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Trey Lyles returned to the lineup against LSU after a three-game absence. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Trey Lyles returned to the lineup against LSU after a three-game absence. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By this point, you might think John Calipari would be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

His team piling up wins and the nation's last remaining unbeaten, he had reason to be wound up tight knowing LSU would be ready to give the Wildcats its best shot on Tuesday.

Instead, he was sitting on the team plane bound for Baton Rouge, La., hatching a prank to play on rabid Kentucky fans.

It started with a text message sent to Deputy Athletics Director DeWayne Peevy that eventually became this tweet.


Peevy's initial reaction was to literally search the plane for Lyles, who had inspired continual speculation in recent weeks with an illness that had kept him out of action since Jan. 29.

"And when he did that, I knew 'Uh-oh. This is gonna be absolutely outrageous,' " Calipari said. "And we had people camped out at the hotel. We had people camped out as we got off the bus."

Once the confusion was overcome, the tweet went out.  More than 2,000 retweets and a #WhereIsTrey hashtag later, Coach Cal had a national story on his hands.

"That blew up kinda big," said Lyles, who even threw up the hood on his sweatshirt upon arrival in Louisiana to keep the ruse alive. "My mentions on Twitter wouldn't go away, so a lot of people were interested in it, getting into it. I thought it was funny. Coach was trying to have a nice little joke going there. I thought it was pretty funny. Coach had a good sense of humor with that and he played it out well."

For once, conversation turned away from top-ranked UK's pursuit of perfection. For Calipari, it was mission accomplished.

"I was on a plane and I'm thinking, 'Our fans are going nutty,' " Calipari said. " 'They got to loosen up a little bit. This isn't life or death. It's not March.' "

The Big Blue Nation was his primary target audience, but #WhereIsTrey also served to remind Calipari's team that it's still the regular season.

"I wanted them to understand, and I keep telling them, 'What's the worst?' " Calipari said. "I'll say it this time: We lose this game we're 22-1, 23, whatever it is. What's it matter? Just go play. Let's try to get better."

UK, of course, would win anyway by overcoming a late six-point deficit at LSU. With the victory, the Cats carry a 24-0 (11-0 Southeastern Conference) record into a rematch with South Carolina (12-11, 3-8 SEC) at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Lyles, of course, will be available again after returning to score four points and grab three rebounds in 18 minutes at LSU.

"I just had strep throat, wasn't feeling good for a few days," said Lyles, who is "feeling 100 percent." "Coach and them just wanted to keep me away from the guys so they wouldn't come down with anything."

In Lyles' absence, UK was outrebounded twice in three outings after losing the rebounding battle in just three of 19 games previously. Devin Booker sees Lyles helping to change that.

"Rebounding," Booker said. "He brings that to the team every time. He attacks the offensive glass and defensive rebounds. He's like a 6(-foot-)10 3-man. That helps a lot."

Lyles also adds depth, though that also requires an adjustment on the part of his teammates.

"Guys got to be willing to sacrifice three minutes or two minutes," Calipari said. "There are times where we got to go at him, which may take a shot away from some other guys, but what does it matter? At the end of the day, either you can play or you can't play. Reality. Either you're an efficient player or you're not. They don't need to see you for 40 minutes. That's all ego stuff."

Considering they've been checking their egos all season, that shouldn't be much of a problem.

Video: Coach Cal on UK's matchup with South Carolina

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Baseball begins task of replacing Reed

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Kentucky begins life after AJ Reed on Friday at 12 p.m. vs. Ball State (UK Athletics) Kentucky begins life after AJ Reed on Friday at 12 p.m. vs. Ball State (UK Athletics)
The 2014 season for the Kentucky baseball team was a historic one.

Not only did the Wildcats advance to their eighth all-time NCAA Tournament, but folks in Lexington and around the country were treated to one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in the sport.

Two-way star AJ Reed swept the national player of the year awards while pacing the nation's most explosive offense. UK led all major conference schools in runs scored while Reed powered a NCAA-best 23 homers, also leading the Southeastern Conference in pitching wins, in one of the most remarkable individual seasons in college baseball history.

