pressure," Hawkins said. "Everybody sees me working hard and it's going to rub on everybody else and they're going to want to work harder. When everybody works hard, we're able to put a lot of pressure on the ball, get turnovers."
Given Hawkins' presence, it should come as little surprise the Cats turned in their best defensive performance of the season.
Robert Morris managed just 0.662 points per possession after averaging 1.165 in its first three games, shooting 23.2 percent from the field. UK forced 14 turnovers -- double the seven Michigan State committed on Tuesday -- and had 16 fast-break points after managing just two in the loss.
Hawkins had something to do with all of that.
"He just goes up and he adds energy to the game," Calipari said. "You saw how hard he runs the court so we could throw to him, so we could throw lobs, so we could throw to the post."
If the increased minutes weren't proof enough, Calipari said postgame that he is confident turning to Hawkins. His teammates, though many of them didn't know of Hawkins until he arrived this summer, have come to feel the same way.
"We all know how good Dominique is," said Aaron Harrison, who poured in a game-high 28 points. "Especially people that are from Kentucky, how he carried his team to the state championship and all that by himself. In practice he's definitely a force to be reckoned with, he's really strong, one of the most athletic guys on the team and he makes me a lot better too."
Playing on the White team in practice, Hawkins most often matchup up with Harrison, qualifying the elder of the two Harrison twins to speak on the experience of facing off against the 6-footer. Hawkins might be at a disadvantage on the practice floor when it comes to size and stars given by recruiting services, but he never backs down.
"Whoever I'm guarding, I'm pushing them and making sure they're going hard. If I'm not going hard on defense, then I'm not pushing myself," Hawkins said. "I'm pushing myself and when I'm pushing myself it's helping everybody else on the court."
In doing so, he's earned the respect of his coach and fellow Cats, as well as minutes.
Though it may come as a surprise to some he has carved out a niche so early on a team regarded by many as the most talented in the nation, Hawkins always believed he would play his way onto the floor.
"I envisioned myself playing a little bit," Hawkins said. "Not a ton, not starting, but I knew I was going to be able to find my role. Whatever my role is, I was going to just play it well."
The role, however, is a significant departure from the one to which he was accustomed in high school.
As Harrison noted, Hawkins was the featured player on a Madison Central team that won the Boys' Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena last spring. He averaged 20.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.8 steals during the tournament in catching Calipari's eye and earning an offer to attend the school he had always cheered on as a fan.
It's been an adjustment to move into a supporting role, but one he's happy to make.
"Without the ball, it does feel really weird because in high school I had it almost every time," Hawkins said. "But I like how I play with this team and it's my role not to have the ball as much. If we're able to win, I'm fine with it."
Naturally, they asked about the reason behind his limp, wondering whether his status might be affected for Kentucky's final two games.
Rumph smiled at the question, almost as if to suggest the pain wasn't even worth acknowledging.
"Just football," Rumph said.
The bumps and bruises were well-earned on Saturday, as Rumph tallied 10 tackles, including one for loss, in UK's 22-6 defeat at Vanderbilt. Coming up with stops at a rate uncharacteristic for a defensive tackle, Rumph agreed the performance was likely the best of his career.
"I think so, but I don't try to pay attention to stats," Rumph said. "I just try to do my job and just try to pull out a win for my brothers and my teammates."
Rumph may have fallen just short of that victory, but it was not for a lack of trying, particularly on the part of his defensive unit.
UK held the Commodores to 313 yards and just 3.1 yards per carry. Vanderbilt was stuck on nine points entering the fourth quarter and the Commodores' first touchdown came on a short field following one of Jalen Whitlow's four interceptions, while the other was on a fourth-down jump pass with less than a minute left and the outcome all but decided.
Vandy generated most of its offense through star receiver Jordan Matthews, who caught 12 passes for 141 yards. Adding in his 31 rushing yards, Matthews accounted for more than half of the Commodores' total offense.
"Other than that," Stoops said of Matthews' big say, "I thought defense played extremely hard and very well. A lot of good stops."
Rumph was in the middle of more than his fair share of plays, but his presence had something to do with them all. The senior seemed to inspire his teammates from the game's opening drive.
"I try to lead by action," Rumph said. "I'm not really a vocal guy on defense. I just try to lead by actions and just do my job. That's it. And just do my job. Nothing incredible, nothing extraordinary. Just do my job."
Rumph's UK career is nearing its end and his chances at playing in a bowl evaporated with last week's loss to Missouri. That doesn't mean he's about to stop.
His teammates are taking notice.
"I feel like he's fighting hard for us and it's remarkable to see the fight because we don't have anything to play for now but our team," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "These guys come out here each week still playing hard, still going for a win and I salute them for coming out and trying each week. It shows the character we have on this team."
Williamson is included in that group of seniors who are refusing to let the disappointment of a losing season sap their effort. The veterans won't be on the field to reap the benefits of the foundation for the future of UK football they are helping to build, but that doesn't diminish the importance of their role.
"That makes me feel good because those guys, they haven't quit on us," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "They're still playing, doing everything they can to help the team win and just trying to get a W. When you got seniors like that that are going to put that type of effort into it, it makes you feel good."
With just two games left in a Kentucky uniform, Rumph has begun to reflect on his four seasons in Lexington. The mounting losses are increasingly more disappointing, but Saturday is proof that Rumph isn't letting them get to him.
"It's definitely emotional, especially as a senior, knowing there's no looking back," Rumph said. "But, I mean, it's just your motivation. Be competitive in football. You can't just give up because your season's going the way you don't want it to and I can't give up on my teammates. I gotta come out and give my hardest every day."
Jon Lipsitz saw an opportunity.
His team having finally broken through five minutes into the second half on a goal by Caitlin Landis, Lipsitz shouted from the bench, "Intensity."
Not willing to settle for a 1-0 lead in Kentucky's NCAA Tournament opener against Ohio State, he demanded more. Lipsitz wanted the Wildcats to go in for the kill.
"That's what I sensed," Lipsitz said. "That it was the moment and it was time and not to let them off the hook."
In less than three minutes, the Cats delivered.
Following through on her coach's sideline direction, Arin Gilliland created a breakaway chance with a tackle at midfield and raced into the box before calmly slotting a shot far post past the outstretch hands of Buckeye keeper Jillian McVicker.
Gilliland's approach in tallying her team-high 11th goal was but one example of the relentlessness Lipsitz wants his players to show.
"I wanted our forwards to have a mentality where you're just assassins," Lipsitz said. "You just refuse to be stopped and you're just going to go and go and go."
On Friday night, they went and went and went.
Each member of the the attacking trio of Gilliland, Landis and Zoe Swift scored a goal in Kentucky's 3-1 win over Ohio State. They fired 19 shots between the three of them and tallied a pair of assists.
"We literally were probably in each other's head is how I felt," Gilliland said. "Anytime I would look up and want them to be in a certain spot, they were there. And I'm sure they felt the exact same way. It was just this connection we had today in the game and it's a soccer player's dream to have that."
From the opening kickoff, the three forwards were firing on all cylinders, but a goal escaped them during the first half. With 12 shots and five corners in the first half, UK dominated everywhere but the place where it counts: the scoreboard.
In the halftime locker room, Lipsitz was sure to point out to the Cats how well they had played. However, he's not a believer that past opportunities serve as any indication that goals are forthcoming.
"It's not going to come unless we make it come," Lipsitz told his team. "It doesn't just happen. We have to make the decision it's going to happen."
After the way UK practiced this week, Lipsitz had little doubt the Cats would make that decision.
"I'm not one for a lot of coach-speak," Lipsitz said, "so when I got interviewed this week I said, 'Look, this is the best week of training we've had. We're really sharp. We've done the work and we've prepared and we're taking care of details and we're ready.' "
Starting last Monday, Lipsitz organized training sessions leading up to the NCAA Tournament as if UK were preparing for its season opener.
"The beginning of the week, we were just getting at it and it felt like another preseason just going after each other and being physical," Landis said.
Swift -- one of a handful of freshmen playing featured roles on an injury-depleted team -- got some personalized coaching during UK's second training camp.
Lipsitz has pushed Swift all season long and she's responded almost all the time, earning All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team honors and scoring nine goals, including the one she had Friday. But during UK's second preseason, Lipsitz refined her role and put Swift back in her comfort zone.
"I think he brought me back in so I could feel more confident," Swift said. "But then I know he's just going to bring me back out of my comfort zone. I'm just getting ready for it."
Swift didn't have to wait long for her first NCAA win, but the same can't be said about the UK program. Last year, the Cats won in the tournament for the first time in program history, prompting an emotional postgame press conference for Lipsitz.
This time around, the feeling was different. Winning on Friday was about living up to expectations.
"Our standards are: We're hosting the first round of the NCAA Tournament, we've earned it and we win," Lipsitz said. "That's our standard now."
Landis and her fellow seniors have played a central role in building the UK program toward reaching that standard. The Cats have played and hosted in the NCAA Tournament three straight years now and advanced to the second round back-to-back times.
The senior forward was briefly willing to reflect on her time at UK, but she's not ready to start using the past tense just yet. Landis is too busy thinking about a matchup with either No. 2 UCLA or San Diego State next Friday.
"Going at it and getting better, it's a fun experience and I'm going to really miss it," Landis said. "But, yeah, we're not done yet."
Sure, they looked forward to marquee matchups with Michigan State, Louisville and North Carolina, but Sunday's game against Robert Morris was attractive for another reason: revenge.
UK's NIT loss to the Colonials in March came to define a disappointing season, drawing national coverage even with the NCAA Tournament going on. Eager to erase the sting of the defeat and all it came to represent, fans saw a chance to truly turn the page and move on to a much-anticipated season.
Understandable as those feelings may be, the Wildcats don't share them.
"It's just a basketball game," said Jon Hood, who played 15 minutes in RMU's court-storming win. "It's not a revenge thing. It's about us getting better."
When UK (2-1) and Robert Morris (2-1) square off in the Keightley Classic at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, the Rupp Arena setting will be completely different than RMU's Sewall Center. So will Kentucky's personnel.
Robert Morris, however, will post many of the same challenges as last year though the Colonials lost key contributors Velton Jones and Russell Johnson.
"They're still playing just as hard, just as physical as they did," John Calipari said.
This time, however, Calipari believes he has a team better suited to cope with that physicality. He doesn't need to look any further than the box score from Tuesday's loss to Michigan State to figure that out.
"Well, the one thing is when you outrebound a team like Michigan State, you're way tougher than we were a year ago," Calipari said.
Much of that is on the strength of freshman sensation Julius Randle and his classmates, but Alex Poythress's role should not be discounted.
Less than eight months ago, the sophomore forward was telling reporters he needed to return for another year of school. Reflecting on his freshman year after a six-point, two-rebound effort at RMU, Poythress spoke bluntly about how he needed to improve as a player.
Now three games into his sophomore season, he has arguably become UK's steadiest player outside of Randle. In a reserve role, Poythress is averaging 8.7 points and 10.7 rebounds and his stock, in the words of Coach Cal, is "skyrocketing."
"Alex is playing out of his mind," Calipari said.
His coach isn't the only who notices the change.
"He does look like a different guy," Hood said. "He understands what he has to do now. He understands how hard he has to play and how he has to play. Coach has done a great job helping him and we're in practice trying to push him to do that and hold him accountable."
Poythress will now face off against the team that played a role in precipitating his transformation.
Similarly, Willie Cauley-Stein will be playing the team that prompted him to declare the following about his immediate NBA future and that of his teammates.
"Nobody's ready for it," Cauley-Stein said in March. "I don't think anybody's ready for it mentality-wise, body-wise, athletic-wise."
Cauley-Stein surely remembers how he felt when he issued that quote, but neither he nor Poythress have spent much time recalling the sentiment to their younger teammates.
"They haven't talked much about it," Randle said. "We just all want to win, whether we're playing Robert Morris or we're playing Michigan State."
You can be sure Randle means it when he says revenge isn't on his mind because he didn't even watch UK's loss to Robert Morris, which happened just a day before he committed to Kentucky.
"I was out to dinner with my family," Randle said.
Randle is much more concerned about the first loss of his own college career, suffered against Michigan State. In spite of his 27 points and 13 rebounds, the Cats' comeback effort fell short, 78-74, triggering memories of UK's Champions Classic loss from a season ago.
After that defeat against Duke, the Cats expressed optimism that they had fared so well against an experienced opponent. This year's UK team wanted no part of any silver linings.
"Well, this team cried," Calipari said. "Let me just put it that way. This team cried."
But as painful as the loss may have been, Calipari believes it will end up being good for his team.
"The only thing that brings about change is a crisis," Calipari said. "In this sport that I coach, it's a loss. You lose, there's a crisis. There's a crisis in the staff, there's a crisis on the team, there's a crisis in the program. We got to change this. And to survive, everybody's got to accept a different role and do things a little differently and go after it, and that's where we are right now."
