Karl-Anthony Towns had eight points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in UK's 86-28 win over Montana State on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There was another "only at Kentucky" moment on Saturday.
John Calipari took to Twitter to wish a happy birthday to his daughter Megan. The sentiment was nice, but there was a problem.
He was a day early.
Megan quickly replied to tell him of the error. And since Coach Cal has 1.3 million followers, the story was quickly picked up by national outlets, all the way up to "Good Morning America."
"Why does that go all over the world, by the way?" Calipari said, who made light of the mishap by bringing a birthday balloon to his press conference after UK's dominant 86-28 win over Montana State.
Calipari's question was a rhetorical one, mostly because he already knows the answer.
The reason the story blew up the way it did is because of Coach Cal's position at the helm of the most high-profile college basketball program in the country. It's the same reason why fans throughout the country are already tiring of the word "platoon" because of how often it's already been used.
The spotlight, of course, has its perks for Coach Cal and players alike. UK is, as Calipari so often says, the "gold standard" for a reason, but there are drawbacks too.
After the victory over Montana State, in which UK set a shot clock-era record for the fewest points allowed in school history, he coined a new phrase to describe it, adding to his personal pantheon that runs the gamut from ice cream-pooping to Super Bowl-playing to brother-keeping.
"What these kids deal with to be here, to play here, to be a part of this program, they wear a hundred-pound coat," Calipari said.
The burden, Calipari admits, starts with him.
"I am rough on them, I am tough on them, I'm holding them to high standard," Calipari said. "I'm like a hawk. I see everything. I'm coaching them the entire time. They're getting better. It is not an option, you will get better. That's me."
Then you have Kentucky fans, who surely would have made concerned calls to radio shows on Monday had the final margin been much less than the 58-point one they enjoyed on Sunday evening, largest since a 62-point win over Vanderbilt in 2002-03.
"That's another 20 pounds of the coat," Calipari said.
To top it off, there's the media scrutiny that's led to a national debate about whether this UK team could beat the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, not to mention the people surrounding the players who create the "clutter" about which Calipari so often talks.
Contrast that with UK's opponents, whom Calipari says are burden-free next to the Cats.
"The people coming in to play us got windbreakers," Calipari said. "They're loose as a goose. They're just going to go play."
Karl-Anthony Towns, just five games into his UK career, has already noticed.
"Man, windbreakers?" said Towns, who tallied six of UK's 12 blocks to bring his season total to 18. "I don't even think they're wearing anything. They're going to the beach."
Dakari Johnson, who nearly had another double-double with 13 points and eight rebounds in just 17 minutes, is in his second year wearing that heavy coat. He knows there's no taking it off either.
"We're always going to feel that type of pressure because of the expectations and stuff like that," Johnson said. "But I feel like we're a close unit so there's not much pressure to get to us because we're so close together."
That closeness means the Cats can share the burden rather than carry it individually.
"Anytime I need any advice, anytime I need to talk to somebody, it's as easy as calling Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Aaron Harrison, Andrew," Towns said. "I have so many numbers and so much support on my side that this whole being a UK Wildcat basketball player, the pressure really hasn't gotten to me. I've just been having a lot of fun."
With five wins by an average margin of 34.6 points -- the last coming in a game where the Cats held their opponents to 19.7-percent shooting, forced 21 turnovers and had one stretch of 12:37 in which they didn't allow a single point -- it's no surprise Towns has been enjoying himself so much.
Besides, he and his teammates did at least have an idea what they were getting into when they signed to play at UK. It's not like Coach Cal hides the 100-pound coats in the closet during the recruiting process.
"You know, Big Blue Nation is crazy," said Devin Booker, who had his second straight big game with 18 points. "But, you just play through it, it's something you learn. You know, it's a good problem to have. You want to be on this stage, so that's why you come here."
That's lucky, because that coat's not getting any lighter.
"If you're not willing to wear the hundred-pound coat, you don't come here, you can't come here, because it's not changing," Calipari said.
Devin Booker scored 15 points, making 4 of 6 from 3-point range, in UK's 89-65 win over Boston University on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Joe Jones used every motivational ploy at his disposal.
He told his Boston University team Kentucky would have trouble sustaining the energy the Wildcats used to blow out Kansas on Tuesday. He showed them the way Buffalo played in building a five-point halftime lead on UK just five days ago.
Jones believed in everything he was saying, but there was one fact he was still resigned to before he took his Terriers into Rupp Arena.
"They have so many guys that are so good, one of them is going to get hot," Jones said.
On Friday night, that someone was Devin Booker.
Booker was the second-half star as UK (4-0) overcame a sluggish first half that saw the Cats manage just a five-point lead. He scored 12 of his 15 points after the break and UK outscored the Terriers 49-30 to register an 89-65 win in front of 22,485 fans at Rupp Arena.
