UK Athletics hosted the 2015 CATSPY Awards on Monday night in Memorial Coliseum. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
When the Kentucky men's basketball team brought home the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in March, UK Athletics completed the goals set forth in the 15 by 15 by 15 Plan.
Mitch Barnhart didn't wait long to issue the next challenge to the department he leads.
Delivering his speech at the CATSPY Awards - UK's annual celebratory awards show - Barnhart described the successor to 15 by 15 by 15, which called on UK Athletics to win 15 conference or national championships, finish in the top 15 of Directors' Cup standings and achieve a cumulative student-athlete grade-point average of 3.0 by 2015.
It's called 1-3-5.
The goals are as simple as they are lofty.
1 - By the year 2022, Barnhart wants all of UK's 22 teams to win a conference or national championship.
3 - He's calling for a department-wide grade-point average of 3.0 for UK student-athletes each and every semester.
5 - Finally, he's asking UK Athletics to pursue a top-five Directors' Cup finish in the next seven seasons.
"This won't be easy," Barnhart said. "I know that. But 15 by 15 by 15 seemed just as ambitious seven years ago. We didn't let that stop us from pursuing greatness. We went after it anyway. Now, I challenge you to do the same with 1-3-5 because I know we can do it. I know we can become elite."
The word "elite" was a common thread throughout Barnhart's remarks.
The 13th-year athletics director reflected on the start of his UK tenure at the CATSPYs, commenting on the fan support and tradition that drew him to the job in the first place. UK, he said, was a good athletics department that embraced the task of becoming great.
Now it's about taking the next step.
"We're here to take on the challenge to go from great to elite," Barnhart said. "To me, being elite means we are in the conversation for the best athletics department in the country. Individually, it means each of us pursues being the best of ourselves."
Barnhart, an avid climber, likened UK's journey to elite status to scaling a mountain. "I've thought about this over the last month and I keep coming back to one of my greatest passions: mountain climbing," Barnhart said. "Becoming what we are today has been quite a climb already. It's brought us to within a few thousand feet of the summit, but those final few thousand feet of the climb are the toughest."
To make the final leg of the climb and reach the summit, Barnhart said everyone involved with UK Athletics will have to go to the next level, starting with the student-athletes.
"Are you committed to working, to becoming the best version of yourself?" Barnhart said. "You were brought here because you possess unique gifts. It's on you to develop them."
"Are you willing to embrace the expectations that come with being at Kentucky? The resources that go into supporting you, the facilities you play in and the fans that cheer you on demand excellence. It's on you to make it happen.
"Are you able to put yourself out there? You will never reach the heights you're capable of if you're not willing to make yourself uncomfortable. You're going to have to risk failure to succeed the way I know you can."
Barnhart, ever committed to the growth of UK student-athletes as people, was sure to point out the answers to those questions will determine more than just the department's success over the next five years.
"This is the start of your climb in life and this is the start of our climb to becoming elite," Barnhart said.
(1) Golden State Warriors def. (8) New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis), 4-0
Despite 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game in Davis' postseason debut, the Pelicans were swept by the top-seeded Warriors. New Orleans stayed competitive in each contest, including in holding a 20-point fourth quarter lead that led to an overtime loss at home in Game 3. Golden State will face either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round.
After playing just 10 minutes in Dallas' Game 2 loss in Houston, Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason with a back injury. Meanwhile, Jones continues to thrive in the Rockets' starting lineup despite having played in only 33 games during an injury-riddled regular season. The 23-year-old has averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds over the series' first four games. Houston claimed the first three matchups by an eight-point average margin of victory, but failed to complete the series sweep Sunday night in Dallas. Game 5 will take place in Houston on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on TNT.
