Part of Matthew Mitchell probably wouldn't mind waiting a while before taking on the challenge of facing a top-10 team.
A bigger part of him can't wait to welcome Baylor to Lexington.
"It's two of the top-rated teams in the country," Mitchell said. "It's going to be a great way for us to showcase Kentucky basketball. National television, a sold-out Rupp Arena. That's just nothing but a positive opportunity for you there."
UK (1-0) will welcome the Lady Bears (1-0) in the second game of the season for both teams on Monday at 7 p.m. Not only is it UK Hoops' annual Pack the House game in Rupp Arena, but ESPN2 will also be on hand to broadcast the game as part of the seventh annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. And with still more than 24 hours to tip-off, more than 21,000 fans have already snapped up tickets.
"If everybody that has a ticket shows up tomorrow night, it would be an outstanding atmosphere," Mitchell said. "We appreciate the folks supporting us. It ought to be a great atmosphere for college basketball tomorrow night."
A great atmosphere and, in all likelihood, a great game.
UK is ranked No. 11/10, while perennial power Baylor comes in at No. 8/9. The game will be the first in the country between top-15 women's teams this season, meaning it will be an early measuring stick for both.
"We have a big challenge ahead of us, very tough opponent," Mitchell said. "We have tremendous respect for Baylor. What a great program. They have some really tough players. Well coached and we know it will be a very tough challenge for us tomorrow night, but we're looking forward to taking the floor and seeing what we can do."
Baylor returns three starters from last year's Elite Eight team that UK twice faced. Last December, the Cats came out on top 133-130 in a quadruple-overtime thriller that set an NCAA record for points in a game. Four months later, Baylor eliminated UK in the Sweet 16.
UK won't have to contend with departed All-American Odyssey Sims, but Baylor still has still has Nina Johnson, the reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Davis had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Lady Bears' 101-60 season-opening win over Oral Roberts.
"I think she is really the glue to that entire basketball team," Mitchell said. "I just think she is a terrific player and it is going to be very important for us to do a good job against her. And try to do everything we can to make sure that she doesn't have a monstrous night. She is an outstanding basketball player and she plays so tough."
Defending Davis might be important, but not as crucial as UK setting the game's tempo. At this early juncture, the Cats are still very much a work in progress in the half-court. For that reason, they have to turn the pace in their favor.
"We must make it a fast-paced game if we want any chance to win right now at this point in the season," Mitchell said. "We have got to get it going up and down."
If UK succeeds in doing that, the big Rupp crowd figures to enjoy it. For those who haven't yet bought tickets, there's another reason to do just that.
"Boy, we'd love to sprint to the finish and get this thing sold out tomorrow night," Mitchell said. "It would be a great thing for us."
Trey Lyles had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists in UK's 71-52 win over Buffalo on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After a lackluster first half, Kentucky trailed Buffalo by five points. The buzz on social media was that the platoon system that's defined the start of the season had met its end.
Even one of his assistants said it.
"Stop," Calipari told him, not revealing the coach's identity. "We're playing the way we play and we're figuring it out."
It was a good thing he stuck to his guns.
Coach Cal opened the second half with his second platoon as he has in two exhibitions and the season opener and the group responded. Riding a shot of energy from Trey Lyles, the Wildcats dominated the second half and moved to 2-0 with a 71-52 win over visiting Buffalo (1-1), allowing just 14 points on 4-of-19 shooting after the break.
Lyles got it started with a 3-pointer from the left wing. Moments later, he intercepted a pass near midcourt and raced to the rim for a thunderous dunk. In a matter of 42 seconds, he had erased that halftime deficit and breathed energy into the Rupp Arena crowd of 22,175.
"I just wanted to go out there and playing with energy in the second half and just try pick the team up, pick the spirits up," Lyles said. "That's what the second platoon was trying to do at the start of the second half."
For the game, Lyles would tie for the team high with 12 points, adding four rebounds, three assists and steal. The 6-foot-10 freshman came to Kentucky with a reputation as a rebounder and adept post scorer, but he's shown off a diverse game after returning from a foot injury that forced him to miss the summer and UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour.