"I finally got to see a shot go in," Booker said. "That's good to see, and most of all I wanted to get other people involved and I feel like we did that. We had a slow start, but in the second half we pulled it together."
Through his first three collegiate games, the sharp-shooting Booker managed just one make in 11 tries from 3-point range. The message delivered to him by everyone from John Calipari, his father, former NBA player Melvin Booker, and teammate Aaron Harrison was the same.
"I had a lot of talk with Coach and my dad," Booker said. "They just said, 'Keep shooting. It's going to fall.' And I came out tonight and it did."
Booker hit 4 of 6 from 3 against Boston and scored five of the first seven points in the 23-8 run UK used to close the game.
"You just gotta keep your confidence," said Aaron Harrison, who led UK with 19 points. "That's what being a shooting guard is. No matter how many shots you miss, you gotta keep going because that's what your team needs you to do: score the ball."
In spite of that positional label, Booker did more than just score on Friday. To go with his four rebounds, Booker had seven assists, the most for any Wildcat so far this season.
"Not very often," Booker said when he was asked if he's had many such games, "but it's easy when you have teammates like this."
The teammate on his mind when he said that was Dominique Hawkins, who was on the receiving end of Booker's last assist. Booker, for the fourth time of the night, lobbed a pass over BU's sagging 2-3 zone, but this one appeared out of his hand to be too high for the 6-foot Hawkins.
Hawkins, making his first career start with Alex Poythress day to day due to illness, rose over a defender and slammed home the pass for UK's final points of the night on what was unquestionably the dunk of an early season that's been full of them.
"I don't even know how high I went up for it," Hawkins said. "I'll have to watch the video after this is over.
"That lob was incredible," Booker said. "Seeing it from my view, it was crazy."
Booker, having seen what Hawkins did, will surely be eager to throw more such alley-oops, no matter how he's shooting. In high school, Booker was a prolific scorer who had to put the ball in the basket for his team to win. Now, he's just another star in Coach Cal's constellation.
That means he's learning how contribute when his shot isn't falling.
"It's an adjustment that you have to make from high school to college," Booker said. "And like I said, I feel like it's coming along right now. But like I said, when you have a team like this, if you're not shooting or not scoring you can involve yourself in different ways to contribute to the win."
Booker had most of the ways covered against BU, but he still wasn't immune to constructive criticism from Coach Cal.
With UK going away from its platoons more often in Poythress' absence, Calipari immediately yanked Booker when he failed to throw the ball ahead to Aaron Harrison on a fast break. Similarly, Karl-Anthony Towns had a breakdown defending a pick-and-roll and Trey Lyles had trouble defending smaller opponents on the dribble.
It's all part of the process.
"They're still learning," Calipari said. "They're going to do stuff like that."
But the talent, indisputably, is there. And though Booker is beginning to learn to contribute in multiple ways, when he's doing what he's known for, look out.
"It's nice to see when he makes shots, we become a little bit different," Calipari said.
Kentucky fell to Oakland in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, 2-0. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
As his team's season ended, Johan Cedergren was left feeling both frustration and optimism.
The frustration stemmed from the way Kentucky had finished. The Wildcats' regular season ended a lone result shy of a conference championship. More disappointment would follow in the postseason, with first-round defeats in both the Conference USA and NCAA tournaments.
The optimism was a result of what Cedergren sees ahead for UK. His developing program will return all but one regular contributor from a 2014 squad that had one of the best seasons in school history.
It was those two conflicting feelings that led Cedergren to declare his expectations for the future in no uncertain terms.
"As hard as it is to say right now, I think the future is bright and I will say as firmly as I can that this will not happen again," Cedergren said. "We are not going to go 0-3 for the games that matter."
A 2-0 defeat against Oakland on Thursday night capped that three-game skid to close a 10-6-3 season. Playing without top playmaker Napo Matsoso and leading goal scorer Justin Laird due to a mandatory card suspension and knee injury, respectively, the Wildcats were unable to overcome an experienced Oakland team.
"When it got tough, I thought that they excelled and maybe we have some work to do in terms in the mental toughness and especially when the games little tougher," Cedergren said. "I thought it was a very big stage for some of the younger guys that were asked to carry a bigger role because of injuries and suspensions and I don't think we were up for that."
Or perhaps more appropriately, they weren't up for it yet.
A year ago, the Cats, who fielded a roster featuring 20 freshmen and sophomores, called on the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament to fuel them through a grueling offseason. This time around, they reached the big stage, but will look to use the mistakes that caused them to come up short as fuel to win the next time they reach it.
"Anytime in your life, these are the type of games you want to play in," goalkeeper Callum Irving said. "When they don't live up to your expectations, you can go two ways with them. You can either sulk about it and not let it benefit you or you can use it as fuel"
Irving, who nearly swept end-of-season C-USA awards, will return and wear the captain's armband for UK again next season. Five all-conference honorees will rejoin him in 2015, which will be Cedergren's fourth year at the helm.