"You don't replace AJ with one guy," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "And clearly we are going to have a different team offensively. You know we were old and strong last year. We had several kids who were physical. We will have a different club. You can win a lot of different ways in baseball which is one of the great things about it. It is pretty safe to say that we are not going to lead the league in home runs or have the home run leader in the program this year and that's fine."

The 2015 UK roster will look quite different than the physical lineup employed a year ago. Gone are Reed and fellow sluggers Austin Cousino, Max Kuhn and Micheal Thomas. UK will be built through speed, defense and pitching depth in Henderson's seventh season at the helm - with his previous six years the most successful in program history.

"Well we're going to run well," Henderson said. "I don't know how that's going to translate into stolen bases yet but we're going to have a group of people they can get from home to first quickly."

Kentucky returns first-team All-SEC outfielder Ka'ai Tom, who narrowly missed the league batting crown in conference play with a .373 average. In addition, UK boasts the return of 2013 Freshman All-SEC selections Kyle Barrett and Greg Fettes, and 2014 Freshman All-SEC second baseman JaVon Shelby.

UK's lineup will be anchored by fifth-year senior Thomas Bernal, who will transition to third base to accommodate freshman first baseman Evan White. Bernal, who hit .475 on SEC Friday nights last year, is a preseason All-SEC selection at the hot corner by Perfect Game.

On the mound, UK's history of talented arms continues as junior right-hander Kyle Cody enters the season as the 17th-best prospect available for the 2015 MLB Draft. A 6-foot-7, 245-pound product of Chippewa Falls, Wis., Cody is coming off an all-star summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League. UK also returns southpaw Dylan Dwyer and right-hander Andrew Nelson, a duo that helped fill UK's weekend rotation a year ago. UK will be boosted by junior transfer Dustin Beggs, who has been tabbed to make UK's opening-day start.

"I love the beginning of the season every year and our kids do as well," Henderson said. "I'm really fortunate for the people that I get to work with on a daily basis. We're really eager to get this thing started."

 

 

Makayla Epps scored 42 points, including the buzzer beater, in UK's 92-90 win over Mississippi State in double overtime. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Makayla Epps scored 42 points, including the buzzer beater, in UK's 92-90 win over Mississippi State in double overtime. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
From the final play to the whole 50-minute game to her 42-point performance in it, Makayla Epps didn't need to say much more to describe what had just happened.

"Crazy," Epps said. "Complete craziness."

Epps, however, was talking only about the final possession that led to the buzzer-beating shot she used to send No. 10 Kentucky (19-5, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) to a thrilling 92-90 double-overtime win over No. 13/15 Mississippi State (23-4, 8-4 SEC).

The play started when the Wildcats took possession following a Breanna Richardson basket with 35 seconds left. Matthew Mitchell didn't call timeout, instead opting to tell Epps to run the clock down and attack as the shot clock neared zero.

"I just thought it was kind of silly to have it in anybody else's hands but hers there at the end, no matter if four were guarding her," Mitchell said.

Epps would get a good first look, but missed a short jumper. Somehow, Jelleah Sidney came away with the offensive rebound in a mad scrum as the clock reached five seconds remaining.

"I feel like all 12 of my teammates crashed the glass on that one," Epps said.

"I can't wait to watch it again," Mitchell said. "It was a really incredible play."

From there, Sidney could do little else but fire the ball back into the fray.

"Jelleah Sidney, sometimes she has the tendency to throw the ball really hard at us," Epps said. "And she threw it really hard and it was bouncing off faces and noses and ears. And then I looked up and it was right there. 'Go get it, Epps!' "

Epps got it, and put the ball on the glass and through the basket with 0.6 seconds on the clock.

"And then Epps, we'd missed so many, and that one was as tough as any one that you'll ever shoot and we make that one," Mitchell said. "So go figure. Who knows? I can't figure all this stuff out. I don't know how we're winning all these games."

Epps has a lot to do with it, especially on this night.

Her buzzer beater brought her career high in scoring to 42 points, just one point shy of the school-record 43 Jennifer O'Neill scored in five overtimes against Baylor last season. She made 18-of-30 field goals and added six rebounds and five assists for good measure to outduel Bulldog star Victoria Vivians, who had 39 points of her own.