"He's just learning to play fast, yet be in control," Calipari said. "He is a skilled 6-10, three/four. He can post you; he can make a jump shot. He's a pretty good passer."
Lyles was a power forward by trade before arriving in Lexington, but Kentucky's incredible post depth has moved him into more of a perimeter role. Working with and going up against a veteran teammate every day in practice, Lyles is finding his way.
"It's been an adjustment in practice and stuff like that, but I'm becoming more comfortable with it, me and Alex (Poythress) both," Lyles said. "Coach is really helping us and me and him are helping each other with playing it."
It's players like Dakari Johnson who have bumped Lyles to the three.
Johnson, along with Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns, is one of the Cats standing 6-11 or 7-foot, and he joins Lyles on the second platoon. On Sunday, he also joined Lyles in providing a boost when his team badly needed it.
In spite of the new platoon system, Johnson played 26 minutes. He played more than that just once as a freshman. All the while, Johnson worked tirelessly, something he acknowledges he would not have been capable of before transforming his body this offseason.
"It just feels like while I'm out there I'm not getting tired as fast and I just try to get the crowd hyped and get my teammates hyped up, and that's what we did in the second half," Johnson said.
Johnson had nine points, 12 rebounds, four blocks, three assists and a steal, finishing a made free throw shy of what would have been his second double-double in as many games. He shot 3 of 6 from the charity stripe, leaving just one area for the sophomore to address.
"He fights," Calipari said. "He tries. He runs hard. He's giving everything that's in his body, and that's all you can ask as a coach."
The same can be said for another Wildcat who's pretty much Johnson's polar opposite when it comes to body type. Standing 15 inches shorter than Johnson, Tyler Ulis deftly ran the point, scoring 12 points, dishing six of UK's 17 assists and committing no turnovers.
Devin Booker, meanwhile, scored eight of his 10 points after halftime, meaning UK's top four scorers on Sunday came from the second platoon. That serves as proof that the platoon system is flexible enough to adjust on a game-by-game basis even though Calipari isn't going away from it.
If someone else is not playing well, they're going to be taken out," Calipari said. "If a unit is not playing well, I'll take them out. Every one of these kids had a chance. Now, if I had stuck with those first guys you never would've seen Trey, Devin, and Tyler do what they did. They all three played well today."
That wasn't the case for every Wildcat. Towns, for example, fouled out and scored just three points in 10 minutes of action, while Andrew and Aaron Harrison combined for 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting and one assist.
Those three figure to be among the players Coach Cal said he will summon for sit-downs before the Cats head to Indianapolis for an early-season marquee matchup with No. 5 Kansas. The conversations will be candid, with Calipari asking them to assess how they played and what they learned from it.
But unlike in prior seasons, the talks won't have as much urgency about them, not with the way Coach Cal's group is built.
"It's a great team for all these guys to just play hard," Calipari said. "Even if you don't play well, we're all right. Someone else will step in and be better the next game. Learn from it."
Arin Gilliland converts the first penalty of the shootout. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
There was a big "red wall," and the Kentucky women's soccer team couldn't quite break it down. Such was the way UK head coach Jon Lipsitz described playing against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Saturday's first-round NCAA Tournament game.
The match unfolded in one of the scenarios you really only see in soccer.
One team dominates, so much so that the other side gives up on trying to score, yet the result is a tie. And not only that, but then determining the winner comes down to a 50/50 lottery.
Such was the case under frigid conditions at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer complex. The Wildcats won, 4-2, in the penalty shootout after the game ended tied 0-0 through 90 minutes and two overtimes, but advancing to the final 32 in the NCAA Tournament was no easy task.
By any measure Southern Illinois University Edwardsville parked the proverbial bus.
And as many times as UK's offensive attacks created cracks in the wall, the Cats could not break through.