"Obviously this is not the way you want to end your season but again like Johan said we have a lot to look forward to in the future, as hard as it is to see right now," Irving said. "We have some great players returning, good recruiting class coming in so I mean right now it is just back to the drawing board, back to work but we will move on from here."
Though the Cats will move on when they reassemble for training in January, they don't plan to forget Thursday night altogether. There's still too much to be gained from it.
"For us it's time as a staff and as a squad to grow and develop and to learn from this," Cedergren said. "But we are not sitting here again next year in the NCAA Tournament."
UK has an open date before a season finale at Louisville next Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Bud Dupree is one of the healthy ones.
Unlike many of his teammates, Dupree doesn't have an injury that's forced him to miss any time. He made it through eight games in eight weeks without a sprained ankle, strained muscle or any other malady Mark Stoops has had to publicly address.
He still felt like he got "hit by a truck" by the time the stretch was over.
"Your body feels horrible after a while," Dupree said. "You wake up in the morning, sometimes you don't want to get out of bed because you feel like you want to sleep it off."
With an open date this weekend, Dupree, at long last, got that chance. Following a loss at Tennessee on Saturday, the Wildcats were given days off on both Sunday and Monday to rest and recover.
"It felt good just to lay down, finally, for a long time and just don't worry about anything for that day," Dupree said.
Not only had Dupree and the Cats played on eight straight Saturdays, they had also faced seven Southeastern Conference opponents over that same time period. To say a break was needed would probably be an understatement.
"You get back in there, like I said, Saturday afternoon or Saturday night when you're done, and Sunday certainly, and it's on," Mark Stoops said. "It's on to the next opponent, and it's a full grind. That gets taxing on everybody. The players, they have to come in here Monday and we have to address the issues from the previous game and then on to the next opponent immediately."
Instead, the Cats get to take a breath before they dive headlong into preparing a matchup with Louisville in both teams' regular-season finale next Saturday. Don't think, however, that they forgot about football altogether. Even though there were no official team activities on Monday, groups of players gathered independently to meet and review film with no coaches present.
"It was some of the leaders on the team wanting to step up and make some changes," senior wide receiver Javess Blue said.
Neal Brown, meanwhile, had a film session of his own.
"We do a lot of evaluation," Brown said. "Like over the last couple of days I've watched every play that we've had. Kind of broke it down to every play by different formations and personnel groupings then kind of identifying some problems that have been consistent and going about fixing some things."
Some break, huh?
"With a bye week, of course there's just a little more time to sit (as a coaching staff) and take it in and look at things and see what we have done good and what we've done poorly and try to put them in a position to be successful," Stoops said. "It's our job to put them in a place that they can succeed."
When UK returned to the practice field on Tuesday, that effort continued.
The first step was to focus on some of the little things that began to escape the Cats toward the end of their stretch of eight straight games and a five-game losing streak. With lots of work on blocking and shedding blocks, pass coverage and getting open and one-on-ones with first-teamers, Dupree feels like it's fall camp all over again.
"We are doing all fundamentals this week," Dupree said. "It seems like we started over."
The results, according to Stoops, have been nothing but positive.
"Guys seem to have a little more energy, a little more pop in their step," Stoops said. "Got a chance to go back and do some things, just camp drills as far as competing and doing some things good against good and fundamentally getting better. So it's been a great time for a bye week for us, and I think, like I said, it's been helpful so far, both with rest, healing up some guys and fundamentally getting better."
Stoops said after the loss at Tennessee that "we didn't have a lot in our tank," but the bye week has given the chance for the Cats to refuel. He said he expects UK to be close to 100 percent for the Louisville game, though offensive tackle Kyle Meadows remains a question mark.
More importantly, Stoops sees a team that continues to be coachable and willing to work. The frustration, of course, is there, which is only natural when you've been stuck a win shy of bowl eligibility for two months.
But the Cats are eager for their final chance to break through.
"We know our shortcomings," Stoops said. "We know we all need to do better. But I see a team that's fun to coach, that care, that want to win, that are putting a lot into it."
UK returns to Rupp Arena on Friday at 7 p.m. ET for a matchup with Boston University. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The talk was out there before, but it's intensified in recent days.
Since the Wildcats' dominance of Kansas in the Champions Classic, more columns about their prospects of going unbeaten have been written than even Kentucky fans care to read. The "can UK beat an NBA team?" debate has been kicked up a notch too, with Eric Bledsoe confidently answering yes and ESPN running a poll on the topic with close to 200,000 votes, 52 percent of which were cast for the Cats.
But inside the Joe Craft Center, the mood is different. For the team that did the dominating, it's still November and the victory over Kansas was just that: one victory.
"We just have to keep working," Andrew Harrison said. "We played really hard. A lot of their shots didn't fall and stuff like that, so we know we still have a lot to improve on. It's just the third game of the season. It really doesn't mean anything."
Well, maybe it does mean something.