Through tough training sessions, the junior star helped keep UK loose with her goofy personality. As Jon Lipsitz pushed the Wildcats to reach their potential, Gilliland was always there to lighten the mood with a friendly jab at her coach.
"I kind of kept everyone laughing," Gilliland said.
But a few weeks ago, Gilliland -- a First Team All-Southeastern Conference performer -- realized she needed to change.
In UK's final regular-season home match on Oct. 27, Stuart Pope -- the yin to Gilliland's yang -- went down. The team's second-leading scorer, Pope would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury that would require reconstructive surgery.
Like Gilliland, Pope had a clearly defined role.
When a stern message needed to be delivered, it was the junior midfielder who spoke up. When the team wasn't as focused at it needed to be, Pope was always there to remind the Cats of their goals and the work it would take to reach them.
In matches, UK would clearly miss Pope's dynamic play in the midfield, but her absence was felt immediately in practice. With their task master gone, the Cats began to flounder.
"We weren't paying attention to the details," Gilliland said. "We weren't doing all the little things that needed to be done that Stuart would get on people about."
With the SEC and NCAA tournaments still ahead, Gilliland decided to put on her serious face.
"When I saw that and Stuart's over on the sideline doing her rehab like she should be and no one was taking initiative, I kind of realized, look, this is going to continue to go on if someone doesn't do anything," Gilliland said.
Gilliland gathered her teammates and told them the role she had filled for most of her three seasons was going to change. With UK's home first-round NCAA Tournament matchup (Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET) with Ohio State (10-6-3, 4-5-2 Big Ten) fast approaching, the Cats (13-6-1, 7-5-0 SEC) have responded.
"I think this week's been our best week of training since preseason," Lipsitz said. "We are just really sharp. We have a better idea of who can play and who can't. It seems like every week we were adjusting to another player being out and I think we know who we are now."
Considering that Pope's injury is only the latest in a string of misfortunes that might have undone a lesser team, it's impressive that UK has even reached this point. It started when senior captain Ashley VanLandingham went out with a season-ending knee injury of her own in the spring and continued when sophomore Courtney Raetzman was lost before conference play, but the Cats never stopped.
"The fact that we've been able to overcome the adversity just proves the depth of this team and the passion and drive that we have to be the best that we can be this year," Gilliland said.
Simply being tabbed to host a first-round NCAA Tournament match for the third straight season is an accomplishment, but it's not one UK is willing to settle for.
Two years ago, the Cats were elated to just make it to the biggest stage in their game. Last year, they were eager to win the first NCAA game in school history. With that memorable extra-time victory in their back pocket, the Cats are ready for more.
"Once you get over the hump and get that first, I think your preparation's very different, I really do," Lipsitz said.
Standing in UK's way is an opponent familiar to Lipsitz.
Before he went on to head-coaching stops at Charlotte and now Kentucky, Lipsitz was an assistant at Ohio State from 2001-04 under Lori Walker, who is in her 17th season leading the Buckeyes.
"I think I know them very well and I think they know us very well," Lipsitz said. "Obviously it's a coaching staff that I deeply respect. I coached at Ohio State with Lori. She's obviously done a tremendous job. Her two assistants (Glen Tourville and Jason Goodson), they're great friends of mine."
Lipsitz mentioned defensive organization, set pieces and finishing as keys to the game, but he won't overload his team with information. The Cats, after all, have been working toward this moment from the preseason's first practice.
"All those little details that get worked on early in the season are about preparing for now," Lipsitz said. "They just keep talking about, 'Take care of the details. You've been coached to do these things, trust this process and we know that we'll be successful.' "
Later that same evening, thousands more around the Bluegrass watched delayed broadcasts of the games on the UK IMG Network.
In recent years, Kentucky fans have come to rely on those avenues to watch their beloved Wildcats, but beginning next season that will all change.
In August 2014, ESPN and the Southeastern Conference will combine forces to launch the new SEC Network. The network will air SEC content 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games and events from across the SEC's 21 sports annually.
"The SEC Network will be an incredible asset for our conference and for UK Athletics," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "It will provide unprecedented exposure for our teams, but we need the Big Blue Nation to help make it a success."
Many UK games currently televised on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox Sports South, UK IMG Network, CSS and SEC TV will likely be available only the new SEC Network. With future games like men's basketball's season opener vs. UNC Asheville and the recent football game against Alabama State likely moving to the new SEC Network beginning in 2014-15, fans need to demand their cable and satellite providers carry it. Considering marquee in-conference matchups in both basketball and football will also be televised on the new network, it becomes even more imperative.
The SEC Network launches in nine months, but so far AT&T U-verse is the only national distributor of the network. As of November, providers like Time Warner, DirecTV and Dish Network have not yet made arrangements to carry the SEC Network, meaning subscribers would miss many live UK events.
That's where the Big Blue Nation comes in.
Fans can visit GetSECNetwork.com to check whether their cable and satellite providers carry the SEC Network and, if they do not, contact them to demand they do. Cable and satellite providers make programming decisions based on customer requests. Fans should also regularly check GetSECNetwork.com for the latest information about the launch of the new SEC Network.
For fans in Lexington that want the new SEC Network, Time Warner subscribers should call 859-514-1400, DirecTV subscribers should call 1-800-347-3288 and DISH Network subscribers should call 1-800-333-3474 to let them know you want the SEC Network. Cable TV subscribers outside Lexington can obtain the phone number to call from GetSECNetwork.com.
Meanwhile, UK Athletics is currently working to prepare for the SEC Network's launch. All live broadcasts -- including the more than 600 that will be streamed live online -- on the SEC Network will have the highest quality production value and maintain a look and feel consistent with ESPN's other networks.
Representatives from the SEC Network have visited all UK Athletics facilities in recent months in advance of the launch. They have found that UK has an advanced technological infrastructure that should make the transition as seamless as possible.
After the launch of the SEC Network next August, more UK events will be televised that ever before. To make sure you can watch, visit GetSECNetwork.com and let your cable and satellite provider know you want access to the SEC Network.
UK will host Ohio State at 7:30 p.m. ET in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. On Wednesday, head coach Jon Lipsitz previewed his team's matchup with the Buckeyes.
Stay tuned for a story on the game later on Thursday and, if you haven't already, make plans to attend by contacting the UK Ticket Office or calling 1.800.928.2287.
Just when it looked like Coach Cal's impressive streak of top-ranked recruiting classes was coming to an end -- it has to at some point, right? -- Kentucky's head coach put together yet another one of the top signing classes in the country.
Touted as one of top two or three recruiting classes so far, John Calipari announced four players for his 2014 class during the early signing period on Thursday. Trey Lyles (Indianapolis), Karl Towns (Metuchen, N.J.), Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss.) and Tyler Ulis (Chicago Heights, Ill.) have all signed national letters of intent to play basketball at the University of Kentucky, starting in the 2014-15 season.
All four players in the signing class are regarded as consensus top-40 players, and two of them are rated in the major recruiting services' top 15.
"I'm really proud of this group as far as where they are academically, what type of people they are and their basketball ability," Coach Cal said. "All four of these guys are skilled for their position and they have the ability to score. We're happy to announce they will be joining us next fall."
With a handful of the nation's top recruits still undecided and the spring signing period still to go, it remains to be seen whether Calipari will have the top class for a fifth straight season, according to Rivals. But with yet another collection of talented kids, never count Coach Cal out.
Check below for a recap of each player, including a bio blast, quote from Cal and video highlights.
- 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward from Indianapolis
- Ranked No. 7 overall by ESPN and No. 8 by Rivals and Scout
- Tabbed No. 1 power forward by Scout and No. 2 by ESPN
- Averaged 17.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.7 assists and 1.3 blocks as a junior at Indianapolis Arsenal Technical High School
- Two-time Indianapolis City Player of the Year (2012-13)
- Averaged 20.3 points for Team Canada in the 2013 U19 World Championships
- Verbally committed Nov. 5, his 18th birthday
- Twitter: @TreyMambaLyles
Why Lyles chose the Cats"Just because of Coach Cal's record with players like me, what he's able to do with guys such as myself, and just really getting us to the stage that we want to be at, which is for me the NBA. I want to be an all-star, and he's had a lot of guys that have been able to step up to that stage and become all-stars in the NBA. His overall pitch to me was just perfect. I think it's going to be the best situation for myself."
"DeMarcus Cousins is out there getting 30 and 15, so that's definitely something I want to be. Julius (Randle), he's just a man-child out there. He has a chance of going No. 1. That just gives them extra points for me, guys at my position that (Calipari has) developed and got into the NBA."
Cal says"At 6-10, Trey can play both inside and outside. He has the skills to score in both areas. He's seen what some of our former guys are doing in the pros right now and has said he wants to follow in their path. My hope is he's our next beast."
What they're saying about Lyles
- 7-foot, 235-pound forward from Metuchen, N.J.
- Ranked No. 6 overall by ESPN and No. 11 by Rivals and Scout
- Tabbed No. 3 center by Rivals and ESPN and No. 4 by Scout
- Averaged 21.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and 5.6 blocks last season for St. Joseph's
- New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012-13
- Tabbed New Jersey's top player by The Star-Ledger
- Led St. Joseph's to back-to-back state championships
- Played the last two summers with the Dominican Republic National Team, the first summer under Coach Cal and this past summer under assistant coach Orlando Antigua
- First commit of the 2012 class
- Verbally committed Dec. 4, 2012
- Twitter: @KATis32
Why Towns chose the Cats"Kentucky is just such a great school. They're just such a powerhouse in basketball and at the same time they're such a great academic school. I just felt that Kentucky was the best choice."
"For me, being with Coach John Calipari on the Dominican team, he never asked about time or about how many shots to take or anything. He just expected me to compete at the highest level every day and just make sure that I played not just for him, not for anyone, but my family and my country. I really respected that a lot out of him."
Cal says"Karl, at 7 feet tall, brings great versatility. He can obviously score it inside, but his ability to shoot and handle it like he's a guard will spread defenses out. His growth from his first stint with the Dominican team until now has been unbelievable, and I'm looking forward to working with him on the collegiate level."
What they're saying about Towns"A personable big man with big skills, Towns has great hands, soft touch and is comfortable using either hand around the rim. He has good ball skills and range on his jumper but sometimes roams the perimeter a bit too much. An above average rebounder when he plays in the lane." -- Eric Bossi, Rivals
- 6-5, 185-pound shooting guard out of Moss Point, Miss.
- Ranked No. 18 overall by ESPN, No. 30 by Rivals and No. 31 Scout
- Rated the No. 3 shooting guard by ESPN and the No. 5 by Scout
- 2012-13 Mississippi Gatorade State Player of the Year
- Averaged 29.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 2012-13
- Tabbed Sun Herald Player of the Year last season
- Verbally committed Oct. 31.
- Twitter: @DevinBook
Why Booker chose the Cats"I felt like Kentucky's worst situation would be better than a lot of better situations at other schools." -- via Evan Daniels of Scout.com
"It's a lot of what everyone is doing nowadays. Going in kind of as a package. I want to be around people I'm comfortable with, people I've hung out with and people I keep in contact with. ... It was mainly my decision, but Tyler and I have been talking about going to college together since our first camp, the Elite 100. Right then I was like 'wow' I wanted to play on the same team as Tyler." - via Evan Daniels, Scout.com
Cal says"Devin is a scoring machine. At nearly 6-6, he can play three different positions. He's got great range, which should help us spread the floor when he's playing. What I like most about him is his confidence in his ability and his desire to compete with the best."
What they're saying about Booker
- 5-8, 150-pound point guard from Chicago Heights, Ill.
- Ranked 29th nationally by Scout and 33rd by both Rivals and ESPN
- Tabbed the No. 4 point guard in the country by ESPN and No. 6 by Scout
- Averaged 21.9 points, 4.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals as a junior at Marian Catholic High School
- Named the Time Illinois Boys Basketball Player of the Year
- Guided his team to a team-record 29 wins last year and the program's first sectional title
- Owns his school's single-season and career record for points
- Verbally committed Sept. 13
- Twitter: @tulis3
Why Ulis chose the Cats"Kentucky is the biggest stage in college basketball. I like how Coach Cal produces point guards and sends guys to the pros and wins games."
"I like Coach Cal. He's straightforward with everything. He just tells you the truth. He says if you're not built for this you can't come here. If you're not ready for the spotlight, the competition, and if you play bad, the criticism, you can't play here."
Cal says"Tyler is the ultimate competitor. His heart and his ability to make people better set him apart from his peers. He can score in bunches, and like every point guard I've had, he brings a little something different to the table."