The Wildcats didn't play poorly; in fact they created a massive quantity of chances. Thirty-one shots, eight of them on goal, another shot that agonizingly went off the cross bar and 17 corners, but UK couldn't score over 110 minutes so the game went to penalties.
"People will look at it and say how did you not score? Well we had 18 shots in the second half and nine corners," Lipsitz said. "They had two back saves, we had a ball literally on the line. I mean, that is frustrating but at the same time you know what I am going to say to my team? I thought we acted very well after halftime and played very well.
"Got ourselves more than enough opportunities and it was not like the first half where I thought we weren't really creating enough opportunities. In the second half and overtime, I thought we played extremely well. We created great opportunities in the box where we just missed or they blocked a lot of shots. Credit to them and obviously we are going to work on some finishing and cleaning things up in the box this week."
So a win or go home NCAA Tournament First-Round game came down to the lottery that is penalties.
Despite all but giving up on scoring after 60 minutes in a 90-minute game, the Ohio Valley Conference's SIUE had just as good a chance to advance in the NCAA Tournament as a nationally seeded Kentucky.
That said, the likes of Arin Gilliland would not let the season end.
The cliche of a senior standout performer living to fight another day in the NCAA Tournament has been analyzed many times, and Gilliland seemed to perpetuate that recurring storyline on Saturday.
Gilliland took a knock to her foot in last Sunday's Southeastern Conference championship game against Texas A&M, and the injury seemed to limit her against SIUE. But the pain apparently wasn't enough to keep her from creating UK's two best chances of the night, and expertly convert UK's first penalty of the shootout.
"(Arin Gilliland) steps up and hammers home the first one," Lipsitz said. "And she got really beaten up in the Texas A&M game less than a week ago believe it or not. I had to actually ask her 'can you take a PK?' because of her foot. She looked right at me and said 'I am taking a PK.' OK she is taking a PK.
"But I literally had 2, 3, 4, and 5 written down and I did not have a No. 1 shooter written down because I didn't know this morning when I was doing this if Gilly would be able to shoot or not. So I am proud of our toughness and our ability to just stick to the plan to the details necessary and find a way to advance."
The way Gilliland converted the penalty -- hammered into the top-left corner of the goal at a pace that made the shot unstoppable -- spoke to her determination. To inspire her team to victory, to play through pain and just to keep her college career going.
Such determination could also be attributed to UK freshman goalie Taylor Braun. The shot stopper ended the shootout with a diving stop, giving the Wildcats an unsurmountable 4-2 advantage.
But to be as focused as she was all game, and more importantly in the shootout, after never seriously being troubled or even having an opposing player come within 30 yards of her over 110 minutes of open-field action was commendable.
As well as Braun, and Gilliland and the rest of the Wildcats did in keeping focus and making the plays needed to win, their performances were in keeping with a saying that has become something of a mantra for Lipzitz and his Wildcats.
They were doing their "jobs."
For Gilliland it was leading, if only by example if not by scoring the first penalty. And for Braun it was making just one save in a shootout where UK's players were a perfect 4-of-4 on their kicks.
"Through the game, it's important as a goalkeeper, even when you're not getting any action, that you're still getting work, to stay focused and continue doing the details and communicating throughout the whole thing," Braun said. "It's easy to get disengaged when there is not much action. Going into PKs, I got excited, because I'm confident in my team and the way that we practiced them and the way that we handle pressure situation.
"I just knew that we were going to come out with a win after. I love pressure. I knew that all I needed to do was save one, like Jon said. Just do your job, just save one. That's what I did tonight, and it felt great to pull it out."
UK's next "job" will be to prepare for a Friday 3 p.m. ET Second-Round NCAA Tournament matchup with Arizona State in Charlottesville, Va.
UK lost to Tennessee on Saturday at Neyland Stadium, 50-16. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Even though Kentucky hadn't played the kind of game he demands, Mark Stoops stepped to the podium and offered an objective assessment of his team.
At a moment when the competitor inside him surely wanted to be angry, Stoops was calm.