As poorly as the Jayhawks may have shot, it's impossible to ignore the work UK did on the defensive end in holding Kansas to 40 points, 11 made field goals and 8-of-41 shooting from 2-point range. At the very least, the Cats saw what their physical gifts can do to an opponent.
"With our length and our athletic ability, there's no reason why we can't be a really good defensive team because of our size," said assistant coach John Robic, filling in for John Calipari at UK's regular media availability before a matchup with Boston University (1-1) Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Rupp Arena. "And size with athleticism equals - it could be a problem for an opponent. And that's what it was."
It was only a problem for Kansas because UK (3-0) made it so, shrugging off the hype surrounding the first big-stage game of the season and playing team defense.
"That was probably the biggest thing: how they were going to react to a high-level game against a very good top-ranked opponent," Robic said. "We obviously played really well, and I thought everybody responded very, very well in that game."
A year ago in a similar environment, the Cats had to climb uphill after Michigan State built a 10-point lead in the Champions Classic. Last season's freshman-laden group could never overcome the deficit, but this year's team had no such start with all its returning experience.
With the likes of Andrew Harrison leading the way, the four freshmen joining UK's two-platoon system were able to blend in, as much as four players as talented as them can blend in anyway.
"It's good because the pressure's not really on them so they can just go out there relaxed and play," Andrew Harrison said. "I'm sure they had fun and they played great."
UK's sophomore point guard has taken an active role in setting the tone for the freshmen so far, both leading by example and by stepping up his vocal presence. After he arrived on campus just before the start of the fall semester, he was unable to quickly command his team as he would have liked. Now, he's confident and comfortable in the role.
"He's just playing more loose and more relaxed," Aaron Harrison said. "He's just having more fun and I think that's the biggest thing."
In spite of that, Andrew Harrison was critical of himself after the Kansas game, taking the blame for a sluggish offensive start that saw UK make just two field goals in the first five-plus minutes.
"It's just better execution in the first half, and that's on me," he said. "I think we were a little tired the first little segment the blue team had or whatever, but it started working out. You get your second wind and I just tried to make sure the freshmen weren't that nervous and stuff like that."
With the Kansas game in the rearview window, Andrew Harrison will shift his focus to making sure those freshmen realizing the work ahead of them, starting with Friday's game against Boston University. The coaching staff will be doing the same.
"Each and every day, we have to get better at what we need to do as a team, whether it's defensively or offensively," Robic said. "And if we do that, we know that we're going to give it our best effort when we go out there, and hopefully tomorrow shows improvement for us."
When Kentucky men's soccer head coach Johan Cedergren and junior goalkeeper Callum Irving spoke during UK's Fall Sports Media Day in August, it was clear that UK's 2013 season fell short of Cedergren's expectations for the program.
The Wildcats finished 2013 with a 7-10-3 record, missing the NCAA Tournament after earning a hosting bid in the big dance in Cedergren's first season in 2012.
"When we were sitting on the team bus coming back from the conference tournament last year, being knocked out of the semifinal and that being the end of the season, we knew we had to go back to the drawing board and figure out a new teaching plan," Cedergren said.
Cedergren worked with his coaching staff and put together a plan. That direction has developed into one of the top seasons in program history in 2014, with the Wildcats riding the historic defensive unit, behind Conference USA Player of the Year Callum Irving, to its sixth all-time NCAA Tournament berth.
"It is really good," Cedergren said. "It is a step in the right direction for us. We talk a lot about our vision and our goals and where we want to be and the long-term vision for us is to be in a Final Four in the next four years or so. With that comes recruiting and developing players."
The Wildcats will host Oakland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Complex, with the game to be broadcast live on the SEC Network +. A win over Oakland would pit UK against national seed Michigan State on Sunday in East Lansing, Mich.
At the core of UK's turnaround has been the development of the sophomore class. With 19 of UK's 25-man roster underclassmen, the Wildcats would not be in the NCAA Tournament if not for the progress of their second-year standouts.
UK's regular starting 11 boasts a bevy of sophomores, including first-team all-league midfielder Napo Matsoso, back-four stalwarts Kaelon Fox, Charlie Reymann, Matt Quick and Jordan Wilson, and midfield threats Ryan Creel and Paul Sime.
Cedergren points directly to the commitment from the sophomore class as a reason for UK's campaign in 2014, along with the development of juniors Kristoffer Tollefsen (three goals) and Bryan Celis (two goals, six assists).
"All that matters to me is the team and if you are not buying in well then I am not interested," Cedergren said. "Those are the guys that are really buying into the system. But they have worked so hard. There was a whole complete mental shift that we had to do as a staff and as players."
Part of the development of its underclassmen came in the form of its leadership and emerging vocal presence on and off the pitch.