"Especially at the level we're at in the SEC, that's not common," Epps said. "That's not something you see every month or every week or (anything) like that."

With Epps leading the way - including scoring UK's final eight points in double overtime - the Cats weathered multiple furious Mississippi State rallies. Kentucky built and lost double-digit leads on four different occasions and the Bulldogs tied the game in the final seconds of regulation on a basket by Moran William.

"I was glad she scored 42 and not 39," Mitchell said. "We needed those extra three points that she had. So that was incredible. We didn't look like we could win any other way tonight."

Epps is now seven games into her run as UK's full-time point guard in place of the injured Janee Thompson. She's now averaging 21 points in those games and the Cats have won five of them, two against ranked opponents.

"I'm hoping that after every game she's proud of me and that she's happy I'm out here handling my business as she would if she was out there with us," Epps said. "At the end of the day, it's all for Janee. Regardless if I'm playing, Bria's (Goss) playing good, the team's playing good, in the back of our minds we're all thinking about Janee."


Kentucky's Hawaiian who flies

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Ka'ai Tom was named first-team All-SEC in his first season with the Wildcats. (Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Ka'ai Tom was named first-team All-SEC in his first season with the Wildcats. (Photo by Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Part 1 (Storm Wilson) - Part 2 (JaVon Shelby) - Part 3 (Kyle Barrett) - Part 4 (Andrew Nelson) - Part 5 (Thomas Bernal) - Part 6 (Zack Brown) - Part 7 (Spencer Jack)

Just like all baseball-playing youth growing up in Hawaii, Kentucky junior outfielder Ka'ai Tom admired the exploits of MLB star outfielder Shane Victorino.

And for good reason.

Victorino has carved out a distinguished big league career, winning the 2013 World Series title with the Boston Red Sox.

"It's pretty big knowing how successful he has been, especially when he went to the World Series a few years in a row with the Phillies," Tom said about Victorino. "Being from Hawaii just shows that I can do it as well. He is a big example to all players from Hawaii, not just me in general, that even though we may be far away from the mainland we can still have the same opportunities."

Tom, a native of Kaneohe, Hawaii, is a very similar player to Victorino. A 5-foot-9 hitter with surprising pop for his size and great wheels, Tom is an above-average defender in the outfield and has the ability to impact the game with a line-drive approach at the plate.

A junior left-handed hitter, Tom earned first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors in his debut season with the Wildcats in 2014. He narrowly missed the SEC batting crown for league games, batting .373 in conference play with 21 RBI.

Overall, Tom hit .328 as a sophomore, with 13 doubles, three homers, 41 RBI and 14 steals.

"Last year I was still transitioning in from junior college," Tom said. "I was still learning how to play baseball. There was a lot of knowledge I needed about how I could be better by hitting to all fields. Being a part of that club we had last year, (Austin) Cousino, (Max) Kuhn, MT (Micheal Thomas) and AJ (Reed), we had a lot of pop. Just following that and having them as mentors really helped me throughout the season."

Tom showed a disciplined approach and a discerning eye at the plate, sporting a .414 on-base percentage and 22-18 walk-strikeout ratio.

"I always like to be fastball aggressive," Tom said. "If there is a pitch early in the count that is in the zone I like to swing. I like to clear my mind in between at-bats and know what the pitcher is doing before I get into the box. Having a good mindset helps me generate good at-bats."

A year after hitting before and behind Reed in the lineup as he swept every national player of the year award, Tom will face a different challenge in 2015.

"This year, we have a lot of team speed," Tom said. "We can utilize the hit-and-runs. We can execute on the bunts. We can put a lot more pressure on the pitching staff. Even though it is great to have the home run hitting team we had. But this year, we have some real speed. We have Kyle Barrett, Connor Heady and me, a few guys with great speed. Having a different team than last year can really put pressure on the pitching staff."

Now as a proven performer in the league's best conference, Tom is seeking to improve upon a stellar season.


If you've been awaiting word on the construction of Kentucky football's $45 million practice facility, wait no longer.


Last week, crews broke ground and began the initial phase of the project that will turn the area adjacent to Nutter Field House into the state-of-the-art home of the entire football operation in 2016. If you want to see what it will look like when finished, check out this gallery of renderings.

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