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Dominique Hawkins has started each of Kentucky's last two games. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Dominique Hawkins has started each of Kentucky's last two games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
This is exactly why, on paper, Kentucky's depth was so important.

The Wildcats, with 12 talented players on their roster, would be able to weather the occasional bump, bruise or illness.

They've already done it a few times, most notably after Alex Poythress went down with a season-ending knee injury, but it appears they'll have to do it again. Trey Lyles' status is unknown due to an undisclosed illness.

"Everybody on the team is going to have to step up because missing Trey, that's a big part of our offense and defense," Dominique Hawkins said. "He does so much for us, and like I said, everybody's going to have to find a way to step up a little bit."

John Calipari said Lyles is likely out for Tuesday's game between top-ranked UK (21-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) and Georgia (14-6, 5-3 SEC). Beyond that, Coach Cal doesn't know when the forward and his 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds will return to the lineup.

The good news is the Cats have already survived Lyles' absence once, posting an impressive 70-55 victory over Alabama without him.

"We had to play without him and I thought we played great without him," Calipari said. "You're talking about a 6(-foot-)10 talented, talented player and we're playing without him now. But you know, again, I thought we played well without him but we're never going to be as good without him because he's a really good player."

As Coach Cal said, losing a player as talented and versatile as Lyles is never a positive. The Cats, however, are perfectly capable of compensating.

With Hawkins in a starting role for the fourth time in six games, Coach Cal went with smaller lineups, mixing and matching the Harrison twins, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Hawkins at the one, two and three positions. UK's length and rebounding take a hit with the change, but opportunity comes with it as well.

"We're definitely trying to pressure the ball more, make the point guard, or whoever's (driving) the ball up the court, make them feel like the pressure's getting to them so they're going to either throw it away or not get into their place so easy," Hawkins said. "As guards we're just trying to pressure them and make plays that they're trying to make happen harder than it should be."

Ball pressure has been Hawkins' signature over his two seasons, even though the sophomore guard hasn't always had a regular role. He went more than three weeks between appearances before being reinserted in the starting lineup when Calipari opted to return to the full-blown platoon system against Missouri on Jan. 13. Unfortunately, he would have to miss the next game after undergoing a minor medical procedure.

"I played really well and after that I had to sit out because of it and I was very frustrated because I felt like my chance was on and I wasn't going to be able to get another opportunity," Hawkins said. "But, Coach, he threw me back in and I was able to make the most of it again."

Hawkins has played a combined 19 minutes in UK's last two games, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds. Included in that was a 3-pointer at Missouri on the Cats' first offensive possession, a sign of his budding confidence, a trait missing at times during his freshman season.

"I remember last year they'd just sag off of me and didn't play me at all, but now they cover me more," Hawkins said. "They probably watched film and saw that I hit my open shots."

It's just as important that Hawkins take those shots as he makes them. He must force opponents to guard him so he can do guarding of his own on the other end.

"One of the things that he brings is energy, effort every game," assistant coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen said. "He's a tremendous defender. It's nice having him in there. He can really guard the basketball when he makes shots. Like anybody else it's always a bonus, but he seems more confident, comfortable each game."

Transcript: Calipari, Fox on SEC teleconference

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John Calipari

Opening statement ...
"Obviously two really good teams and two well-coached teams, and teams that are going to be ready for us, whether they come to us or we have to go to them. We're focused on us right now and how we need to get better, what are the things we have to do. With Trey Lyles being out, we don't believe he'll play Tuesday and don't know after that. We're going to try to figure that out. We had to play without him and I thought we played great without him. You're talking about a 6-10 talented, talented player and we're playing without him now. But you know, again, I thought we played well without him but we're never going to be as good without him because he's a really good player."

On Mark Fox and what his teams are like ...
"Well I had to play his team when he was at Nevada. I'm a little bit older and can give you the rundown that his teams have always - they defend, they play inside out, they run great stuff. And let me say, he's changed some of his stuff this year so he's not locked in to having to play a certain way at all. It all depends on his personnel. You look at some of the guys that he brought to Georgia. Look at (Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope, how's he playing? You have talented guys, he's done a terrific job. Should have been in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. I just watched our game against them in the conference tournament. They should have been in the NCAA Tournament. I think he's one of the terrific coaches in our league and one of the better coaches in our country."