"There are a couple of guys that we asked to be leaders, and they were freshmen, it was only their second semester at Kentucky," Cedergren said. "You look at Charlie, Jordan, Kaelon, Quick, (Alex) Bumpus, Napo, I could go on and on but that was a class that we mostly signed three years ago. So we knew what kind of quality we had and it was just a matter of making them understand what it takes to win at the Division-I level, and win a lot. The success that we've had this fall, we started the process that goes back to January and February of this year."
Ranked 24th in the final National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, Kentucky (10-4-5) has been paced by one of the best defenses in the history of the program, riding Irving and UK's dynamic back four to a league-best 0.70 goals-against average.
While Irving, a 6-foot-1 native of Vancouver, British Columbia, has turned in a record-breaking season in between the pipes, Cedergren points to his leadership as a key ingredient to UK's success.
"I just couldn't be more fortunate in terms of what kind of team captain you want to have on your team," Cedergren said. "We talk about being selfless, humble and having a team-first mentality. While all of those things are great, if you don't have the basic ability or talent then it doesn't matter. Cally is the perfect blend."
Irving has saved 63 shots on the year, his 0.70 goals-against average ranks fourth in UK history and his 10 clean sheets is the second most in school annals.
"He is one of the best goalkeepers in the country, but he is also one of the most selfless and humble people I have ever been around," Cedergren said. "For the rest of the guys, they look around at Cally because he is one of the best players we have, and they don't have an excuse because Cally never gives an excuse. Cally always gives 100 percent. When you are starting to look for what kind of captain you are looking for you are looking for someone who leads by example on and off the field. Cally hasn't missed a beat since he was given the captain's arm band."
Going into the season, a question mark was where the Wildcats would find scoring to replace four-year star forward Tyler Riggs, who netted 29 goals and had 10 assists in his career. UK's offense was led by Matsoso, Celis and Tollefsen but senior forward Justin Laird emerged as an athletic target forward at the top of UK's offensive attack.
Laird, a Wright State transfer for the 2013 season, owns six goals and four assists for the Wildcats in his senior season.
"Justin is very humble, very selfless and didn't mind doing the work," Cedergren said. "If you look at how far he has come from the guy who walked onto campus in January two years ago, to the guy who is now one of the best forwards in Conference USA, the evolution and the progress has been tremendous.
"If you look at all the clean sheets and the success that we've had this year, a lot of that has come from the work that Justin has done on defense. Not only is he a good goal scorer who is dangerous around the box, he is also someone who helps us out a lot defensively."
Kentucky will be faced with a stiff test on Thursday in the Horizon League Champion Oakland Golden Grizzlies, a team that has lost just once in its last 13 matches.
Napo Matsoso's 2014 season has firmly implanted him as one of the top young players in college soccer, with the Louisville, Ky., by way of Lesotho native owning five goals and four assists, including a natural hat trick at South Carolina.
"I have never worked with a better No. 10," Cedergren raved. "I have never worked with a better playmaker than Napo. That is a factual statement. Napo is a perfect blend between natural ability and drive and desire. I have had some really special players, the first-ever unanimous (2008) Ivy League Player of the Year in Craig Henderson, who now plays professionally in Norway, he played in the attacking midfield role and he has caps from this year and all that stuff, but Napo is better.
"Some of the things that Napo can do on the ball, very few people can do in college. But at the same time, as soon as we lose the ball and we need someone to track some guy, or make a run through them, Napo has no problem doing the work."
Kentucky's hosting berth is its second in three years under Cedergren, who has paced the Wildcats to a pair of NCAA Tournaments in quicker succession than any other coach in UK history.
"Like I said after the South Carolina (C-USA Tournament) game, hosting a first-round game is not the end all be all," Cedergren said. "It is a step in the right direction but we want to win the game tomorrow and keep playing."
Janee Thompson had a team-best 15 points in UK's 91-62 win over Morehead State on Wednesday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Connor Link, UK Athletics
Even though Kentucky was nine points away from scoring in triple figures Wednesday afternoon, no one player poured in more than 15 points individually.
Only four points separated the Wildcats' leading scorer, Janee Thompson, from its fourth leading scorer, Azia Bishop. In UK's 91-62 win over in-state foe Morehead State, cohesive teamwork was the key to victory.
"We don't just play five people," Thompson said. "Everybody is going to play, and that makes it that much easier for us when we get out on the floor."
Thompson, a 5-foot-7 point guard from Chicago, has accepted an increased leadership role through the first three games of her junior season.
"The position of point guard, it is a positional leadership role," said head coach Matthew Mitchell. "People are looking to you as a point guard to be a leader, and sometimes you get true leadership and sometimes you get positional leadership. (Thompson) is really truly leading and I am very excited about that."
Committing zero turnovers in Wednesday's victory in front of 5,923 fans in Memorial Coliseum, including 1,500 sixth graders there for "Class of 2021 Day," Thompson scored 15 points on perfect 4-for-4 shooting from the free-throw line, but received substantial help from the two remaining thirds of Kentucky's three-headed point guard assault. Senior Jennifer O'Neill recorded 14 points and six rebounds, while sophomore Makayla Epps stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench.