What they're saying about Ulis
As the 2013 Kentucky softball team entered the midway stretch of its challenging schedule it prepared to host its first Southeastern Conference series of the season against Mississippi State. After a Friday-night win in game one of the series, the Wildcats and Bulldogs squared off in a doubleheader the next day with Howard getting a start in leftfield in the day's first game.
The game started with Kentucky grabbing an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, but the Bulldogs rallied in the top of the second inning for a run and were threatening for more with a runner at second base and one out when Howard made the play of her career.
Mississippi State's Erin Nesbit hit a high fly ball down the leftfield line. Howard chased the ball all the way to the warning track and made a backhanded diving catch. A moment later, she jumped up and completed the double play by picking off the runner at second base and ending the inning.
The play later came in at No. 6 in SportsCenter's Top 10 and the video featuring it now has almost 3,000 views on YouTube.
Nearly a month later, Howard, who played in 35 of the team's first 46 games mostly as a defensive replacement, experienced the complete opposite of her ESPN appearance as she tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during practice, ending her 2013 season.
For Howard, the pain from the injury itself didn't come close to matching the frustration she dealt with afterwards. The injury and the surgery to follow forced her to watch helplessly as her team put together a historic season, winning more games than any other team in school history and advancing to the NCAA Super Regional.
"I didn't realize how much I loved softball until it happened," Howard said about the injury. "Having to sit out while everyone was simply running and you can't even do that. It was frustrating. But I know I have a few more years and I can work really hard and just make it count and let this injury be kind of a moment that happened, but won't define me."
The answer to whether the injury, which she is still recovering from in preparation for the 2014 season, would define her or not was not as clear this summer as it is now.
Howard, who is the youngest of three sisters, called her dad -- whom she credits for teaching her everything she knows about softball -- immediately after the injury instructing him not to tell anyone else. But not even 10 minutes later, Howard's middle sister, Kaylan, who was in her senior year with the Oregon Ducks softball team, conveniently called to check in and see how things were going. Howard knew her Dad didn't do as he was told, but she was glad.
"On the injury, I told my dad first and told him not to tell anyone. Of course 10 minutes after that phone call, Kaylan called me up and was like, 'How are things going?' I was like, 'Wow," Howard said. "But she kept me smiling and made me laugh the whole time."
That was the least Kaylan and older sister, Kymmy, would do. Howard went home to Riverside, Calif., for the summer to spend time with family and rehab the knee. While there she received the type of motivation and "tough love" she needed to get back on the right track.
"Her (Kaylan) and my other sister (Kymmy) were my doctors this summer," Howard said. "They took me to rehab and made me do stuff. My older sister, Kymmy, hid my crutches and stole my brace because I was babying it. She said, 'You should be walking on your own by now.' "
Howard's relationship with her sisters, especially Kaylan, spans far beyond just the tough love over the summer. When Kaylan received and accepted her scholarship offer from Oregon to play softball, Howard was in the eighth grade and took notice. That is when college softball became a serious thought and an avenue toward a degree for Howard, who admitted before then she was just focused on being a Disney TV star.
"I wanted to do acting and singing," Howard said. "I was in choir, but softball gave me a path to an education so I took it on. I didn't really know much about college softball until I was 14 and under. I played some softball before then but just rec-ball ... As soon as my sister got her scholarship, it kind of clicked, like, I can do something with this. I started to put in more work and at the end of my sophomore year, in the summer, Coach (Rachel) Lawson saw me in Colorado and ever since then I knew I was going to be a Wildcat."
After she enrolled at Kentucky in the fall of 2011, Howard decided she didn't want to go through her career alone and started a pen-pal type, traditional letter-writing communication with Kaylan. In her letters, Howard would ask her older sister, who was an impact player with the Ducks, about the nerves she had before games, what to expect about college life and academics. Howard said her sister always had the answers and to this day they still write letters to each other on a monthly basis.
"Since my freshman year we have written letters to each other," Howard explained. "I started off asking her what to expect my first game and all of that and ever since then it has been what is going on with your life? How is softball? How are classes?
"She pretty much told me that I would get nervous and excited, but to just treat it like another game no different than when I was playing in high school. Once I loosened up I knew what she was talking about and I felt like I had a really good year after that."
Although the two also communicate by more modern means, the letters remind Howard to keep working hard and to never let a setback, minor or major, end her love for softball. As her career-low momentum slips further and further in the past as her knee improves daily, her goal moving forward is clear and familiar.
"First, I want to get back to where I was before my injury," Howard said. "And it's not likely, but I would love to make ESPN again. That is a goal."
Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown
For the second time in as many days, Kentucky practiced indoors with temperatures falling into the 30s on Wednesday.
In the controlled climate of the Nutter Field House, it was another good practice for the Wildcats.
"Players are bouncing around pretty good, so overall decent day," Stoops said. "Gotta continue to work through the week and have a good day tomorrow and get ready to go down there and have a great game. I feel good about just the work ethic of the guys and how we're moving forward and anticipate us going down there and playing well."
In order for UK to play as well at Vanderbilt as Stoops expects, Jalen Whitlow will need to continue to settle in at quarterback. The sophomore, perhaps more than at any point this season, took hold of the position in Kentucky's loss to Missouri by battling through pain and leading two third-quarter scoring drives.
After the game, Whitlow said the next step in his evolution as a leader is to become more vocal, but that's not a natural part of his personality.
"I'm not a big talkative guy, I guess," Whitlow said, "but I'm getting more talkative. It's getting there."
It's a natural thing, Stoops says, that building leadership takes time.
"I think that comes with earning that as well," Stoops said. "Guys that go out there and talk for no reason that haven't done anything does no good as well. But we need him to continue to grow as a quarterback and as a leader."
The coaching staff isn't just sitting idly by and hoping that leadership comes along.
Jason Cummins was hired earlier this year to lead the UK Athletics Impact Leadership Program and works closely with the football program. On Wednesday, Stoops spoke about it for the first time.
"I'm not sure anyone else in the country has one or not, but we have a person here that we hired through the athletic department that is directly responsible in helping teach leadership," Stoops said. "So we have a manual that we went through all summer that when we go through camp, we're teaching leadership."
Cummins is a fixture around the football facilities and serves as proof -- along with initiatives like the High Performance program -- that UK's building a foundation for football success under Stoops.
"He travels with us, he's with us all the time, talks with the team, addresses them and it's just a different person, a different message and giving us more ideas and more resources to help these young men," Stoops said.
The noise was fairly constant, but it came to a crescendo in the final minutes.
With more than 2,000 sixth graders in Memorial Coliseum for UK Hoops' annual "Class of 2020 Day," the Wildcats were approaching the 100-point mark against Georgia Southern on Wednesday. The kids, eager to see a third digit on the scoreboard, erupted when Bernisha Pinkett hit a 3-pointer to put UK past the century mark with 1:07 left.
"I think it was pretty awesome," Bernisha Pinkett said. "The kids gave us a lot of energy. They were yelling and screaming, making us want to work even harder so we could score more points to make them yell and go crazy."
UK would score once more to close out a dominating 103-38 victory and move to 3-0 on the season. Pinkett led six Wildcats who scored in double figures with 19 points as UK forced 35 turnovers.
"I thought that was a terrific effort from our team to come out on an important day where we have so many people and special guests on campus, who are getting to experience Kentucky for the very first time," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought our players did a great job of leaving an impression on those kids that were here at the game today."
The Cats have had more than their share of blowout victories in their recent run of success under Mitchell, but rarely have they turned in an effort as consistent as this one. In spite of an early wakeup call for the 11 a.m. ET tipoff, UK was solid for 40 minutes.
"I think we just came out today knowing that we were going to win this game but we couldn't take any steps back or come out lackadaisical because they could catch up or make 3s or do anything," Pinkett said. "So we just wanted to focus and stay strong."
More than anything else, that's why Mitchell was happy following the game.
"As a coach, what you would like to see your team do is really come out and hustle and give maximum effort and hold them to a high standard and I thought our team did that today," Mitchell said. "I am very, very grateful to our players for working so hard and giving such a great effort today."
It also didn't hurt that shots were falling for the Cats.
UK hit 40 of 79 (50.6 percent) from the field, including Pinkett's 7 for 9. The senior buried three of her four attempts from beyond the arc, which was a welcome development for a player who shot under 26 percent from deep last season.
"I haven't been knocking down shots as I did in the past and Coach Mitchell always has faith in me and he recruited me as a shooter," Pinkett said. "So just being able to go out there tonight and actually see my 3s start to fall, I felt really good about it."
But as good as Pinkett was from the outside, it was what UK did inside the arc that gave her space.
With the visitors playing a zone defense and UK's strength now in the interior with DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker -- who combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds in just 42 minutes -- the Cats followed their game plan.
"We are trying to get the ball in the paint every possession and whether it comes out of the paint and creates a shot is something that can happen," Mitchell said, "but we just have such a focus on making sure we either pass the ball into the paint or we got our feet in the paint off of a drive."
By doing that, UK piled up 26 assists as a team -- most during the Mitchell era -- led by Jennifer O'Neill and Makayla Epps, who each had six. The Cats have also now dished 25 or more assists in back-to-back games.
"I thought they did a good job of collapsing the zone inside and then moving the basketball and being patient and passing up an open shot to give their teammate a better shot who might be more open," Mitchell said.
And they did it all in spite of not being able to hear each other at times.
"It was one point in the game where Bria (Goss) and I were trying to communicate but we couldn't hear each other because they were screaming for whatever reason," Walker said. "I don't know what we did, but they were screaming. It was fun playing in front of them and I wish they were here every game because it's really fun."
With the youth of the Wildcats and uncertainty with which they would enter the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, Coach Cal narrowed the possible outcomes into two: winning or learning.
There will come a time when the Cats come to realize how much can be taken away from their loss to the Spartans, but that time wasn't in the locker room following the 78-74 defeat.
"You had guys crying in there, which is a good thing," Calipari said. "That was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after Indiana (two years ago). So you had kids crying in there, and I want it to hurt like that."
Alex Poythress was ready to start the learning process a few minutes later as he took the podium for UK's postgame press conference.
"We learned a lot about who's fighting and who can keep it going," Poythress said. "When the going gets rough, we just keep going."
The Cats have every reason to take pride in that fact.
The experienced Spartans did to Kentucky what Calipari feared they would, taking advantage as the five freshmen and two sophomores who comprise his rotation acted their age. Within 3:11, the Spartans were up 10-0 on the strength of UK's sloppiness with the ball.
"They had never been in an environment like this, one," Calipari said. "And two, when guys get that, that get into themselves a little bit. It's natural. So now everybody is trying to do their thing and it looks discombobulated and that's what it was and that's what I expected."
UK treaded water for the remainder of the first -- largely thanks James Young, who scored 15 of his 19 before the break -- and trailed 42-30 at the end of the half. It was then Calipari drew up a new game plan on the fly and moved Julius Randle from the perimeter to the post and essentially scrapped his Dribble Drive offense.
"Well, we just said at this point, the only time they're stopping him is when you hold the ball," Calipari said. "So quit holding the ball. Just take it to the lane and ball fake and shoot it over 'em and if you miss it we'll send everybody to the glass. That was our offense: Throw it up and go rebound it."
Randle struggled in the first half, left frustrated by a packed-in Spartan defense as his drives and spin moves were repeatedly thwarted. The second was a different story, as Randle -- whom Calipari termed a "fighter" after the freshman's third double-double in as many games -- scored six points within the first two minutes.
"He's a great player," said Poythress, who was a Calipari-described "beast" with his seven points and 12 rebounds. "When he gets it going we look for him and he just gets it going."
Randle would go on to score 23 of his game-high 27 points -- including two free throws that briefly tied the game at 66 with 4:48 left, to which the Spartans responded with a swift 5-0 run -- after halftime. He drew multiple defenders on every touch, but never relented.
"What I loved about him, he gritted his teeth, was ornery and nasty and he wanted to put them on his shoulders," Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. "For a freshman, that speaks volumes."
As the final seconds ticked down on the comeback effort, Randle was clearly exhausted. He still managed to score UK's final basket with 42 seconds left to cut Michigan State's lead to two points, but had to excuse himself from postgame interviews due to muscle cramps.
As Randle got treatment on those cramps, Michigan State's last possession was probably running through his mind. Opting not to foul with five seconds differential between shot and game clock, UK forced a Denzel Valentine miss, but Branden Dawson was there on the weak side for an easy put-back to clinch a win and end talk of a 40-0 UK season.
If not for 16 missed free throws in 36 attempts for the Cats, the conversation would likely have continued. The Cats still believe they will be a good foul shooting team, but Calipari says it's time for them to take ownership in that area.
"My hope is I'm the office at night and it's 10:30 and they walked 15 steps across the street to go into the practice facility and I see guys shooting them on their own," Calipari said. "That's my hope. But we'll see because they've gotta take it on."