(5) Washington Wizards (John Wall) def. (4) Toronto Raptors (Patrick Patterson), 4-0
In a battle of former collegiate teammates, Wall's Wizards defeated Patterson's higher seeded Raptors 4-0 in Washington's first series sweep in franchise history. Wall led the way with an average of 17.3 points and 12.5 assists over the four-game stretch. Poor field-goal shooting notwithstanding, Wall made his living at the free-throw line with a 24-for-28 (.857) performance. Patterson shined for Toronto, posting a 10.3 scoring average (3.0 points higher than in the regular season) and a 7-for-15 (.467) three-point field goal total. Chuck Hayes, who is also on the Raptors roster, logged zero playoff minutes. The Wizards will face the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets in the second round.
(3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks, CHI 3-1
Like Hayes and James Young (whose Boston Celtics were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs' opening round), the 17-year veteran Mohammed has not seen the floor this postseason. Game 5 in Chicago is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on TNT.
Kelsey Nunley pitched nine shutout innings in UK's 1-0 win over WKU on Wednesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kelsey Nunley had waited for three weeks to break the record, so a couple extra innings were no issue.
On April 1, Nunley tied Chanda Bell atop the all-time wins list in Kentucky softball history. She made seven starts and appeared three more times looking for win No. 69, but it never came.
Wednesday it finally did.
"Kelsey and I haven't really talked about it, but I'm sure it's probably a big monkey off her back," UK head coach Rachel Lawson said.
Nunley didn't have the luxury of pitching like she had anything but her jersey on her back against Western Kentucky. With Miranda Kramer in the circle for the Hilltoppers, the slightest lapse in focus would have meant a loss in a 1-0 pitchers' duel that lasted nine innings.
"Wow, it was something else," Nunley said. "I just had to believe in my team and believe in myself that we were just going to come out with a win and just go out there and stay strong."
The way Kramer was dealing, it took a lot to keep the faith. The Western Kentucky University ace mowed through the UK lineup, piling up strikeouts and mounting a no-hit bid that lasted until Brooklyn Hinz's infield single in the eighth inning.
"I think that Kramer's an exceptional pitcher," Lawson said. "I think she's one of the best in the country. I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone better."
The No. 17 Cats (29-17), however, wouldn't stop swinging even as they struck out 18 times, the most in school history. In the ninth inning, they finally got Nunley her record-breaking win in walk-off fashion. Christian Stokes singled with one out and moved to second on Griffin Joiner's groundout. Maisie Steed then delivered an infield single and Stokes was able to score when Kramer's toss sailed over the head of her first baseman.
Twenty-four hours removed from a run-rule loss to Louisville that left Lawson evaluating her team's toughness, the performance was encouraging.
"We had a really embarrassing loss last night so Coach got us back together and just told us that we gotta go out and play tough and it's not going to get any easier from here on out," Nunley said. "So if we don't get ourselves together and start playing better we're not going to be able to do as good as we want to do."
The Cats responded immediately.
"We talked about taking each at-bat one at a time because we thought that we wouldn't be able to get on her until the third time through the order and they stuck with the game plan and they did it," Lawson said. "And I think anytime a team can stick with the game plan they set out to do at the beginning the game really says a lot about their toughness."
When it comes to toughness, it starts with UK's all-time winningest pitcher, who threw nine scoreless innings and allowed just six hits and struck out nine.
"I don't think you're going to find anybody tougher than Kelsey," Lawson said, "I don't think you're going to find anybody who can command the zone better than she does and I don't think you're going find anybody in the country who's more battle-tested than she is. She's been doing this for us for the last three years."
Kyle Cody pitched four scoreless innings to earn the win Tuesday vs. Xavier (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Coming into Tuesday's game vs. Xavier, Kyle Cody's confidence was shaken.
The junior righthander was 2-4 and had a 6.37 ERA in nine appearances to start the season. He had been pulled from his normal Sunday spot in the rotation and had the last nine days off.
In those nine days, something changed. Cody came out and allowed just two baserunners in four scoreless innings to propel UK to a 6-1 win on Tuesday.
He struck out three and earned his first win since March 8. Xavier brought more than three batters to the plate just once, when four batted in the fourth.
It was just the outing that Cody needed.