On the depth of the SEC ...
"I think there's more, but I think we had a couple teams left out last year. A lot of it is just based on the perception that a team in one league loses to the last-place team on the road and they say, 'Well, tough game, it's on the road.' Our teams mix it up a little bit and all of a sudden it takes away from our league and it shouldn't be that way, and I said our coaches shouldn't stand for it and neither should the media covering us. So now you're looking at our league and before our last game we had six teams in the NCAA Tournament. Let me just give you an example, everyone in our league knows how good Vanderbilt is. How they could beat anyone. They had us on the ropes at home. They could beat anyone, but they're very, very young, so they've lost some games. You look at Mississippi State and the job Rick (Ray) is doing. You look up and down, there are no easy games. South Carolina plays a combination defense of pack line after they maul you 22 feet out on the court and then when you get it in play where you can play offense they're locking down the lane with pack line defense. Now, so you're talking about teams that are 'at the bottom of our league,' it's crazy. Hard games to win. Hard games to win on the road. I think the league, top to bottom, is the best since I've been here. But, I'll say this, because we're pretty good it should not take away from anyone in our league."

On what concerns him about Georgia with or without Marcus Thornton ...
"They're playing good basketball, and again, Thornton being out hurts them, just like any of us having players out hurts us, but again, their guard play is probably their strength anyway.  You're talking about (Charles) Mann, who is taking it to the rim, and you're talking about other guards who can get their own and shoot 3s and heck, I think those guards are shooting like 40 percent from the 3-point line. They're a team that is going to come in and play rough, because that's how they play. They're a team that's going to run their stuff, and they have players who can break out and guard against your defense and get points on their own if they have to."

On how he manages talk of going undefeated with his team ...
"Our thing is, whatever happens for us, whether they're close wins, whether they're a loss, whether someone comes in and smacks us at home, we just have to look at it and say, 'OK, how do we use this? How do we use this as a team to get to another level?' That's what we're talking about. If it's going to take that to make us better, OK. Maybe it won't take that to get us better, but that's not our focus. I talked to my team yesterday and was very clear about why I'm being so aggressive when we haven't lost a game and we're up 20 and I'm all over mistakes. Because those are the kind of mistakes that lose in March. So, if I accept them now, then how do I not accept them in March? So, we're not accepting those kind of errors now. They're not crazy errors, but each guy has one or two things we're asking them to clean up with their game, and if they don't clean it up I'm going to be aggressive, I'm going to be mean and nasty whether we're up 20 or we're down 20. I think, for us, we keep coming back, how good can we be? We don't know yet, but one of the things we do know is, each player has to be the best version of themselves and eliminate some of the looseness of some of how we're playing for us to be the best version of ourselves as a team."

On the development of Anthony Davis on and off the court ...

"There are a couple things we try to do here. The three pillars that we want these kids to leave with - not that we're defining who I am, or defining my program, it's what we try to get them to leave with. One is industriousness - they understand the grind. They understand about trying to improve every day. The grind of what we do. He's learned it. The second thing is servant leadership. We want them all to leave here - every player - that if they're thrust in a leadership position they understand what it means. That's from walk-ons to starters. He understands. It also means you're going to be a great teammate because you're going to care about other people more than you care about yourself. That's Anthony Davis. The third thing is, we want them to leave here with a kind heart. Being a player here is signing autographs, taking pictures, spending time, meeting a child, going to an elderly home. Doing different things that take 30 seconds that change people. Going to the hospital. Marcus Lee went - we didn't even know where he was going and then all of a sudden a nurse sends me a two-page letter saying how what he did and how he was with the child changed how she does her job. Those are the things we want them to leave with. You look at Anthony, you're talking about, he understands the grind. He hasn't gotten caught up with all the other stuff. He understands he has to get better. The second thing is, he's an unbelievable servant leader. I went to the game when Tyreke Evans had it going, he was fine. He didn't say one thing. He's about his teammates. He blocks shots, he rebounds, but he can score more if he chooses to. Then the third thing is, the kid has a kind heart. He has a kind heart. He's a good person. He's good to the people in the organization. He's good to the people in New Orleans. Those are the things we're trying to teach all of the kids who go through this program."