After the game, Calipari said he had "no idea" how UK was able to stay within four points of a team as talented and experienced as Michigan State shooting 55.6 from the free-throw line and committing 17 turnovers. The answer came in the way the Cats rebounded.
With Randle and Poythress tirelessly attacking the glass, UK outrebounded Michigan State 44-32 and had 24 second-chance points. Considering the Spartans had 66 rebounds in their season opener, that's impressive. Considering the history Izzo's teams have of dominating on the glass, that's borderline unbelievable.
"They beat us in what we do well," Izzo said.
The way these two physical teams traded blows in the United Center, fans and media alike -- though it's only November, as Calipari often repeats -- wondered whether the matchup could be reprised down the road.
"Well, I hope we do because it probably means we'd both be playing in April," Calipari said. "So let's hope we do play. I hate to play friends. I really don't like playing friends, but if it's in April I'm fine playing whoever we're playing at that point."
For UK to reach that point, Calipari knows there's much work ahead. He anticipated his team wouldn't be ready for a stage this big at the tip, but they were much closer when the final buzzer sounded.
"I knew this would get their attention in the first half," Calipari said. "The biggest thing is if you don't do this together you will not win. You'll never be a special team, so you've got to truly do this together and that's both on defense and offense."
Defensive Coordinator D.J. Eliot
Winter came a bit early to Lexington as the UK campus woke up to a layer of snow for the first time this fall semester on Tuesday. The Wildcats elected to hold the day's football practice inside Nutter Field House.
Some of the newest Wildcats, who hail from warmer parts of the country, were seeing snow for the first time. Mark Stoops, himself a product of Northern Ohio, was happy to give his Florida-native freshmen some tips when it comes to adjusting to cold weather.
"They have been fine so far," Stoops said. "It hasn't been too cold yet. I heard (freshman running back) Jojo (Kemp) say that (he saw snow for the first time). We have to go out and help them get some sweatshirts and coats I guess, but they are getting acclimated.
"I have been out of (cold climates) for a while. Blood thins out pretty quick, but I get used to it in a hurry. That's no problem."
Regarding the actual content of Tuesday's practice, Stoops was pleased with the team's performance as the staff continues to implement the game plan for Saturday's Vanderbilt matchup.
"We wrapped up a pretty good practice, got some work done on a Tuesday," Stoops said. "Spirits were good. We got the game plan going. Overall it was a pretty good practice, so (I'm) pleased."
The praise for junior linebacker TraVaughn Paschal continued to roll in after he made a career-best three tackles for loss against Missouri. The coaching staff shed light on the circumstances which may have allowed the veteran to excel last Saturday.
"He played one of his better games," Stoops said of Paschal. "He definitely played his best game, since we (the coaching staff) have been here, last Saturday and it was good to see. Again it was a little bit different package in how we used him. I think that suits his ability. We are getting used to him now."
Paschal, who started the season as a defensive end before moving to inside linebacker, spent much of the game vs. Missouri as an outside linebacker and the results indicated he was more comfortable on the edge.
Paschal's versatility can only help in the UK coaches' future game planning.
"We wanted to use him there (at outside linebacker) for that opponent, but we may use him in the future there," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He is very versatile."
Stoops also shed light on the team's defensive play-calling process. UK deploys multiple signal callers on the sideline, each with a different purpose, to send in the defensive call to the players on the field.
"There is a decoy, but we usually try to wait a while after the offense has (its) signal in and then we signal ours defensively," Stoops said. "We don't have to huddle up or anything. Everybody should look to the sideline and get the signal."
Looking back toward the Vanderbilt match up, the Wildcats will kick off at what Stoops considers the ideal time to start a Saturday road game.
"On the road I prefer to go early than to go in the middle of the night when you get home," Stoops said. "That just puts you behind for the next week when you wait around all day for the game to start. On the road I do prefer to go in the (early kickoff)."
For more from UK's shootaround in the United Center, check out this photo gallery from Chet White.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 10:
Men's basketball: Julius Randle
- Recorded a double-double in both of UK's victories.
- Scored 45 points in two games, more than any other UK freshman in his first two games under John Calipari. The previous high was John Wall in 2009-10 who totaled 40 in his first two outings.
- Is the first Wildcat to have consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound games since Patrick Patterson in Dec. 2008.
- Sunk 10 or more free throws in both contests, the 11 made vs. UNC Asheville ranks the as the second-most in a single game under Calipari.
- His 23-point, 16-rebound effort was just two points and one rebound shy of matching UK first-game records in both statistical categories. Terrence Jones had 25 points in his collegiate debut, while Sam Bowie hauled in 17 rebounds.
- His three assists against Northern Kentucky was a team-high.
Volleyball: Anni Thomasson
Freshman Anni Thomasson simply had a match for the ages in a five-set victory over LSU on Sunday. Thomasson set a 25-point rally scoring era and Craig Skinner tenure record with a 30-kill performance in the win. She totaled the 30 hammers on an impressive .373 hitting percentage. She countered it with a career-high 22 digs to provide a defensive spark as well. No UK player under Skinner has ever turned a 30-20 trick, and she is the first conference player to do so since Kayla Fitterer of Alabama achieved the feat in 2010. The last UK player to record 30 kills in a match was a senior, Sarah Spinner, with 36 in 2004. Thomasson was also perfect in the serve-receive line with 29 total attempts and zero errors. She received the final serve from LSU and won the match for UK with her 30th kill down the line. She opened the weekend with a12-kill performance against South Carolina. In all, Thomasson has now reached the double-figure kill plateau in four-straight conference matches. For the weekend, she averaged a blistering 5.25 kills per set on a .341 hitting percentage. She also contributed 3.12 digs per stanza a squad-high 5.56 points.
- Top-ranked Kentucky opened the season with two victories at home with triumphs over UNC Asheville and Northern Kentucky this week.
- Freshman Julius Randle was spectacular in his debut with 23 points and 16 rebounds. Sophomore Alex Poythress added his second career double-double in the win over the Bulldogs. Against Northern Kentucky, Randle led three freshmen in double-figure scoring with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Both Aaron and Andrew Harrison logged 10 or more points with 16 and 13, respectively.
- Kentucky will now hit the road for a neutral site contest against second-ranked Michigan State on Tuesday. It will mark the first meeting between teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP poll since 2008, and the earliest such matchup in the history of the AP poll.
- No. 7/8 Kentucky opens its 40th season of varsity basketball at 2-0 with road wins over Marist and first-time foe Wagner.
- In front of a sold-out crowd in Marist's McCann Arena, the Wildcats overcame a slow start to win their season opener, 75-61. Guard Kastine Evans recorded a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds, while forward Samarie Walker charted three steals and a game-high 11 rebounds. Point guards Janee Thompson and Jennifer O'Neill scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.
- Against Wagner, UK used a 27-3 run in the first half to break open the game. UK cruised to a 96-57 win over the Seahawks paced by DeNesha Stallworth's 22nd career double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds. Goss followed with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and O'Neill contributed 11 points and five assists. All 12 players scored at least two points as Kentucky improved to 21-0 in the Matthew Mitchell era when scoring 90 points or more.
- The Wildcats begin a three-game homestand on Wednesday when they play host to Georgia Southern at 11 a.m. ET.
- Kentucky fell 48-17 Saturday to No. 9 Missouri to complete a two-game homestand. The game against the highly ranked foe was the fifth of the year for UK.
- Quarterback Jalen Whitlow completed 17 of 27 passes and tied a career high with 225 passing yards. Whitlow rushed for a net 44 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run that is his team-high sixth TD of the year.
- Linebacker TraVaughn Pascal made five tackles, including a career-high three tackles for loss, earning him Honorable Mention Linebacker of the Week honors from the College Football Performance Awards. Freshman nickelback Blake McClain tied a career high with seven tackles.
- Kentucky posted a 100-point victory Saturday, defeating No. 13 Navy 4693-4593.
- Senior Emily Holsopple delivered a team-high 1182 aggregate score, shooting a team-best 589 in smallbore and 593 in air rifle.
- Sophomore Connor Davis shot a 595 in air rifle to lead UK, with a 585 in smallbore boosting his individual aggregate to 1180.
- Junior Jonathan Pinkel notched a new personal best in smallbore with a 583.
- The Kentucky men's soccer team completed its regular season with a pair of games during the week, posting a 2-2 tie in the home finale vs. Wright State and suffering a 2-0 loss at No. 20 New Mexico on Saturday.
- The Wildcats return to action Wednesday in the Conference USA Tournament Quarterfinals, hosted by Charlotte. UK will kickoff against Old Dominion at 5:30 p.m. ET, with UK owning a 2-1 overtime win at ODU in 2013.
- UK got a goal from senior Tyler Riggs and freshman Charlie Reymann in the draw against Wright State.
- With New Mexico needing a win to clinch the league title in its first season in the loop, UK and UNM battled through a scoreless first half, before the Lobos connected on a pair of second-half tallies to post the 2-0 win and claim the regular-season title.
- Kentucky lost its quarterfinal match with No. 4 Ole Miss on Wednesday, 2-0, in Orange Beach, Ala.
- The Wildcats finished the season 13-7-1, marking the fourth-straight year under Jon Lipsitz that UK has won 10-plus matches.
- The NCAA Selection Show is on Monday at 4:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on NCAASports.com. Kentucky is expected to receive an at-large bid for the third-straight season for the first time in program history.
- Kentucky went 2-0 with a sweep of visiting South Carolina and a thrilling comeback win 3-2 over LSU on Sunday. UK trailed 8-5 in the decisive fifth frame and scored 14 of the final 18 points en route to the win.
- Freshman Anni Thomasson had a match for the ages in the five-set victory over LSU. Thomasson set a 25-point rally scoring era and Craig Skinner tenure record with a 30-kill, 22-dig performance in the win. She totaled the 30 hammers on an impressive .373 hitting percentage. No UK player under Skinner has ever turned a 30-20 trick, and she is the first conference player to do so since 2010. The last UK player to record 30 kills in a match was a senior, Sarah Spinner, with 36 in 2004. She led three UK players who earned a double-double in the win over the Tigers. Senior Whitney Billings logged 13 kills and a season-high tying 19 digs. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren added a career-high 66 assists and 11 digs in the win.
- Kentucky will return to action with a pair of matches on the road. Kentucky takes on Mississippi State on Friday before traveling to Ole Miss on Sunday. UK already has victories over both squads from earlier in the season.
Tuesday, Nov. 12
Men's Basketball vs. Michigan State - 7:30 p.m. (Chicago)
Wednesday, Nov. 13
Women's Basketball vs. Georgia Southern - 11 a.m.
Friday, Nov. 15
Volleyball at Mississippi State - 8 p.m.
Cross Country at NCAA Regional Championships - TBA (Charlottesville, Va.)
Saturday, Nov. 16
Football at Vanderbilt - 12:21 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 17
Women's Basketball vs. Central Michigan - 2 p.m.
Volleyball at Ole Miss - 2:30 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. Robert Morris - 7 p.m.
Given all the adversity the UK women's soccer team has faced in recent weeks and months, Jon Lipsitz and the Wildcats aren't taking much for granted these days.
So the Cats expressed a great deal of appreciation when they learned they will host the first round of the NCAA Tournament vs. Ohio State on Friday.
"If you would have told me before the season started, the injuries that we would have had in the spring, over the summer and during the season, and we would be sitting in this spot, I would have told you that there is absolutely no way," Lipsitz said. "I am so proud of this group. When I look at the list of programs around the country with tremendous support and fantastic support that were not selected, I think that says so much about the work that we have done."
The Wildcats have endured multiple injuries to key players throughout the year. The run of bad luck seemed to start when senior captain Ashley VanLandingham went out with a season-ending knee injury in the spring. Since then, it has seemed as though as soon as one player stepped forward to pick up slack for a sidelined contributor another key Wildcat has gone down.
"You have a group of young women here that have fought through everything," Lipsitz said. "Whenever anything went wrong we came back and played another game. Then something else would go wrong and we would come back and just keep playing the games. I would have been stunned before the season to ever have imagined us having gone through what we have, and still be selected to the NCAA Tournament."
And the surreal feel of Monday's NCAA Tournament bid announcement was not limited to the UK coach. For UK's veteran nucleus, the thought of a third straight appearance on college soccer's biggest stage could only be considered a dream when the Cats arrived in Lexington.
"As seniors, we didn't have any hope of making the NCAA Tournament during our freshman year," goalie Kayla King said. "We were lucky to go to the SEC Tournament. Now to be a senior and to have the privilege to be on a great team that has made the NCAA Tournament the last three years is difficult to describe. The NCAA Tournament doesn't really compare to anything else, and to host is huge."
Yet as exciting and momentous as Monday's announcement was, Lipsitz and his team are not satisfied with just making it. They are, in fact, so unsatisfied that they've been training with an eye on the upcoming game for more than a week already.