"It's not easy," Stoops said. "Nobody likes to lose. Our fans don't ... and nobody likes to lose. It's not fun."
UK (5-6, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) fell at Tennessee (5-5, 2-4 SEC) on Saturday, 50-16. The outcome, no question, was disappointing, especially after the Wildcats jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a field goal on their first drive. The Volunteers were dominant, rolling up 511 yards to UK's 262.
"Give Tennessee credit," Stoops said. "They beat us. They outcoached us, outplayed us. They were very prepared, very energetic. They had two weeks to prepare and did a heck of a job."
The Cats, on the other hand, played their eighth game in as many weeks. Seven of the games have been against SEC opponents, taking a toll on a young team still building depth.
"I'm proud of this team, and that's hard to say. ... They did some good things," Stoops said. "We're 5-6 and we're in the middle of a tough stretch right now. I don't think -- and I would never say this before the game, and I'm never gonna give an out for any of us -- we didn't have a lot in our tank.
In spite of that, UK turned in a solid week of preparation for a trip to Knoxville, Tenn. Unfortunately, it didn't translate on game day,
"I have no problem with our team's attitude and their effort," Stoops said. "And some people may have a hard time understanding that when you get beat (50-16). But I really do. I think our guys really want to play well. I thought they really prepared well, really tried to come in with a good mindset, and really I thought gave good effort."
Best demonstrating that effort on offense was wide receiver Javess Blue, who became the 23rd player in school history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards. The senior had six catches for 131 yards, including grabs of 39 and 30 yards to set up UK's lone touchdown.
"My mindset was trying to get this team a (win), but at the same time we all ... played a part in this game," Blue said.
Blue added a 23-yard catch on the final drive of the first half, making a heads-up play when he kneeled with two seconds on the clock to allow UK to call a timeout and attempt a long field goal. Austin MacGinnis would capitalize, setting a school record with a 54-yard kick and making him one of three kickers nationally with three field goals of 50 yards or longer.
"When I went out there, I didn't even know how long it was or that it was for the school record," MacGinnis said. "I knew Coach Stoops called field goal to end the first half and I am just blessed that it went in."
The kick gave UK a measure of momentum heading into the halftime locker room, momentum Tennessee would quickly reclaim by scoring on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Even so, Josh Forrest and Bud Dupree continued to battle. Forrest, a junior linebacker, had 20 tackles, while Dupree had a career-high 15, including a sack and two tackles for loss.
"It shows that we don't quit," Forrest said. "That's the whole thing: We try not to quit and keep making plays when we had to, winning our one-on-ones."
But on this night, the Cats didn't win nearly enough of them, serving as a reminder of the work ahead for a program that has already exceeded its win total from the previous two seasons combined in 2014.
"We need to be more physical," Stoops said. "We need to recruit and develop. ... It's hard. Things don't happen overnight. We need to continue to pound the weight room, we need to continue to recruit and get our players better and bigger. One thing I'm noticing in this stretch and I think y'all can see it too: We need to be more physical. We need bigger."
Even more immediately, UK needs to be healthier.
The Cats have an open date and two weeks to rest before their season finale, a trip to Louisville. That figures to benefit Patrick Towles -- who briefly departed with an ankle injury in the first half before returning -- and numerous other players nursing bumps and bruises.
"Our guys are banged up," Stoops said. "They need a couple days to decompress here a little bit and get a little energy back in their step. Physically and mentally just recharge a little bit."
Once they recharge, the Cats will shift their focus entirely to a matchup with their archrivals. By now, they would have liked to have picked up that sixth win and locked up bowl eligibility, but that wasn't in the cards. Now they have one last shot to do it against the Cardinals.
"It will be a great atmosphere that game," Dupree said. "It would be a great time to take back over the state. With a win, who wouldn't want to beat Louisville to go to a bowl game? We just gotta make it happen."
Willie Cauley-Stein had 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks in UK's season-opening win over Grand Canyon on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari isn't known for his brevity, but it took him only nine words to sum up Kentucky's season opener.
"First half was good," Calipari said. "Second half was not good."