"Jennifer has an excellent attitude right now," Mitchell said. "So our leadership is doing really great. Even Makayla Epps (has) a great attitude right now. I am happy with that. We need that."
"I think the three of us--myself, (O'Neill), and Epps--have a really good relationship," Thompson said. "(We) are really starting to understand what Coach Mitchell is looking for and what our team needs from us."
From all five positions on the floor, No. 9 Kentucky (3-0) completely dominated its opponent from the Ohio Valley Conference. The Wildcats' starting frontcourt of Bishop and sophomore Kyvin Goodin-Rogers pulled down 11 and nine rebounds, respectively. As a team, UK outrebounded the Eagles 55-35.
"We love going out there and playing hard, and getting rewarded for the hard work we have put in in practice," Thompson said. "We work extremely hard every day, and to be able to see that stuff come out when we play on the floor is great for us."
Thompson's former high school teammate, current sophomore guard Linnae Harper, contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes off the UK bench. Along with Bishop, Harper was one of two Cats to log a double-double.
"We aren't going to be the most talented team around, but our intangibles can be really high," said Mitchell. "If we can work together and the sum be greater than the parts, we can really do some things."
After three games over the course of six days, Kentucky has until Saturday to relax and reflect on the season's hot start. The Wildcats will travel to Mount Pleasant, Mich., for 2014-15's first road matchup with the Chippewas of Central Michigan.
UK posted 11 blocks in a dominant 72-40 win over Kansas on Tuesday in the Champions Classic. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Rock Chalk, Jay blocked.
In a defensive performance for the ages -- at the very least, the best of the John Calipari era -- top-ranked Kentucky bludgeoned No. 5 Kansas on Tuesday in one of the most shocking outcomes of two top-five opponents in recent memory.
The Cats, who very much looked like the No. 1 team in the country in Indianapolis on Tuesday -- which is saying something considering the way Duke played in the first game -- denied everything Kansas tried to do offensively.
UK blocked as many shots (11) as Kansas made field goals, held the Jayhawks to 19.6 percent shooting and sent KU home to Lawrence with its worst loss of the mighty Bill Self era.
Tuesday's outcome was so hard to believe, so dominating and so demoralizing for Self that he sat at the podium in his postgame press conference, opened a bottle of water and wished it was something other than H20.
"I was hoping that was vodka," Self said. " ... Somebody's going to have to be special a certain night for them to get knocked off."
Special is the only way to sum up Kentucky's defensive effort Tuesday night.
For all the platoon talk coming into the UK-Kansas matchup, the difference in the Champions Classic nightcap wasn't platoons, depth or talent -- though they all played a factor of superiority against the Jayhawks.
It was length.
It was defense.
It was a relentless effort to allow nothing near the hoop.
"We were good today," John Calipari said in the understatement of the early season. "What we did was we defended, and it makes your offense a lot easier when you guard the way we did."
Quite frankly, UK's offense vs. Kansas was just OK. Coach Cal tweeted after the game that it was "average."
The numbers - 43.1 percent from the field - don't lie.
But average will be more than enough if Kentucky can continue to put together a half like it did in the second 20 minutes against Kansas when it gave up just 10 points and three field goals.
Or a half like it did in the first 20 minutes when it blocked eight shots.
Or a half like Sunday's against Buffalo</a> when it surrendered just 14 points and four field goals.
Or a half like the first one of the season</a> when it allowed only 16 points to Grand Canyon.
It's become pretty obvious through the first three games of the season that when the Cats decide they want to lock in defensively, they're nearly unbeatable.
"It's just energy," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who was credited with one of UK's 11 blocks. "You can tell the games we don't play like that - the games we're not playing up on the ball, hard and bothering the ball."
When the Cats play like they do Tuesday, it reminds Calipari a lot of his defensively nasty UMass teams.
"We had games where we shot under 40 percent and won, which means you're guarding," he said.
Kentucky's defense was so good in Indy that the Cats would have only lost by two points if they had been shutout in the second half.
Not only did UK deliver Kansas the worst loss of the Self era, it also held the Jayhawks to their lowest field-goal percentage (.196) under Self, their fewest field goals made (11) and their fewest points scored (40).
Over the final 12:30 of the game, Kentucky didn't allow Kansas a single field goal. In the first 5:21 of the second half, the Cats kept the Jayhawks off the scoreboard altogether.
(This is the part where we remind you that this was against the No. 5 team in the country and college basketball's second-winningest program of all time).
"We didn't have a whole lot of breakdowns," Calipari said. "What we did is we really covered for each other. We had the helper helping the helper."
Even when Kansas got the ball into the lane and appeared to have a clean look, UK would contest it with a foul. Hey, when you've got 10 guys at your disposal, you can afford a few fouls. Get knocked around enough - and never see the ball actually go through the hoop - and the rim starts to play mind tricks with you.