"I said to the team about 10 days ago that it's two weeks of preseason to get ready for what is now this upcoming Friday night," Lipsitz said. "Even the training sessions we have had since we have gotten back from the SEC Tournament have been fantastic. Yesterday was one of the most intense training sessions we have had.
"We have gone back to the basics. We have gone back to preaching what we have to do to be successful. We started talking about a two-week preseason instead of suddenly finding out on Monday who we play, and from there trying to prepare. This way we have already been preparing. We have been getting ready for this moment, and we will play our best because of that."
The Wildcats preparations will continue, now with specific considerations for Ohio State, but UK will also enter Friday night with the experience from the program's first NCAA Tournament victory last season.
The Wildcats will be hoping it will pay dividends come Friday.
"Everything we take is experience," Lipsitz said. "We will rely on that. We will rely on our senior leadership more than anything to get us ready. Every single thing we have gone through in five years helps us all get ready. You don't have experience in the NCAAs until you are there.
"It's one of those things that is so difficult. How do you get experience without being there? The answer is you don't. We learned so much from playing Washington State two years ago. Tying that game and losing on penalty kicks really left a bad taste in our mouths. We all wanted to be the first last year. We wanted to win the first game for UK in the NCAA Tournament."
Lipsitz and his players continue to look back on the 2012 NCAA Tournament win as a stepping stone for the program, but they have also spoken all season about wanting to continue moving forward.
"Now it's not about being the first," Lipsitz said. "It's about achieving to the best of our ability. I think that comes from experience."
For the first time in five years, the nation's two top-ranked teams will meet. The lights will be bright for Tuesday's matchup between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State and it's a stage for which Coach Cal is not sure his team is ready.
But as much as Coach Cal might like to have a little more time to prepare his young team for such a tough opponent, he knows there are positives that come with playing in the Champions Classic so early.
"The thing in a game like this for this team: Questions are answered," Calipari said.
The one question about UK that needs no answering is whether the Wildcats are talented. With potential lottery picks up and down the Kentucky roster, that's clear and was made even clearer in UK's two exhibition wins.
On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Chicago's United Center, more open-ended debates will be settled.
"So then the question's about how we play together, how hard we play, how we deal with adversity, how we deal with prosperity," Calipari said. "Questions will be answered tomorrow. You're playing against a well-coached team -- Tommy (Izzo) does a great job -- and a veteran team."
Calipari counts six freshmen and two sophomores among his eight-man rotation, while five upperclassmen played 10 minutes or more in Michigan State's dominant 98-56 season-opening win over McNeese State.
Leading the way are senior guard Keith Appling and classmate Adreian Payne, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound center. Gary Harris is just a sophomore, but the preseason Big 10 Player of the Year posted 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Spartans' opener.
"They're a terrific 3-point shooting team," Calipari said. "They've got big people. Their front line is as big as ours. You got to guard them. They run their stuff. They run their little back screens and they run their curl cuts and they get the ball from one side (to the other). Their pick-and-rolls are really effective, and their guards shoot it. So you can't go under pick-and-rolls. They'll come up shooting. We got a challenge on our hands."
It's a challenge the Wildcats are eager to take on.
They've heard all about the dynamic of youth vs. experience, including from their own coach, and are ready to prove it's just talk.
"I'm not buying into it," said Julius Randle, the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week. "We're playing the same game. Two great coaches. We have guys on our team with experience too and I'm not buying into the lack of experience. At the end of the day, it's going to be a war."
In preparation for that battle, Calipari isn't asking his team to memorize Michigan State's playbook and personnel. In fact, he only gave the Cats about 10 minutes of video of the Spartans to watch on their team-issued tablets.
"I'm concerned about us," Calipari said. "I've watched enough tape."
Keeping it simple, he believes, is the best way he knows to position his team to pull off a victory in the early season's marquee game.
"Whatever we have in, which isn't much, just do well with what we have," Calipari said. "And let's worry about us, knowing that you're gonna have to guard. You have to run back, first, and then you have to guard them."
Against this Michigan State team, transition play will likely be of particular importance. While the Spartans generated much of their offense in the half-court through big man Derrick Nicks last year, they now look to run at every juncture and scored 40 fast-break points in their opener.
"They fly up and down the court," Calipari said. "And the guys that are out ahead can make plays."
With such a stern test ahead, Coach Cal sees two possible outcomes for his team.
"We win or we learn," Calipari said. "That's what this game will be. We win or we learn. What I think is we don't play hard enough."
The Cats, on the other hand, don't see why they can't do both, viewing their coach's talk about the early-season matchup being "unfair" as a challenge to his young team.
"I think we can win and I think we can learn about how good we can be," Randle said.
That also happens to be Calipari's ideal outcome.
"My hope is we play great, that you watch us and say, 'Man, (after) 30 practices, for them to play that way, wow," Calipari said. " 'They played hard, they played as a unit. Eh, they break down but they scrambled; they didn't stop playing, they had a great presence, great spirit about 'em.' And then we move on."
He's also prepared for the alternative, but the Cats will go back to work just the same.
"If that's a loss -- I'd like it to be a win, but if it's a loss and I get that from this team -- it's the building point that we go from," Calipari said.
Given the roles he's played in defensive turnarounds at Arizona and Florida State, he knows how to judge a team beyond its win-loss record.
The fact remains, however, that UK sits at 2-7. Nonetheless, he knows what he sees on tape, even after a 48-17 loss to Missouri on Saturday.
"What I take some salvation in is when I turn on that film and see good, sound football, and I see that from 80 percent, and I know that's not good enough to the common fan," Stoops said. "But I see us coaching and putting into position and see the players executing and playing hard. I see some good plays, and I know there is progress being made, even though that's difficult to see on the scoreboard and all that."
As true as all that may be, Stoops wants to win as badly as anyone else, and right now.
"I'll go back and I look at everything we're doing and we all do," Stoops said. "We're very critical of ourselves and we know we can do things better, that's for sure."
More specifically, he wants to hone in on those 20-percent plays that he believes is getting Kentucky beat as UK prepares for a road trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday at 12:21 p.m. ET. That starts with focusing on the positive.
"But I saw a good percentage of plays that were good football plays," Stoops said. "And that we have to build on, that we have to learn to play a hundred percent of those plays as best we can. Then we have an opportunity to beat a top-10 team. Until then, we have no chance to beat a top-10 team."
Vandy may not be a top-10 team like Missouri, but Stoops has seen enough to know the Commodores will take advantage of any mistakes UK should make. They did just that on Saturday, forcing four turnovers to take down Florida on the road in spite of gaining just 183 yards of total offense.
"They're good in all areas," Stoops said. "They're a team that just plays very hard, plays very smart. They capitalize on your mistakes, so it will be another good opportunity for us, a big challenge for us to go down there and win."
For UK's seniors, those opportunities are quickly running out. Though reaching a bowl officially became impossible with the loss to Missouri, Stoops like the mentality of his veterans.
"There's not a guy in that group that's going to lay down," Stoops said. "I think they'll work extremely hard and help turn the page in this program. I think they take pride in that and wanting to help being a part of turning it around and building for the future."
Those seniors will obviously continue to play major roles, but Stoops will also be thinking about that future in the coming weeks. Fourteen newcomers -- including eight true freshmen -- have already played for UK and Stoops anticipates involving the youngsters even more down the stretch.
"We have to continue to build our program and develop our young guys," Stoops said.
Stoops named cornerback Jaleel Hytchye and defensive end Jason Hatcher specifically in that group, but even the players the coaching staff intends to redshirt are included.
"We need to know exactly where they're at and where they're going to be in the spring and just to continue to work with those guys," Stoops said.
It won't ever come at the cost of preparing to win immediately, but Stoops is keeps his overarching vision for Kentucky football in mind at all times. Throughout the course of his first year on the job, that hasn't changed.
"I've never said since day one that I was going to come in here and change it overnight," Stoops said. "I promised to work extremely hard, and the players will work extremely hard to build this program the right way to get better. That's what we're going to continue to do."
Max Godby or Teven Eatmon-Nared
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
TraVaughn Paschal or Khalid Henderson
Two dominant regular-season games in, Julius Randle was asked whether he could have imagined a better start to his collegiate career.
After posting a second straight double-double in a 93-63 win over Northern Kentucky on Sunday, Randle smiled and took a moment to decide how to answer.
"If you say so," Randle said.
For anyone not wearing his No. 30 jersey or his coach's loafers, the answer would surely be a resounding no. To say anything else after he posted 22 points and 14 rebounds against the Norse to follow a 23-point, 16-rebound effort in the season opener would be crazy, right?
Could he have expected something more than scoring the most points through two games of any UK freshman under John Calipari, breaking John Wall's previous record of 40? Could he have thought he could do better becoming the first freshman since Michael Beasley six years ago to 20-point, 10-rebound games in each of his first two games?
To get this straight, Randle is averaging 22.5 points and 15.0 rebounds through two games. He's shooting 60 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line. He also offers the following appraisal of his performance to date.
"I'm still missing a lot of opportunities," Randle said. "A lot of balls I should come up with. I think I missed like four free throws today (he shot 10 for 14), so I'm still leaving a lot out there. I've just gotta learn from it and improve."
Randle has always had a reputation for demanding the best of himself, but his pursuit of perfection has been cranked up a notch since he put on Kentucky blue. That surely has something to do with Calipari.
"He should be averaging 20 rebounds a game right now I would say," Coach Cal said.
At one point during the first half when Randle was on the bench for a breather, Alex Poythress grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back in, causing Calipari to turn and say something to his star freshman.
"He was just challenging me saying that's gotta be me on the offensive glass like that," Randle said. "I've gotta accept the challenge and keep going."
It's both a sign of how well Poythress is playing -- he had nine points and seven rebounds in just 20 minutes -- and of how good Calipari believes Randle can be that he would issue such a challenge. If Randle is able to do what Coach Cal believes he can, the college basketball world better watch out because he's pretty good already.
"He's playing very well," said Andrew Harrison, who scored 13 points. "I knew how good he was. He's a hard worker too. There's nothing he can be but good."
Harrison has never experienced playing college basketball without Randle, but Willie Cauley-Stein has. The perspective of playing his freshman year with no presence like the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Calipari-described "alpha beast" alongside him in the post makes Cauley-Stein realize how fortunate UK is to have Randle.
"It's fun," said the 7-foot sophomore who had seven points and 11 rebounds on Sunday. "If all else fails, you can just throw him the ball and he's going to make something happen. He's a great teammate to have on your team because you know he's always going to make a play. He's pretty good."
The only time on Sunday NKU was able to slow Randle was when he took an inadvertent poke to the eye during the first half. The play sent him to the bench less than three minutes into the game, but not for long.
"I couldn't see for a little bit, but I'm good now," Randle said.
Always asking for more, Calipari even used Randle's brief exit as a teachable moment.
"He stops out there," Calipari said, referencing Randle's unwillingness to leave the game regardless how tired he may be, "and he finally took himself out for the first time this season. He took himself out. The only way he came out was the guy almost poked his eye out, so had he to come out. You can't play at the pace we play and stay in there for 15 minutes. You just can't do it."
If Randle weren't the way he is, he might view Calipari's coaching as nitpicking. Instead, he understands his coach is only trying to make him better.
With that in mind, Randle is going to strive to meet those high standards even though he knows Coach Cal will only raise the bar if he reaches them.
"I'll try to (get 20 rebounds)," Randle said. "But if I get 20, he's going to ask for 25. I'm just out there trying my best and trying to get better."
The first-year head coach prowled the sideline, letting officials and players alike know when something displeased him, and in no uncertain terms. In the halftime locker room, he delivered remarks that were, by all accounts, quite spirited.
Considering his successful background at Florida State and UK's 2-7 record, frustration is understandable on the part of Stoops. But don't even consider interpreting a little fire as a sign that it's all getting to Stoops.
He knew what he signed up for and is undeterred.
"I'm going to go back to work and stick to the things that I feel are necessary to help build this program," Stoops said. "I may get frustrated, but I'm not discouraged."
The frustration doesn't stop with Stoops.
It extends to defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, who watched as Missouri's big, physical wide receivers took advantage of their matchups with smaller UK defensive backs. Former top-ranked recruit Dorial Green-Beckham was the headliner -- catching four of Maty Mauk's five touchdown passes -- but he wasn't the only factor.
"Sometimes they make the plays and you don't make them," Eliot said. "Whether that's talent or whether that's just not finishing, it's tough."
You can also count offensive coordinator Neal Brown among the ranks of the frustrated.
UK, after a stand by its defense, marched down the field on its first drive for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. Following a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats were positioned to put the ninth-ranked Tigers on their heels when they took over just 45 yards away from the end zone.
Instead, UK gave up a second-down sack and punted.