The first half saw UK suffocate Grand Canyon defensively and build a commanding 43-16 lead. The Wildcats (1-0) held the Antelopes (0-1) to 25 percent shooting and forced 13 turnovers. In the second half, Grand Canyon refused to back down, actually outscoring UK by two points through the first 13-plus minutes before the Cats finished strong for an 85-45 victory.
"I think the first half we played at a pretty good level," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who was all over the floor with 12 points, five rebounds, four blocks and two steals, 'and then the second half we kind of let go of the rope a little bit and didn't play as physical and as determined."
The physicality is what most caught Coach Cal's attention.
"The other thing that happened is it got physical and it became a little bit of a fight," Calipari said. "We had guys not be able to make plays. They walked, missed one footers when things got physical. That's going to be an issue for us."
On offense, the failure to respond to physicality manifested itself in post-ups that came too far away from the basket, which led to those misses from around the basket. With their depth, size and athleticism, the Cats were often able to grab their own misses, to the tune of 24 offensive rebounds and a 51-21 overall rebounding edge, but the issue remains.
On defense, UK struggled guarding dribble penetration after the break, which was clear within minutes. The second platoon of Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson, which held GCU scoreless in the first half, allowed six points on the first four possessions of the second half. Immediately, Coach Cal called for the first platoon to check back in.
"They came in, they scored too many buckets on us," Ulis said. "Like you said, we kept them to scoreless in the first half, but the second half we came out a little lazy. We got stuck on defense and they hit a couple (shots) on us. So he wanted to make an example and told us we would sit if we don't get stops."
It was the first of many lessons for the three freshmen on the second platoon. Minutes later, UK's fourth freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns, got a similar lesson when Coach Cal pulled him Johnson after a lapse of focus that led to a turnover.
Playing with a big lead, it turns out, isn't always easy.
"That's what we need to work on," Ulis said. "We have to come out still ready to fight. Just look at it as the score is zero to zero, just try to go out there and play and keep the pressure on."
Cauley-Stein is in his third year playing for Coach Cal and he's still working to put that message into action.
"It's tough," Cauley-Stein said. "And if you're young it makes it worse because you're not used to that. You're not used to playing at a level that Coach wants you to play at all the time. It just comes with the experience of playing the college-level game. As you get older, you realize what Coach is saying. It will just come."
The Cats experienced a measure of the adversity Coach Cal said they needed in that second half, which only figures to help as UK takes the floor again on Sunday at noon against Buffalo and then on Tuesday against No. 5 Kansas in the Champions Classic.
"They came out, they punched us in the mouth the second half, but we just have to keep going, learn from our mistakes and improve," Ulis said.
Cauley-Stein, however, says the real learning won't happen until later. He remembers last year's game against Michigan State well, when the Cats fell behind by double digits before the even scored a point.
"Once it gets harder, then dudes are going to find out that it's real, it's the whole game," Cauley-Stein said. "Especially if you come out flat and you get hit in the mouth first, it's rough. It's going to be a rough game after that. So you've got to come out and throw the first couple of blows and let them know you're here and you're going to find the rest of the game."
Even so, seeing what can happen when an opponent outmuscles them was a good learning experience for the Cats.
"It's good that it happened because we were able to talk about it and we'll show it on tape tomorrow," Calipari said.
And when you have a roster like Coach Cal does, you get to teach from the tape of a 40-point win.
After being diagnosed with pulmonary embolism and missing the entire 2013-14 season, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers let go of more than just the basketball during the first official field-goal attempt of her career.
As the ball sank through the net without ever touching the rim, all of the pressure coming from her yearlong comeback effort fell away with it.
Goodin-Rogers began Kentucky's 111-74 rout of Appalachian State with back-to-back 3-pointers. Then, after personally denying two Appalachian State jump shots on consecutive possessions (with a layup from teammate Bria Goss in between), Goodin-Rogers converted on both of her free-throw attempts the next time down the floor. Less than two minutes into her collegiate debut, Goodin-Rogers had scored eight of her team's 10 points.