"It was a big confidence booster for me," Cody said. "To go out there and put up some zeros, I haven't been able to do that the past month or so, but I'm trying to get back on the right track. Tonight was a start to that."
Preparing for Tuesday's start, Cody needed to fine tune some things and get back to the basics. He hadn't lost anything, he just needed to find that edge again. While Cody's confidence the past few weeks had taken a hit, he still knew he had what it took to win.
Heading into Tuesday's start, his coach did too.
"Kyle's done that before," UK head coach Gary Henderson said after Tuesday's win. "He just had a little bit of a hiccup for a couple of outings, but he'll be right back doing what he needs to do."
It helped Cody to know that not only did Henderson know what he could do, but his teammates did as well.
As he prepared for Tuesday's start, and Cody and Henderson talked, he got that boost from his coach.
"He told me to do what I'm capable of," Cody said. "He knows what I'm capable of. I feel like everyone knows. Everyone is behind me. Just trying to get back on the right track and tonight was a good start to that."
Today was definitely a good start.
With his teammates and coach behind him, Cody was able to focus on his approach to Tuesday's start. Henderson wanted him to find a rhythm, throw at the bottom of the strike zone and to keep it simple.
Cody got into trouble early when Xavier's leadoff hitter singled to open the game, but he quickly induced a 4-6-3 double play to stop any scoring opportunity. A groundout ended the inning
He followed with a 1-2-3 inning in the second, with one strikeout and a nifty defensive play from right fielder Storm Wilson to cut down Xavier's Derek Hasenbeck at first.
In the third, Cody again retired the side, with a pair of pop-outs and a groundout.
Nine up, nine down through the first three innings. In the fourth, which was decided before the game to be Cody's last, he walked the leadoff hitter. Two strikeouts and a fly out later though, Cody escaped unscathed and primed for his third win of the season.
Tuesday was all about getting that rhythm back and keeping it simple.
"Get the ball down, first of all," Cody said of the adjustments he made. "Obviously the numbers were not what I'm capable of, I just have to go out there and prove it to my teammates that I can get outings like this. "It's all mindset issues, confidence issues. Having an outing like this is big for me to get my confidence up. Just moving on to my next outing, I'll be even better."
"He did a nice job of throwing strikes," Henderson added. "The fact that he found his rhythm after the first six pitches of the fourth inning, when it could have gone the other way and it didn't, he found it and he got back to the strike zone and got the two punch-outs. I'm really pleased with that effort."
Cody will be the first one to tell you Tuesday was just a step in the right direction and he has a lot of work to do still.
However, four innings with three strikeouts, no runs, one hit and one walk is definitely the game that Cody wanted.
Up next for the junior righty?
"Just pitch when my name is called," Cody said. "That's where I go."
Keep on pitching like he did on Tuesday night and his name will be called sooner rather than later.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans (Anthony Davis), GS 1-0
After falling behind 25 points late in the third quarter, Davis spurred a Pelicans comeback effort that ultimately came up seven points shy in his NBA Playoff debut. The former No. 1 overall selection tallied 35 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks in the 106-99 Warriors victory. Game 2 will take place Monday night at 10:30 p.m. ET in Oakland, Calif. on TNT.
Jones, who has reached the playoffs in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, emerged big in a Game 1 starting effort for the victorious Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward notched 19 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in the 118-108 Houston win. Rondo logged 15 points and five assists for Dallas. Game 2 is scheduled in Houston for Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on TNT.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics (James Young), CLE 1-0
Young, a 19-year-old rookie, failed to see the floor in Boston's 113-100 Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers. The Celtics will get a second shot at Cleveland Tuesday at 7 p.m. on TNT. (3) Chicago Bulls (Nazr Mohammed) vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks, CHI 1-0
Mohammed, a 37-year-old veteran playing in his 17th NBA season, also spent Game 1 of his team's best-of-seven series on the bench. The Bulls defeated the Bucks 103-91, and will play Game 2 Monday at 8:00 p.m. on TNT.