"Where we are as a program, we've gotta capitalize on those things," Brown said.
The players are feeling it too, including quarterback Jalen Whitlow, but they also echo Stoops' sentiment that they aren't backing down.
"I'm not discouraged, because I know what we did wrong," Whitlow said. "It's always good to know what you didn't do wrong or what you didn't do right. So I'm not discouraged by any means. We've just gotta be better."
As coaches delivered their impassioned halftime calls down 28-3 to show some of that improvement, Whitlow listened. When UK came out of the locker room, he proved that he's not one to yield.
"I was proud of Jalen," Brown said. "I thought he came and answered the bell. We challenged the group at halftime and he came out and showed some leadership."
Still playing through pain due to a banged-up shoulder and ankle, Whitlow led scoring drives on two of UK's three third-quarter possessions. On the game, he carried 24 times for 44 yards -- including the 41 yards lost on seven sacks -- and a touchdown and completed 17-of-27 passes for 225 yards in spite of being in visible discomfort for much of the afternoon.
"I'm just putting it all on the line," Whitlow said. "Whatever, the team needs, I'm going to try to fulfill that role."
At this point, UK needs leadership more than anything else out of the sophomore. His play in cutting Missouri's lead to 35-17 late in the third quarter was a dramatic example of just that.
"This group is hungry," Brown said. "On offense, we are starving for somebody to take the reins. I thought he showed some toughness today and I hope that carries over."
Stoops noticed the same thing.
"You could tell he was hurting, and again, I think he's learning to compete," he said. "I thought he did some good things, and he led our team good."
Early in the season, Whitlow and Maxwell Smith split time, even within individual series. Eventually, the staff decided to move past the two-quarterback system and turn to Whitlow. Injuries briefly undid those efforts, but Whitlow is now trying to make up for lost time and become more than just a leader by example.
"It's always good for the quarterback to be a leader," Whitlow said. "Working on becoming more vocal. Guys see that I lead and try to do everything right, but I'm just day by day trying to get better at being more vocal."
No matter how vocal Whitlow becomes as he settles in at quarterback, he won't replace Stoops as the primary voice of Kentucky football. Over the coming days, that voice will be singing a familiar tune, but one that remains powerful.
"It's hard, but you've just got to go back to work, and you've got to stick to what I preach all the time, and that's getting better," Stoops said. "I've got to get these guys up. We've got to get them mentally prepared to practice on Monday and to prepare, and to go out there and compete and try to win a game. That's what I'm going to do."
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
Calipari told the curious reporter he didn't know yet (Young would indeed play) and did what he often does, going off on a seemingly unrelated tangent. The topic, in this case, was Alex Poythress.
"Alex has been really good," Calipari said. "He's narrowed his game and he's trying to play harder and he's not caving in and stopping."
Fans got a taste of what Calipari was talking about as Poythress scored 10 points in that final exhibition to bounce back from a disappointing performance against Transylvania. But even so, "narrowing his game" seemed like one of those signature Coach Cal phrases whose meaning wouldn't become clear until later.
In this case, it took less than 24 hours for Poythress to put on display exactly what his coach was talking about.
Honing on his strengths, avoiding his weaknesses and bringing the kind of consistent energy that often escaped him as a freshman, Poythress tallied his second-career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
"I thought he was terrific," Calipari said of Poythress.
After the 89-57 win, Calipari tweaked his original word choice about Poythress's second-year evolution slightly to "defining his game" and gave a bit more insight into what that means.
"I'm not a playmaker, that's not how I'm going to play, and I'm going to go after every ball and dunk every ball, and he's playing to his strengths, trying to be the best version of him," Calipari said.
Playing on a team that lacked depth and the star power of Julius Randle -- who had 23 points and 15 rebounds in his collegiate debut -- Poythress felt pressure to produce in all facets. When the Wildcats weren't playing well, it was easy to fall in the trap of trying to force plays.
Now surrounded by the likes of Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison and an improved Willie Cauley-Stein, Poythress feels no need to do anything outside his wheelhouse.
"It's easy because we're really deep this year," Poythress said. "We've got a lot of guys this year, so it's easy to find your role within the game."
Though it may be easier for the Wildcats to identify their roles, getting on the floor to actually fulfill them is much more of a challenge. Last season, Calipari couldn't afford not to have Poythress on the floor. Now, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and Jon Hood are waiting in the wings if he's not playing the way his coach demands.
"You've just gotta be ready whenever you get your opportunity," Poythress said. "You never know when it's gonna be. It might be quick, it might late. You've just gotta come out and be ready, give off great energy and compete out there."
For just the third time in his career, Poythress came off the bench on Friday night. Within two minutes, it was clear he had come ready to play. Poythress corralled a miss by Johnson, missed a shot of his own inside, rebounded again and finally scored on a layup.
Marcus Lee -- who thrived in a reserve role himself by scoring 17 points in 15 minutes -- said that kind of energy is contagious.
"It's kind of like catching fire, where everybody is just getting pumped and everybody is always ready," Lee said. "So when Alex is going in and getting all of those rebounds, he's got the whole bench excited. We knew it was going to be a great game just by him getting all of those rebounds all of a sudden which I absolutely loved."
Poythress continued his assault on the glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds and scoring eight of his 10 points directly off of them in just 21 minutes.
"I'm just trying to play to my game really," Poythress said. "That's attacking the rim, getting rebounds, everything like that."
Poythress doesn't mind his new reserve role and actually says he benefits from starting on the bench. A 4.0 student, Poythress did what he's used to doing for the 2:19 he waited to check in.
"You know how the game's being played, how the refs are calling fouls," Poythress said. "You can analyze the game better and when you get in you'll know what to do."
Poythress gave UK a significant boost off the bench against UNC Asheville, but his presence could prove even more crucial as the season wears on.
The new emphasis on eliminating physical play was easily observed on Friday, as officials whistled the two teams for a combined 52 fouls. The Cats coped with some minor foul issues in the game, but there will come a time when multiple starters are shackled to the bench due to fouls.
Calipari didn't build his roster thinking about the way games would be officiated this season, but having the depth to be able to bring a projected first-round pick like Poythress off the bench is a major asset.
"I'm happy that we're deep because it is going to play a part, no question about it," Calipari said.
Julius Randle, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress
There is an exception.
Recently, one of his assistants found out about it too. Orlando Antigua, coping with the responsibilities of being a head coach for the first time, called Coach Cal to tell him where he found he got his best thinking done when everything else was spinning around him.
"So Orlando hit me this summer and said, 'You won't believe this: I'm in the shower thinking of stuff' getting ready for the Dominican (National Team tournament)," Calipari recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, when you get all these thoughts, they gotta come out somewhere.' "
Calipari found himself in that familiar mode on Thursday morning. A day removed from a practice that left him upset -- though it wasn't as bad on second review -- he reworked his entire plan for the afternoon in his thinking zone of choice.
"So a practice plan I had set last night, when I woke up this morning and thought about it, I walked in and changed it," Calipari said. "Tore that one up and did another one. I don't know if I've ever done that before."
Coaching the nation's preseason No. 1 team, Calipari has found that himself searching for every possible means to inspire the Wildcats to reach their vast potential. But on the eve of a season opener against UNC Asheville in Rupp Arena, he's having to remind himself that the Cats will ultimately be measured by what they do in March, not on Friday at 7 p.m. ET.
"Look, I was thinking about it today, I was driving over here and I starting doing 'November, December, January, February, I've got four months to get this thing right,' " Calipari said. "Four months. And if I try to do it in two weeks, I'm going to cheat the kids and drive myself crazy."
Coach Cal believes that starts with identifying a rotation.
In both of UK's exhibitions, all 11 healthy scholarship players saw the floor. Each one is talented enough and likely deserving of playing time, but Calipari learned in 2009-10 -- with an assist from the late John Wooden -- that a team can't play at its best in his system with a rotation that deep.
"We need to get a group of seven guys -- maybe eight but more likely seven -- playing together and let them play," Calipari said. "That's the main thing we gotta do."
Calipari won't (or can't) say who fits in the group right now, only that it must include two point guards and other players capable of playing multiple positions, but he has one in mind for Friday's game. By no means, however, is it set in stone.
"We're going to start seven, having a group of seven, and then: Is that the right seven? Does that change? Add or subtract?" Calipari said. "There's foul trouble, there's injuries, but we have a nice grouping of players that we have enough guys that we can start narrowing in."
Andrew Harrison is all but certain to be part of that group regardless.
The freshman point guard missed UK's two exhibitions with a knee contusion, but returned to practice on Wednesday. Harrison's presence could go a long way toward addressing some of the issues that Calipari noticed during his absence.
"It's like you're playing your football game and your wide receiver is your quarterback," Calipari said. "Now you're quarterback comes back and you're like, 'OK, now guys are in the right spots.' "
In this case, Aaron Harrison was the wide receiver trying to play quarterback. As identical as he may be to his twin brother, the elder of the two Harrisons is more comfortable on the wing. That was apparent when Calipari moved him back to his traditional shooting-guard spot against Montevallo.
Andrew Harrison, however, has been a point guard since a young age.
"He's a floor general," Jon Hood said. "You guys will see: He can play. He's really good."
The situation reminds Hood, a redshirt senior, of one that the team he played on his freshman year faced. The 2009-10 Wildcats, like this year's edition, had the nation's consensus top freshman point guard, but John Wall had to miss two games early.
"You couldn't judge my freshman year team because John (Wall) missed the first exhibition game and you didn't know how good we were going to be once we were all healthy and once we were all on the court," Hood said. "It's the same with this team. We just have to all get healthy and all get on the same page and we'll go from there."
Hood has been a part of the process of building a team out of a collection of talented, young parts four times now, so he's practiced in the art of patience when it comes to such matters.
Calipari is too, even if it takes an occasional shower brainstorm to remember.
"I've got four months," Calipari said. "To help this team put them in a position of how they're going to play offensively and defensively to do something special. It's just we are what we are right now."
With so many considerations at play -- from multi-year contracts to venue and opponent availability -- simply coming up with dates on which Kentucky can face the teams it wants to was difficult enough.
But now that Mitchell sees how the schedule has come together -- with a two-game season-opening road swing, including the Wildcats' 2013-14 debut at perennial NCAA Tournament team Marist -- he realizes it all ended up working out well.
"I think there is tremendous benefit by starting the season with a team that we feel like can be very good and can be challenged the opening night," Mitchell said. "We could be here in Memorial Coliseum and playing a team that is not of the quality or caliber of Marist and not be nearly as challenged."
With a matchup against the Red Foxes, who are receiving votes in both major polls, looming on Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., preparation for the No. 7/8 Wildcats has had an added edge.
"Practices have been different and the sense of urgency to get prepared has been different, which are all good things," Mitchell said. "If we don't talk to each other and if we don't play with tremendous defensive fundamentals and if we don't really have a sharp mental focus then it will be trouble."
Over the past four seasons, UK has won its season openers by an average of 36 points and three of the four games were played in the comforts of home. Duplicating that feat against a Brian Giorgis-coached Marist team that was down single digits late in the second half against UK last season won't be easy.
The change, though certainly a challenge, is welcome.
"We're fortunate to play such a great team at the beginning of the season," junior guard Bria Goss said. "Marist is very fundamentally sound. It will be a very good test to see where we are at early in season."
UK's first test came in its lone exhibition against Eckerd College last Sunday. The Cats won comfortably, 83-35, but the visitors did Kentucky a favor by effectively using backdoor cuts against Mitchell's signature high-pressure defense.
"Eckerd gave us a real gift from that standpoint," Mitchell said. "That's what our focus has been, trying to really focus on our defensive fundamentals. Marist is such a good motion offense team and you don't know exactly what they're going to do."
After Marist, UK will stay in the Empire State ahead of a game at Wagner on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. The Cats will also take advantage of a free Saturday in one of the world's greatest cities.
"We get to spend a little time in New York City on Saturday and that'll be good for our players from that region," Mitchell said.
UK's Jelleah Sidney and Jennifer O'Neill are both from the Big Apple, while Bernisha Pinkett (Washington, D.C.) and Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) are from the Northeast as well and will have family in town to watch them.
The sightseeing and visits with family will be nice, but this weekend is a business trip for UK Hoops, one that Mitchell hopes will pay dividends both immediately and in the future.
"It's a great, great thing to go to Marist and have to prepare for all that, so I think it will do nothing but benefit our team down the road," Mitchell said. "I'm excited about the opportunity and we'll have to play well to win."
There, he begins his question-answer-session with the media with some comments reflecting on Kentucky's last game before talking in general about his team's upcoming opponent.
He always has good things to say, but he was uniquely effusive in his praise of Missouri.
"Missouri is a very good football team, as we all know," Stoops said. "Very balanced, do a good job of running it, throwing it, keeping you off balance. Their defense has been the biggest improvement for them."