"That was fun. I thought that was a fun way to start the game," said head coach Matthew Mitchell. "Those first two 3s, they looked like they had a lot of tension in them right there. She just let it go, and nothing but net."
Thanks to Goodin-Rogers' hot start, the Wildcats jumped to a 58-42 lead by halftime -- ultimately ending in a 37-point margin of victory. Goodin-Rogers would go on to finish the game with 11 points, six rebounds, four blocks, and one assist. In 17 minutes of play, she was the only Kentucky starter not to commit a single turnover.
However, when asked about Friday's special performance, Goodin-Rogers quickly deflected credit to her UK teammates.
"It was special," Goodin-Rogers said. "I'm just glad to be back with my teammates. Last year, everybody supported me through everything. I knew I was going to be okay."
Mitchell is the first to attest to the triumph of the 6-foot-1 Marion County native's comeback story, as well as Goodin-Rogers' overall quality of character.
"She is all about the team," Mitchell said. "What a great kid. (Last year's diagnosis) was a scary, scary situation. (It was) such a downer of a year for her freshman year--couldn't be less ideal to start your career. She's really blossomed."
With Goodin-Rogers anchoring the low block, Kentucky's backcourt was steered by the three-headed attack of Jennifer O'Neill, Linnae Harper, and Makayla Epps. O'Neill, a senior, scored a team-high 20 points, complemented by eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Leading the spark off Kentucky's guard-heavy bench were Harper (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists) and Epps (16 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals).
With the season's inaugural win, No. 11 Kentucky's window for celebration won't extend much past the weekend. The Wildcats are scheduled to face the No. 8 Baylor Lady Bears in a 7 p.m. nationally televised marquee matchup at Rupp Arena on Monday. Kentucky defeated Baylor 133-130 in a four-overtime thriller last season before falling to the Lady Bears in the NCAA Tournament.
Goodin-Rogers wouldn't mind starting it with a pair of 3s again.
UK opens NCAA Tournament play at home against SIUE on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. (UK Athletics)
The Kentucky women's soccer team has been at it for almost three months now. Not only that, the Wildcats had just returned from a weeklong road trip and a 12-hour bus ride at 6:30 a.m.
Naturally, Jon Lipsitz's wife asked him if he was tired.
"Heck yeah," Lipsitz told her. "That's exactly how I want to feel right now."
When the alternative is sitting at home, the choice is clear.
"When you get to the end of the year and everybody's a little worn down, it's the greatest feeling in the world," Lipsitz said. "So many teams are done and here we are, one of the 64 teams playing in the NCAAs and one of the 32 teams hosting."
The Cats are at home, but they're doing anything but sitting this week. UK will play host to SIU Edwardsville in a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup at 7:30 p.m. at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.
"A great challenge for us," Lipsitz said. "I know that they're very excited. First time for them and I remember what that feels like. I know that they'll be sky high when they get here and I think a quick start for us is very important."
UK, a national seed in the tournament for the first time in school history, enters the favorite. The label, an unfamiliar one for a program still growing, is one that might pose a danger of overlooking an SIUE team that has impressed Lipsitz in watching tape. SIUE's Ohio Valley Conference Tournament performance caught Lipsitz's eye in particular, a game in which the Cougars overcame a two-goal deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining to punch their NCAA Tournament tickets in overtime.
"That's a pretty amazing, resilient team to be able to do something like that," Lipsitz said.
Resilient is a word that can be used to describe UK as well.
A little more than a month ago, the Cats were on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in, sporting an RPI of 59 on the heels of four losses in six matches. Since, UK has won eight times in nine matches, only dropping the Southeastern Conference Tournament final against NCAA No. 1 seed Texas A&M.
Combine that with the No. 3 seed and you have a recipe for a team in danger of resting on its laurels and expecting a win to come easily, but the Cats aren't about to fall victim to that, not with senior captains Stuart Pope and Arin Gilliland leading the way.