"It's nice when you have guys like Willie and Marcus Lee who can go guard guards," Coach Cal added. "So now if there's a switch or something or someone's open, they just go out and guard the guy."
Kentucky can attack defensively because - wait for it - the platoons. Playing in four-minute bursts has allowed the Cats to go at maximum effort on the defensive end.
As a result, UK has blocked 28 shots on the season, forced 49 turnovers and held its three opponents to a dismal 28.0-percent clip from the field.
"What I can't tell you is the kind of kids we have," Calipari said. "Couldn't do what we're doing. There's no way if we didn't have solid, selfless kids to do what we're doing and giving them half a game. We're playing them half a game and they're accepting it. Unless they allow us to do this, we can't do it. And that showed today what we're about."
The players buying into the system and sacrificing minutes has given Coach Cal the freedom to throw out relentless height. Kentucky's starting front line measures in at 7-foot, 6-11, 6-8, but unlike other teams when the subs come in, UK gets no shorter. When the reinforcements come in, as Calipari likes to call his second platoon, the three bigs go 7-0, 6-10, 6-9.
"You get long athletes that like to guard and they can cover up for mistakes as well as anybody that I've ever seen," Self said. Really, save for Tyler Ulis, all of UK's top 10 players are 6-6 are taller. With all that length, Coach Cal had planned on playing some zone against Kansas.
"And then the way we defended, I said, 'Nope, we're not playing any zone today,' " Calipari said.
Good call, Cal. There's no telling how many more blocks UK may have had.
UK blocked 11 shots and held Kansas to 19.6-percent shooting in a 72-40 win over Kansas on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Rarely, especially in recent years, has a Kentucky team been such a known commodity so early in the season.
With a group of returners from last year's national runner-up and the Big Blue Bahamas tour, UK fans and those who follow college basketball closely have had ample time to get to know the Wildcats, and remarkable hype has followed.
On Tuesday, anyone who didn't already know found out: These Cats, with those platoons, are a force to be reckoned with.
"We kind of bum-rushed them a little bit and every time they looked there were more tanks coming over the hill," Calipari said. "It wasn't substitutes; it was reinforcements. Here they come."
In the first top-10 matchup of the season, UK overwhelmed No. 5 Kansas in a 72-40 win that was just as one-sided as the final score suggested. In front of a national audience and a crowd of 19,306 in Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Cats dominated with the same combination of length, athleticism, experience and depth that sent them to the top of preseason polls.
After Kansas' Bill Self had coached against the Cats for 40 minutes, he stepped to the podium for his postgame press conference. Before he fielded the first question, he took a drink of water and found himself disappointed it wasn't another clear liquid in the bottle.
"I was hoping that was vodka," Self joked.
In a remarkably balanced effort, all 16 Wildcats - scholarship players and walk-ons alike - saw the floor. Dakari Johnson, showing off his leaner physique, was a go-to post presence, scoring a game-high 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Andrew Harrison joined him in double figures, scoring 10 points to go with four assists. With him running the show, UK committed just six turnovers against 15 assists as 12 players scored..
"Andrew Harrison was unbelievable today, his control of the game and how much energy he played with," Calipari said.
As good as Andrew Harrison was, it was UK's defense that was primarily responsible for handing Kansas its largest margin of defeat in Self's tenure on a night the Cats shot only 43.1 percent themselves. In really the only back-and-forth battle of the night, the race between UK's blocked-shot total and Kansas' made field goals ended in an 11-11 tie, meaning the Jayhawks shot just 19.6 percent from the field and managed 0.635 points per possession.
"I thought they were great," Self said. "You get long athletes that like to guard and they can cover up for mistakes as well as anybody that I've ever seen. They were really, really impressive."
By the end of the game, the Jayhawks were turning away from the paint rather than attempt to shoot over the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Marcus Lee, who had four blocks apiece. Willie Cauley-Stein, already sixth on UK's all-time blocks list, had just one, but affected many more in allowing not a single Jayhawk to score double figures.
"What we did is we really covered for each other," Calipari said. "We had the helper helping the helper. I mean, it was like, you know - and it's nice when you have guys like Willie and Marcus Lee who can go guard guards. So now if there's a switch or something or someone's open, they just go out and guard the guy."
Kansas' lone effective offensive stretch was over the final 6:54 of the first half, during which UK saw a 16-point lead cut to 38-28 at halftime. For the rest of the game's 33-plus minutes, the Jayhawks scored just 24 points, including a scoreless stretch of more than five minutes to open the second half.
It was UK's second platoon of Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Lee and Johnson that yielded most of the run to close the first half, but Coach Cal stuck with the plan and played the same group out of the break.
"I wanted to see," Calipari said. "And I wasn't changing the rotation. I mean, I went right with the rotation. The guys who finished the half who played poorly I started the second half because that's how we do it. We got 10 starters on this team."