(4) Toronto Raptors (Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson) vs. (5) Washington Wizards (John Wall), WSH 1-0
In a postseason series featuring former 2009-10 teammates and First Team All-SEC performers Wall and Patterson, the road team edged out the home favorites 93-86 in Canada. Despite nightmarish 5-for-18 field goal shooting, Wall scored 10 points, with eight assists and six rebounds. Patterson matched Wall's 10 points in addition to five rebounds, while Hayes logged no minutes on the court. Game 2 will commence Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. in Toronto on NBA TV.
Ka'ai Tom had a three hits, a homerun and three RBI as UK completed a sweep of Tennessee on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Ka'ai Tom knew he would have to deliver for the Wildcats to have the kind of season they wanted to have.
He did on Saturday.
"Obviously he was impactful today," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "Clearly."
With Tom anchoring the lineup in the No. 3 spot, Kentucky baseball completed a sweep of rival Tennessee for the first time in Cliff Hagan Stadium history. The Cats won 5-3, due in large part to Tom's big afternoon. The junior right fielder had three hits in four at-bats, driving in three runs.
"It does help us get back on track in the conference," Tom said. "We lost a lot of close games and it's good to finally pull one off."
Tom got the scoring started for UK (22-16, 8-9 Southeastern Conference) in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, he followed up an Evan White double with one of his own to stake the Cats to a 1-0 lead. Two innings later, Tom was in the middle of a rally to retake the lead in the third inning, but he would save his biggest blow for later.
The game seemed destined for a tight finish before Tom stepped to the plate in the fifth inning with Kyle Barrett standing on third base. Needing a fly ball to send Barrett home with one out, Tom came up with just that. His fly ball, however, landed well into the parking lot past the right-field fence for his third homerun of the season.
"That was probably most clean I've ever caught the ball," Tom said.
For the season, Tom is batting a team-best .377 with 42 runs batted in, though he fell short of his second cycle of the season when he flew out to center in the seventh inning. The Kaneohe, Hawaii, native has had an uneven run through conference play, hitting just .257 entering Saturday's season finale against the Volunteers. That makes his performance all the more encouraging as UK enters the final month of the regular season.
"He's a real presence in the box," Henderson said. "He's a threat. He's an all-league kid and everybody's aware that he's a really accomplished hitter. He's a guy that if he doesn't do well his first at-bat you can count on him to give you a solid at-bat in the box, a solid approach throughout the game."
JaVon Shelby would follow Tom's two-run shot with another long ball for UK's first back-to-back homers since 2012 and the Cats wouldn't look back. Wildcat pitchers turned in another solid outing, with Andrew Nelson, Zach Logue, Zach Strecker, Logan Salow and Spencer Jack combining to allow just three runs on nine hits.
The Vols' biggest threats came in the final two innings. Tennessee loaded the bases with one out against Logue and Strecker in the eighth, but Salow entered and retired Chris Hall and Christin Stewart in order to preserve the final margin. In the ninth, Salow allowed runners to reach second and third. Jack entered and allowed both Vols to score, but got the save nonetheless.
Over the course of the three-game sweep, UK yielded just four runs.
"I think we're way advanced in terms of clarity and plan from where we were six, seven weeks ago," Henderson said. "Much more confident. Obviously the body language was pretty good all weekend on the mound. Our presence was good. We did a nice job pounding the zone early in the count."
Thanks to the stellar pitching and Tom's big Saturday, the Cats climbed to within a game of .500 in SEC play. The season they were all hoping for is still within reach, especially since UK faces the three teams it trails in SEC East standings over the next four weeks.
"We're fortunate in who we've got left because we've got the people in front of us," Henderson said. "So you get those people and then you can make up some room. It won't be easy. I'm not pretending like it's easy. But we're pretty fortunate with who we've got in front of us and if we continue to get that type of starting pitching we'll be in the ballgames."
Even more importantly than that, the Cats are trending the right way in the way they are playing the game.
"We're really taking some really positive steps forward where we have some real presence and some real body language that we didn't have six, eight weeks ago," Henderson said. "... I think it's been really, really a positive thing."