Within minutes of learning UK's seeding, Pope said it no longer mattered.
"It's interesting being in training with the team because there's been zero discussion of the things that we've accomplished so far," Lipsitz said. "Obviously I'm proud of what we've accomplished over time, the four years with this group, but they haven't mentioned it at all. For them it's one game. We're getting ready for Saturday and for us as a staff it's one game and getting ready for it."
The first step in that preparation was recovering from playing three games in five days at the SEC Tournament, which Lipsitz said "crushes you physically." Accordingly, UK took an off day on Monday and went light on Tuesday.
"We started getting back after it Wednesday and (Thursday) was the first day I saw a change of pace in what they were doing," Lipsitz said. "I saw some pop, as we call it, in their runs. Things started coming together (Thursday)."
That happened with temperatures dropping into the 30s as will be the case on at kickoff on Saturday night. But like with late-season exhaustion, the Cats aren't about to let a little November chill affect them.
"We couldn't care less," Lipsitz said. "Our choice is be out on a cold night, colder than usual this time of year, playing an NCAA game or being done with the season. Yeah, I think we're going to be excited. We're definitely going to be excited."
UK had its normal walkthrough on Thursday, opting to move inside with cold weather in Lexington before the Wildcats go back outside on Friday. Head coach Mark Stoops spoke to the media afterward for the final time before a Saturday matchup with Tennessee, praising his team for the way it has practiced all week. Stoops also gave an injury update on a pair of players, saying Za'Darius Smith (ankle) is expected to play in spite of practicing little this week. Stoops also expects Blake McClain (shoulder) to play after the nickelback practiced all week, but with no contact.
Marcus Lee averaged seven points and seven rebounds in UK's two exhibition wins. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
John Calipari the competitor wants to jump out to a big early and win every game by double digits. John Calipari the realist knows that's not happening.
That's why he's saying things like this.
"We need adversity so bad," Calipari said. "We need to get hit in the mouth as soon as we can."
If you didn't know any better, you might think John Calipari is rooting against his own team.
"We need to be down 10, and let's figure out what we are," Calipari said.
On the eve of Kentucky's season opener, it's just a matter of time before he gets his wish.
UK opens its much-anticipated 2014-15 campaign at 8 p.m. on Friday night against Grand Canyon, a second-year Division-I program led by three-time NBA All Star Dan Majerle. The Wildcats are in the final hours of a unique offseason that's featured some surprise decisions to bypass the NBA Draft, a six-game Big Blue Bahamas tour and intrigue surrounding UK's platoon system.
That's all led to a No. 1 preseason ranking and unmatched hype (at least since last season), neither of which changes the task UK is facing.
"This thing is going to take time and it's going to be a process just like last year's team," Calipari said. "It can be all the hype we want. Won't matter. Gotta do it on the court."
Though there's no doubt doing it on the court in a game that counts is different, it's not as if this UK team is completely untested. There were the aforementioned Bahamas games and, perhaps even more notably, Kentucky's practices.
Talk of UK's roster featuring two teams that might each be ranked in the top 25 has been common all offseason, culminating in Calipari mentor and SMU head coach Larry Brown saying Thursday he believed the Cats' platoons would be No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls. That, like much of what's been said about Kentucky, is likely hyperbole, but the sentiment behind it is significant nonetheless.
With 12 talented players, every time UK gathers at the Joe Craft Center, it's a battle.
"Oh real competitive, you know always going against somebody at your position at all times," Poythress said. "Even in drills it's competitive."
One drill especially.
"We have a drill called the 'Perfect Stop,' " Lee said. "Once Coach Cal calls 'Perfect Stop,' it's probably the best part of practice because we're trying to kill each other. It's probably the most fun, but it's the most work we do during practice."
It's a five-on-five drill in the half-court that Alex Poythress called a "pride thing." The defense's task is simple, though far from easy: prevent the offense from scoring or getting into the lane for the entirety of the 35-second shot clock.
"It's probably the noisiest point of our practice because we're yelling, we're screaming, we're talking because you only have so much time to try to talk with your team to get things done," Lee said.