As Stoops' words suggest, what differentiates eighth-ranked Missouri (8-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) is its strength in all facets of the game. The Tigers control of their own destiny in the SEC East and are an overtime loss away from an unbeaten record not because of smoke and mirrors, but because they are sound across the board.
On offense, Missouri's receiving corps is what stands out, and quite literally. The Tigers top three receivers are Marcus Lucas, L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham and the trio has combined for 1,681 yards receiving. They also look they should be in town to play in Rupp Arena instead of Commonwealth Stadium, standing 6-foot-5, 6-4 and 6-6, respectively.
"I can't remember playing a group bigger than this," said Stoops, whose career began as a secondary coach.
Safeties coach Bradley Dale Peveto took it a step further, calling the Tigers "as good a group of receivers as I've ever coached again." None of the five Wildcats listed on UK's depth chart at cornerback is taller than 6-0, but the group will have to find a way to match the physicality of the Tigers both in the passing game and in shedding blocks.
"You gotta eat your Wheaties and bring your A game," Peveto said.
The rest of the UK defense should load up before Saturday's noon ET kickoff (ESPNU) too, because Stoops sees an offense that's just as physical in the trenches.
"They run the ball on everybody," Stoops said. "And you see them really throwing guys around in the run game and creating big seams."
Missouri is averaging 237.2 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry on the ground, numbers that have hardly suffered with athletic quarterback James Franklin sidelined with a shoulder injury the last three games. Franklin is slated for a possible return on Saturday, but the Cats won't alter their approach much whether they're facing him or backup Maty Mauk.
"They're both very good quarterbacks," Stoops said. "Their offense basically stays the same."
That cannot be said of the UK offense.
With Jalen Whitlow returning to a starting role after battling ankle and shoulder injuries, the Wildcat attack found another gear against Alabama State. With an added dimension in the running game and Whitlow's progression as a passer, the Cats look to sustain that offensive momentum.
"I thought Jalen did a nice job making some plays with his feet," Stoops said. "I thought he did a nice job throwing it at times. There were a few throws that stuck out to me during the game that we know he missed. But after watching the tape, really thought he did a good job of hitting some guys as well. Got to continue to work our passing game and improve in that area. But to score 48 points was good to see."
Duplicating that feat against Missouri won't be easy.
The Tigers are fourth in the league in scoring defense, third in rushing defense and first in turnovers forced by a wide margin. That all starts up front.
"The first thing that jumps off the film when you're watching Missouri is their defensive line," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "They go two or three deep at each position. They can really run. They have the fastest D-line that we've played and they play super hard and they chase the ball probably better than anybody we've played."
Michael Sam headlines the group, leading the SEC with 10 sacks.
To combat that pass rush and avoid the interceptions that have so frequently befallen Missouri opponents (the Tigers have 17 picks on the season), UK will rely on a combination of Whitlow's athleticism, quick throws and a variety of protection schemes.
"We've got to get the ball out of our hands fast," Brown said. "I think he understands. I mean, we've got to do some things in our protection: We've got to get some backs, we've got to get some tight ends, do some things like that to help our guys out."
Once Whitlow gets rid of the ball, he'll be relying on his receivers to make plays. Unfortunately for the Cats, Whitlow will almost certainly be without two of his top targets -- Ryan Timmons and Alex Montgomery -- due to injury. That means UK's "next-man-up" mentality will be put to the test.
"I think Demarco Robinson is a guy that's finally healthy, and we need him to step up and make some plays," Brown said. "We need A.J. Legree to step up. Some of the guys that have been here, they've got to step up and produce."
Against Alabama State, Robinson showed some the play-making ability that excited his coaches throughout the spring and summer with four catches for 44 yards. As Brown mentioned, an ankle injury has limited his explosiveness but Robinson is now finally at full speed.
"I have to play a bigger role this week," Robinson said. "I have to make more plays than I've been making in the past. I feel like it's a bigger responsibility."
Responsibility, however, isn't the first thing Stoops wants his team feeling heading into the weekend. Facing a team as good as Missouri affords the Cats a chance to measure their continued improvement against elite competition, and he wants them to embrace that.
"It's definitely a great opportunity for us," Stoops said. "We've got a great team coming in here, playing at home, at noon on a Saturday. It should be a beautiful afternoon and we're excited about it definitely."
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
Rain came to Lexington on Wednesday afternoon, but the Kentucky football team stayed outside for its third practice of the week.
Though the forecast is clear for UK's game on Saturday against Missouri, Mark Stoops is always happy to see how his team responds in less-than-ideal conditions.
"Sloppy day out there," Stoops said. "Messy day. So it was good to get some sloppy ball out there, so it was good to get some wet ball, some work in the rain. Got our work done and feel good about where we're at and our preparations and just moving forward."
It was a test for the passing game as Jalen Whitlow works with a receiving corps significantly hampered by injury. After productive work on the first days of the week, the Wildcats once again took step forward on Wednesday.
"I think we're getting better," Stoops said. "I thought Jalen had a very good day yesterday and seemed to have a good day today. Javess (Blue) is fresh. He looked good. Demarco (Robinson), (Jeff) Badet -- all those guys are getting better. We need to use our tight ends a little bit more and get them some balls."
Missouri, however, will present an even stiffer challenge than any weather. The Tigers lead the Southeastern Conference in turnover margin and feature what offensive coordinator Neal Brown calls the fastest defensive line UK will have faced all season.
"The first thing that jumps off the film when you're watching Missouri is their defensive line," Brown said. "They go two or three deep at each position. They can really run."
Considering Missouri's talent on both sides of the ball, it stands to reason that the UK coaches would once again look to special teams for an edge. In Stoops and special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto's first season, Wildcat specialists have created a number of big plays -- including a punt block last week and a memorable fake field goal for a touchdown against Florida -- while also being solid overall.
"It tells me a lot about a team," Stoops said. "That's kind of the heart of your team. There's a lot of guys on there that are really doing a good job and being very unselfish, and I think Coach Peveto's done a great job of coaching them up."
Considering the plays UK has already called -- Stoops and Peveto work together to make such decisions -- on special teams, opponents are becoming aware of the Cats' reputation for special-teams trickery and adjusting.
"It's just like I said in some other games, we had some things called and they jump out into a safe look and took it away," Stoops said. "That can help you in some areas, but certainly they could catch you. If you try to run some sort of fake or a trick play, they could catch you and it could hurt you."
Don't expect UK to stop trying though. A former defensive coordinator, Stoops may seem buttoned-down and conservative, but he's not afraid to gamble -- as long as the odds are right.
"Some of that stuff isn't as low-percentage as you might think," Stoops said. "So if we feel that something's there and there's a different percentage of converting it, then I'm all for it."
By EJ Floreal (Follow on Twitter)
What's up Big Blue Nation? How are you all doing?
I know I'm still hearing about it, so I have to start out talking about that dunk in the Blue-White Scrimmage. If you watched it, I actually stuttered. I was kind of nervous to back-cut because I thought that maybe Willie would make a good move and then I'd just be in the way, but I went and back-cut. He threw me the ball and by that time I was just thinking, "I'm going to dunk it at Rupp."
When I went up, I didn't know who was in front of me. I actually thought it was Dominique or something so I was like, "I'll be fine." But when I landed, it kind of seemed like everyone breathed in and then exhaled. Usually I scream after a dunk but I couldn't scream. I was just in shock when I saw it was Julius and Aaron was over there, eyes wide open. Alex couldn't believe it. KP (assistant coach Kenny Payne) looked right at me and he was just smiling. Hoody went crazy.
I've dunked on some people, but no one that big, not like a 6-9, 250-pound dude. I didn't expect that at all. When I came to the ground, I didn't know if I should mug or flex or something, so I just looked shocked. Just watching the video and seeing people's reactions on the court and on the sidelines and even the fans, you could just tell that everyone was really shocked.
After the game, we all talked to Julius about it except for me. I kept my mouth shut because I knew he would come back at me the first opportunity he got. Andrew was giving him the most. He was talking so much. He kept telling me, "You should be going crazy. Stop trying to act all humble." I kept saying, "It's just a play, it's just a play." They were all looking at Julius like, "Rise and shine, Ju." He kept smiling. He couldn't really do anything because it did happen, but he just smiled and shook his head a lot.
Just in the locker room, KP and the other coaches were giving him a lot of stuff because him and Coach Payne are really close. Coach Payne was just like, "How does it feel to be on the other end?" Julius brought up when Coach Payne got dunked on by Rex Chapman way back when. They kept going back and forth. Cal actually acknowledged it in the postgame meetings. He was just talking, saying, "You've been doing really well, you're going to get more opportunities. You've just got to wait your time." That was good to hear because I've been working hard.
I came here because I wanted to be challenged and so far that's what I'm getting. Something that I am really excited about doing every day is the one-on-ones before practice. If you watch, I don't back down from any of them. I've gone against Julius, Aaron, James, Marcus, Dakari, Willie and I haven't backed down against any of them. I go out there and compete and I've won a couple. Any opportunity they give me in practice, I try to make the most of it. Even in a game, like you saw when I got in against Transy, I immediately got a steal and got a bucket.
I need to talk about that play too, because I've heard a lot about it. I got the steal and I knew right when I got it, "I'm going to dunk, I'm going to dunk, I'm going to dunk." I tried to take off really hard so I could completely fly, but I guess I stepped wrong. I just stepped in a hole. I couldn't extend to dunk it, so I just had to lay it up and get the two points.
My phone was blowing up and everyone was just like, "Why didn't you dunk it? I know you could have dunked it. You could have freaked it, top 10. What were you doing?" I talked to Tod and I was like, "Should I make a public service announcement?" I asked Marcus too. They were like, "Just do it for the fun of it."
My knee buckled on the fast break or else I think everyone knows I woulda dunked that....if I culd of had that one back...still fun tho !-- EJ Floreal (@BouncyE_24) November 2, 2013
I made a general public statement of what happened on Twitter and then people started responding that we would rather have two points than a mistake anyway. It was all fun. I wish I could have dunked it. That would have been cool, my first dunk in a game uni, but I got the two points so I'm not really that worried. Hopefully I get another chance soon.
I'm excited for the regular season to get started on Friday, but at the same time it's kind of hard just knowing that I won't get as many opportunities with the better competition we play. But I'm excited. Even if I'm on the bench, I want to learn everything I can. Especially that Michigan State game, being able to watch Andrew and Aaron go at it with Keith Appling and Gary Harris and seeing our bigs battle, just gaining experience from everything. I'm excited just to be able to be a part of this and learn everything. Not many people get the opportunity to be around this many great elite players and this many great coaches, so I'm just trying to take advantage of it.
I came here to improve, so any chance I get that's what I'm doing, whether it's working out with Julius and Coach Payne or Dakari and Coach Payne or just by myself shooting with one of the managers. If I don't have like a night class or a lot of homework to do, I'll try to get in the gym and just work on stuff that I really have to work on. I try to get workouts from the coaches to do by myself. I try to have a manager come and do it with me.
Away from basketball, I think a lot of people know me and James are close. Something people don't know that I haven't really said yet because I don't think a lot of people would believe it is James is actually my distant cousin. People always thought we were related because my grandma's maiden name is Young, so we just looked it up last week and we happened to be distant cousins. It's a long, long way, but it's still pretty cool. It's a small world. I guess that might be a reason why we're so close and share so many interests. We kind of hit it off from the start.
When he first came for media training, we were talking and bonding and laughing. Right after that I went to his room and we started playing video games, and ever since that we've been really close with each other. He might be my cousin, but James is terrible at the NBA game we play. I beat him three times in a row and then he wanted to play soccer and hockey games and he beat me, but nobody plays those games. So congrats to James. I'd have to say Dominique is the best at the basketball game because he's the smartest player. He just exploits your weaknesses.
It's been fun hanging out with all the guys, but me, Tod and Marcus, us three are really close. We've actually been to Tod's house to eat dinner, and we go to the movies too. We always like to be around each other. We'll always be joking around. We gave ourselves a nickname but I'm not going to say what the nickname is.
I guess I'm close with Marcus because of the Cali bond. I knew him before, not really as well as now, but we knew of each other. We played each other a couple times. We always go out and get food or we'll go watch movies. He won't go watch scary movies with me, which sucks because I love scary movies, but we'll go see like comedies and cartoon, kid-ish movies because everyone else thinks they're too grown to watch those.
Anyway, I can't wait for the season to start. I'm really excited. I hope I can dunk on some more people like Julius. Just kidding with you, Julius.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
With another top-10 opponent coming to town, Mark Stoops understands the enormity of the task his team will face in Missouri.
That's what makes the good work Kentucky has done in its first two days of practice ahead of Saturday's game against the Tigers.