That sounds great in theory, but even Coach Cal has admitted it's no guarantee the platoon system lasts through the season. All along, he's said it will be the players and their belief - or lack thereof - in the system that decide whether it does.
"What I can't tell you is the kind of kids we have," Calipari said. "Couldn't do what we're doing. There's no way if we didn't have solid, selfless kids to do what we're doing and giving them half a game. We're playing them half a game and they're accepting it. Unless they allow us to do this, we can't do it."
UK, in dominating a team expected to contend for a Final Four berth, took a big step toward instilling belief that the platoon system can work, and it happened two days after Buffalo led the Cats by five at half.
"I really love it," Towns said. "It gives everyone, like he said, a fair chance. But at the same time, ... it allows us to go hard all the time."
With no player on the floor for more than 21 minutes and all 10 original platoon members playing at last 17, the Cats could run to the point of exhaustion with no concern about conserving energy. As nice as depth is, it's the talent that comprises it that differentiates Kentucky.
"We've had teams where we've had good guys, but there's a chance you may have 10 guys that play in the league all in their platoon deal," Self said. "We've had some teams where you have four or five guys that may have a shot. So it's a little bit different being able to do that."
In spite of all that, Tuesday was still just one game in mid-November. Perhaps sensing what the performance would do to the hysteria already surrounding his team, Coach Cal tried to let a little air out of UK's rapidly inflating balloon.
"No, we're not that good," Calipari said. "Next question."
But maybe they could be down the line.
Coach Cal was sure to point out that UK's offense needs work, especially when opponents go to sagging zone defenses and force the Cats to hit from the outside. He also said the Cats need to run more motion offense and also involve Aaron Harrison more after the guard scored only eight points against Kansas.
"We got so much to figure out about this team it's not funny," Calipari said.
There's a flipside to that, and opposing coaches likely won't find it all that funny either.
"The only good news is when we come into town the other guy's gotta figure out two teams," Calipari said. "Like, alright, how are we preparing for this?"
The NBA Developmental League tipped off on Friday, giving a few more familiar faces a stage to showcase their abilities on the court.
There are currently four former Wildcats suiting up full time for D-League teams with the hopes of signing NBA contracts before the end of the season. Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague, who played significant roles in bringing Kentucky its eighth NCAA title, got off to very different starts over the weekend.
Lamb has established his role as the first scoring option for the Texas Legends, who started the season with a 2-0 record. The smooth shooting guard is averaging 22 points while shooting 63.6 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in his first two games.
Teague, on the other hand, is still finding his way into a consistent rotation for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder's D-League affiliate. The former first-round draft pick is logging 19.2 minutes through two contests and is averaging eight points and four assists in the two games.
Another member of the 2012 national championship team at Kentucky, Eloy Vargas, has landed a spot in the D-League after competing in Spain's professional league last season
Vargas was drafted by the Los Angeles D-Fenders with the 17th overall pick in the annual D-League draft but was deactivated last Thursday leading up to the start of the season.
Ramon Harris, who graduated from Kentucky in 2010, is off to a very solid start for the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants. Although his team has dropped to 0-2 after the opening weekend, Harris has done an excellent job for the Mad Ants. The small forward is averaging 11 points and a team high 11.5 rebounds in his first two games.
James Young has spent the early portion of his professional career battling a host of minor injuries and dealing with an undisclosed illness in his family. In order to gain some real-time game action and work his way back into playing shape the Celtics have assigned Young to their D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
Young did not disappoint in his first game, scoring 21 points and grabbing five rebounds in all the minutes he could handle. The plan for Young is to get his legs back under him and to make an impact on the Celtics roster during the remainder of his rookie season.
NBA spotlights in week three (All stats through Sunday, Nov. 16)
Anthony Davis kept up his streak of domination in week three in the NBA. The All-Star forward is leading the way in MVP talks through the first 10 games of the season. Aside from a blowout victory over the Timberwolves on Friday in which he spent much of the second half on the bench, Davis led the Pelicans in nearly every statistical category.
The former Cat averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and four blocked shots while seeing over 38 minutes of action per game.
DeMarcus Cousins posted three double-doubles in as many games this past week as he continues to make a strong case for All-Star honors in the Western Conference. Cousins, who is has entered the conversation for the top center in the league, is largely responsible for the turnaround in Sacramento. The Kings above .500 after the first 10 games this season for the first time in 10 years.
It comes as no surprise that point guard Rajon Rondo is leading the league in assists through the first three weeks of the season, averaging 11.6 dimes per game. Rondo posted a single-game mark of 16 assists on Friday, which stands as the current season high for the entire league.
Rondo averaged 13 points, 12 assists, and nine rebounds in week three, coming dangerously close to a triple-double in two of the three games for Boston.
Week four TV Schedule
Tuesday: New Orleans (Anthony Davis, Darius Miller) @ Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins) 10:00 p.m. on NBA TV