The drill has been prominently featured in the last few days of practice leading up to the opener, which Coach Cal called "ultra-competitive" after he ratcheted up the heat another couple notches.
"Our wins and losses matter here," Lee said. "We gotta run every time we lose, so it means a lot to win or lose no matter who you're playing right now."
Running is one thing, but it's a little different when permanent tallies go in the win-loss column. The Cats, however, are eager.
For most, season openers come with plenty of butterflies. At Kentucky, the chance to play meaningful games again actually may represent a reprieve.
At long last, talking season is over.
"It's definitely very relaxing knowing that we are finally here at the start of the season," Marcus Lee said. "It's something that we've all been looking forward to since the end of last season. So for it to finally be here is kind of a good feeling."
Matthew Mitchell has spent countless hours with his team over the last five months.
An offseason of conditioning, individual workouts and practices is at its end, giving way to the start of the regular season.
"It's finally here and it's time to play," Mitchell said.
But for all that eagerness, there's also some anxiety. Mitchell might have seen all that preseason preparation leading up to Friday's 7 p.m. season opener against Appalachian State in Memorial Coliseum, but he still doesn't know exactly what to expect from the No. 11/10 Wildcats.
"The biggest thing for me right now is I'm not quite sure what we're going to see tomorrow and as a coach that's a little scary," Mitchell said. "And I'm talking about from our team. I'm not talking about our opponent."
UK Hoops has plenty of experience in the form of seniors Bria Goss, Jennifer O'Neill and Azia Bishop, but this is a new team. Gone are post stars DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker, with three players - Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Alexis Jennings and Alyssa Rice - who have never played a college game set to step in.
Considering the makeup of his roster, Mitchell has set three simple goals for his team, and it's nothing to do with Southeastern Conference standings or advancing in the NCAA Tournament. He wants UK to be the fastest team in the country, the most defensively disruptive and the toughest. From there, he'll let the results play out.
"They're capable of it," Mitchell said. "They're already showing some great signs in all three areas, but that's what I'd like for them to become."
UK showed more such good signs in its lone exhibition, a 141-63 win over Pikeville. The Cats were dynamic in the open floor, regularly getting out in transition in scoring what would have been a school-record number of points had the game counted.
Though Mitchell praised the speed of players like O'Neill, Bishop and Janee Thompson, it wasn't any of them handling the ball on their own that made UK's pace what it was against Pikeville.
"We don't need to be a big dribbling team," Mitchell said. "To be fast, we need to be a good passing team. The ball needs to move and I think one lesson we've tried to learn as we really broke down taking some steps forward this year, is sometimes when one player dominates the ball with the dribble, it actually slows us down."
UK was also disruptive in the exhibition, forcing 37 turnovers. The Cats also showed signs of toughness against Pikeville, taking charges and effectively transitioning into a half-court offensive game when necessary. However, it's going to take some regular-season tests to truly judge this team.
The Cats won't have to wait long for a handful of those.
Friday's season opener begins a stretch of three games in six days to start the season, a matchup with No. 8/9 Baylor in the middle of it. Mitchell expects to use the results from those three games to identify strengths and weaknesses and tailor practices going forward.
"We've constructed all the practices to be fast, tough and disruptive, so what are you doing well?" Mitchell said. "Sometimes you do things a little bit better than you give your team credit for as a coach. You're a little too critical sometimes, maybe you haven't worked on something that maybe you haven't felt like was going to be really good and it's not. The information we can gain will really, really help us as a team."
In many ways, Mitchell still sees his team as a blank canvas. Friday, he begins the work of trying to paint a masterpiece.
"This team has so much room for growth it's incredible," Mitchell said. "I do know that about us right now: We're going to get much, much better than we are right now. You just have too many young players who are thinking too much right now. And there's no way around it. You have to teach it. You have to give them the information and so if we look like a million bucks this week, we're going to look like $5 million at some time. If we look less than that, we'll increase in value with this team."