"We got a great challenge ahead of us this week," Stoops said. "Got off to a decent start here with a Monday and a Tuesday practice. We're facing a very good football team, so we don't have enough hours in the day and enough reps we can do in practice to prepare ourselves, but it was a good day overall, and looking forward to the challenge here this weekend."
UK's confidence was buoyed over the weekend as the Wildcats got back in the win column with a dominating performance against Alabama State. Stoops, however, quickly reminded his team that the effort was far from flawless and that improvement still needed to be made.
The Cats have embraced that attitude.
"They know," Stoops said. "Win or lose, we've got to get these things corrected. And that's what we're constantly trying to do, just get better as a program."
With that in mind, UK's offensive and defensive first teamers spent much of Tuesday's practice going head to head. The Wildcat defensive backs -- who will face the monumental task of defending Missouri receivers who collectively resemble a basketball team with their height and athleticism -- were primary beneficiaries of that work.
"We went a good dose of good against good with the offense today, so it was a good long practice, a lot of reps, and those guys, they're gonna get a good workout," Stoops said.
This week, the defensive backs are lining up opposite a UK receiving corps thinned significantly by injury. Alexander Montgomery is out for the season with a torn ACL, while Ryan Timmons is likely to miss Saturday's game due to a sprained ankle.
Timmons and Montgomery are UK's second-and third-leading pass catchers, combining for 43 catches, 432 and two touchdowns, so the Cats are looking for receivers to step up.
"Javess (Blue) is fresh with sitting out last week," Stoops said. "So Javess is good. Demarco's (Robinson) stepping up and continuing. A.J. (Legree), like I said, I think he's getting better and better. Those are three that are jumping out at me."
At least on Tuesday, the offense didn't suffer for Timmons and Montgomery's absence, as Jalen Whitlow seems to have taken a firm grasp of the quarterback position.
"He seems to be rolling along pretty good," Stoops said. "They were as sharp today going against us as I've seen them in a while, so that was good to see."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 3:
Men's soccer: Callum Irving
Sophomore goalkeeper Callum Irving continued his stellar season with a pair of shutout performances in UK's two-game week ... A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Irving saved five shots in UK's 2-0 win at Marshall on Wednesday, including four key saves in a second half to keep the team in the game before UK scored two goals in the late half ... In UK's 6-1 win over Florida Atlantic, Irving worked the first 65 minutes scoreless, before subbing out in favor of senior Jack Van Arsdale on senior day ... Irving is sporting a stretch of 166 consecutive scoreless minutes played ... On the year, Irving has a 1.06 goals-against average in 12 games, with 33 saves and five shutouts.
Volleyball: Alexandra Morgan
Senior Alexandra Morgan had an exceptional week during UK's tough road stretch. Morgan notched a season-high 14 kills on a blistering .591 hitting percentage in helping UK snap a two-match losing streak to Arkansas. Morgan also posted a pair of digs and added six blocks. Kentucky turned away 15 Razorback attacks for the second-straight match with Morgan helping lead the way. At No. 7 and undefeated Missouri, Morgan posted eight kills on a team-high .316 hitting percentage for players with at least 10 attempts. For the week, she averaged 3.14 kills per set on a squad-best .463 hitting clip while adding a block per set.
Men's soccer: Tyler Riggs
Senior forward Tyler Riggs had the best week of his decorated career, totaling four goals in a two-game span, including the ninth hat trick in Kentucky history in a win over FAU ... In UK's must-win road tilt at Marshall on Wednesday, Riggs netted the game-winning goal in the second half and forced a penalty kick with a foul in the box for UK's second goal of the game ... A native of Louisville, Ky., Riggs netted three second-half goals to lead UK to a 6-1 win over FAU on Sunday, marking his first career hat trick ... All three of his goals came in his 24 minutes played in the second half ... Riggs now has four two or more goal game of his career ... He now has 28 goals in his career, the fourth-most in UK history ... His first goal of the trio vs. the Owls came just 23 seconds into the second half, the third-fastest goal to start the second half in program history ... Has five goals in 15 games in 2013, with 33 shots.
Volleyball: Sara Schwarzwalder
Sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder led the defensive charge for the Wildcats in a 1-1 week. She registered a career-high nine blocks in leading UK to a win over Arkansas on Friday. The nine blocks is the most by a UK player this season and just one shy of a Kentucky record for a four-set match. Schwarzwalder again led the Cats defensively in a heartbreaking loss at No. 7 and undefeated Missouri with a team-high four block assists.
Volleyball: Anni Thomasson
Freshman Anni Thomasson had a breakout offensive performance for the Cats in a 1-1 week. For the first time in her career she had back-to-back double-digit kill efforts. She began the week with 12 kills on .323 hitting in a victory over Arkansas. She followed that with a career-high 15 kill effort in a loss at Missouri. The freshman outside hitter had the most kills of any player on the court against the Tigers. Thomasson for the week averaged a team-high 3.86 kills per set and ranked second on the team with 4.00 points per frame. She also continued to be a steady defensively with an average of 2.00 scoops per set.
- UK earned a 76-42 win on Friday in its first exhibition contest of the season over Transylvania. UK is 50-4 all-time in exhibition contests and has won 36 of the last 37 played. Freshman Julius Randle turned in a double-double effort with team-highs in points (16) and rebounds (12).
- The Wildcats utilized a 20-2 run to begin the second half to pull away from the Pioneers. Freshman Dakari Johnson chipped in with nine points and eight boards.
- Kentucky enters the season ranked No. 1 in the AP and Coaches' polls. UK was unranked at the end of last season. It is the first time in the 22-year history of the poll that a team begins the season No. 1 after finishing the previous season unranked. The Wildcats last started at No. 1 prior to the 1995-96 season --finishing at No. 1 in that season as well.
- Senior forward and All-America candidate DeNesha Stallworth scored a game-high 17 points as the No. 7/8 Kentucky women's basketball team downed Eckerd College, 83-35, in an exhibition contest Sunday afternoon. UK is 6-1 in exhibition contests under coach Mitchell.
- The Wildcats utilized a 23-0 run to begin the game and held the Tritons scoreless for the first 10:43 of the game. UK's stifling defense forced 41 turnovers with 16 of them steals.
- Three players reached double-figures led by Stallworth's 17 points. Samarie Walker and Makayla Epps scored 12 and 10 points, respectively. All 12 players in uniform scored, played at least nine minutes and grabbed two rebounds.
- The Kentucky cross country teams both took significant steps forward during Friday's Southeastern Conference Championships at Florida's Mark Bostick Golf Course. The women's team finished third, earning its highest conference meet placement since coming in second at the 2002 meet. The men's team battled to place fifth overall, which was one spot better than the previous season.
- Cally Macumber earned a First-Team All-SEC selection for the second consecutive season, with a seventh-place time of 20:35.82. Matt Hillenbrand picked up Second-Team All-SEC honors as he finished 12th overall in 24:17.19. Cassidy Hale was an SEC All-Freshman Team honoree, as she was the No. 5 first-year runner to cross the finish line, 26th overall in 21:22.42.
- Behind the best offensive showing in three years with 48 points scored, the Kentucky football team posted its second win of the season with a 48-14 victory over Alabama State at Commonwealth Stadium.
- Sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow was the star for Kentucky in the game, rushing 10 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while going 16-for-26 through the air for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Whitlow became the first UK player since Shane Boyd in 2004 to throw for two touchdowns and rush for two touchdowns in the same game. Whitlow is also the fifth UK quarterback since 1983 to rush for 100 yards in a game. Whitlow's 88-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter was the second longest in school history and longest every by a quarterback.
- The Kentucky defense also had a good game limiting Alabama State to 297 yards of total offense. The UK defense forced a season-high five fumbles in the game, recovering two. Kentucky did not have a turnover for the fourth consecutive game, which is a school record.
- The UK men's golf team finished the fall season tying for third at The Invitational at The Ocean Course, Oct. 27-29. Senior Cody Martin placed fourth at five-under par for the tournament. Senior Ben Stow recorded a hole-in-one in the final round on the par-3, 5th hole.
- Stow and Stephen Powers finished tied for 12th and tied for 17th, respectively. UK finished in the top five in all four tournaments during the fall season.
- The Kentucky rifle team improved to 4-0 this weekend, defeating No. 8 TCU 4694-4635 and snapping a four-match losing streak to the Horned Frogs.
- Senior Emily Holsopple led the Wildcats with an individual aggregate of 1181, opening the day with a 589 in smallbore and finishing with a 592 in air rifle.
- Sophomore Connor Davis posted the highest air rifle score for the Wildcats with a 594, while freshman Sonya May posted a 589.
- The Kentucky men's soccer team completed a crucial two-game week with a pair of wins to clinch a berth in the 2013 Conference USA Tournament. UK posted a 2-0 win at Marshall on Wednesday and a 6-1 win over Florida Atlantic on Sunday for Senior Day.
- The Wildcats rode a historic scoring week for senior forward Tyler Riggs and a stingy defense to a pair of wins to clinch a postseason berth. Riggs netted a game-winning goal in UK's win at Marshall, also setting up a foul in the box for a penalty kick goal in the 2-0 win.
On Sunday, for senior day, Riggs exploded for the ninth hat trick in UK soccer history, getting all three goals in his 24 minutes played in the second half in UK's 6-1 smashing win.
- Kentucky's win over FAU was its largest result in its time in C-USA (2005-2013) and marked its largest win in league action since 1999. UK got the three goals from Riggs, with senior Steven Perinovic also getting his first goal of the year and freshmen Kaelon Fox and Ryan Creel getting on the board. Senior Brad Doliner scored UK's penalty kick goal at Marshall on Wednesday to help highlight a strong week for UK's senior class.
- Kentucky will open the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Wednesday night against the Ole Miss Rebels at 7:30 p.m. CT at the Orange Beach SportsPlex in Orange Beach, Ala.
- The Wildcats finished the SEC regular season 7-4-0, and earned the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament. Ole Miss will enter Wednesday's quarterfinal match with a 7-3-1 SEC record and the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament.
- Stuart Pope was named to the 2013 Academic All-District Region Two Team on Saturday, it was announced by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) on Saturday afternoon.
Swimming and diving
- Competing against two teams with both men's and women's squads ranked in the top ten nationally, the University of Kentucky swimming and diving team won five events but suffered losses to Indiana and Tennessee on Nov. 1 in Bloomington, Ind. The Wildcat men (1-5, 0-3 SEC) lost to the eighth-ranked Volunteers, 177-123 and fell to No. 9 IU 208.0-92.0. The UK women (2-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference ) were defeated by No. 8 UT 214-84 and fell to the 10th-ranked Hoosiers 199-95.
- Junior Christa Cabot won both the 1- and 3-meter diving events, the second time this season she has swept the diving competition. She has claimed five victories through the first four competitions this season. Senior Eric Bruck claimed a victory in the men's 50 yard freestyle event, while junior Christina Bechtel won the women's 100 yard butterfly competition. Senior Lucas Gerotto rounded out UK's wins with a first-place finish in the men's 100 butterfly.
- In a tough-weekend stretch the No. 19 Kentucky volleyball team went 1-1 against Arkansas and No. 7 Missouri. UK began the weekend with a four-set victory over the Razorbacks snapping a two-match winning streak by the Hogs.
- Sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder had a career-high nine blocks to lead UK to a season-high 15 rejections. Senior Alexandra Morgan added six and also turned in a season-high 14 kills on a blazing .591 hitting percentage.
- Freshman Anni Thomasson had a breakout offensive week for the Cats. For the first time in her career she had back-to-back double-digit kill efforts. She began the week with 12 kills on .323 hitting in a victory over Arkansas. She followed that with a career-high 15 kill effort in a loss at Missouri. The freshman outside hitter had the most kills of any player on the court against the Tigers. Thomasson for the week averaged a team-high 3.86 kills per set and ranked second on the team with 4.00 points per frame. She also continued to be a steady defensively with an average of 2.00 scoops per set.
Monday, Nov. 4
Men's Basketball vs. Montevallo - 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 5
Men's Soccer vs. Wright State - 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 6
Women's Soccer vs. Ole Miss - 8:30 p.m. (SEC Tourney) (Orange Beach, Ala.)
Friday, Nov. 8
Volleyball vs. South Carolina - 7 p.m.
Women's Basketball at Marist - 7 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. UNC Asheville - 7 p.m.
Women's Soccer at SEC Tournament - TBA (Orange Beach, Ala.)
Saturday, Nov. 9
Football vs. Missouri - 12 p.m.
Men's Soccer at New Mexico - 7 p.m.
Rifle vs. Navy - All Day
Sunday, Nov. 10
Women's Basketball at Wagner - 1 p.m.
Volleyball vs. LSU - 1 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. Northern Kentucky - 4 p.m.
Women's Soccer at SEC Tournament - TBA (Orange Beach, Ala.)