Georgia head coach Mark Fox

Opening statement
"Another challenging week in the SEC. Obviously, Kentucky is a terrific team and having one of the all-time great years. It will be a big challenge going into Rupp. And then Tennessee, who is off to, obviously, a very good start and playing differently than maybe some people expected them to play, but having a lot of success. So, we're facing two good teams."

On if he can give an update of senior forward Marcus Thornton ...
"No, I can't. He's obviously in a concussion protocol program. He gets retested this afternoon and likely will have an update after that."

On playing without Thornton ...
"It's hard to really change with two games a week and really limited practice days. Obviously, we have the Tuesday game this week. We'll make some adjustments if he can't play, but it's more than just Marcus. We have a number of guys down, as you know, and the cumulative effect of that is, well, it took its toll last weekend."

On what they have to do to beat Kentucky ...

"I thought our guys had a really good approach to practice yesterday. I haven't seen them yet today. Kentucky is a special team. You have to do a lot of things really, really well to give yourself a chance to win in their building. John has done a phenomenal job with his team. I think he's always been underappreciated as a coach. Their defense is great every year and this year is no different. Finding ways to get a basket is going to be important because they are so good on that end."

On what makes Kentucky so good defensively ...
"Their length, their depth, their agility. They have the ability to switch different things. They're big at the basket and protect the basket. They have lots of depth and quickness so they can wear you down. I read where Coach (Roy) Williams from (North) Carolina thought that Kentucky was one of the best defensive teams he's ever seen, and he's seen a lot of really good teams through his tenure. They have so many guys who have great defensive traits and John has them bought in how they should play together."

On what impresses him on the offensive end about Kentucky ...

"Unselfishness. I think Kentucky is - it's hard to get that many great players to buy into helping each other and I think that what impresses me the most is their unselfish approach. They try to make each other better. That's why nobody's beat them. They're just great on both ends."

On what Marcus Thornton provides for Georgia, both tangibly and intangibly ...

"He's obviously our leading scorer and our leading rebounder and our leader. I felt like when he did not play Saturday, we replaced his rebounding, but not the other two things. I don't think we had the leadership throughout the game we normally expect, and we obviously didn't score the ball or play nearly as well offensively without him. He does a lot of things for us. He's obviously very experienced and been through a lot of wars and personal battles with the surgeries. He's a tough-minded kid. He's certainly a big part of what we do and hopefully we will have him back."

Get to know UK softball's Ansley Smith

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Ansley Smith.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

Junior infielder Ansley Smith has started 62 games and played in 104 contests in her two years with the Wildcats, including 53 starts in 2014. Most of her starts have come at second base, a position she is expected to get plenty of starts at in 2015.

Smith, who showed improved defense in 2014, has scored 41 runs in her two years with UK, adding four doubles, six homers, 22 RBI and six stolen bases. The native of Newnan, Ga., had a great start to the 2014 season by hitting .467 the opening weekend with three doubles, four RBI and a home run in UK's first five games.

A two-year member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll, Smith has been active in the Lexington community since moving to the Bluegrass State.

Come see Ansley and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.  

To help you get to know Ansley better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

What is your nickname?
Zanzley

Do you have any pets? Yes, two beautiful puppies, two strange outside cats, and I have a pet fish here at school named Diego.

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? Make her go through our workouts and running so when she gets her body back she can feel the destruction! Muhaha

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create? I would mix a giraffe and a turtle, he would have a miniature giraffe neck and head, but it would be on a turtle's body. How cute would that little guy be? And how awesome is the word, tiraffe?

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I'd want to learn how to fly, that way I'd save gas and never get stuck in traffic.  

What is your guilty pleasure?
Reading, it's almost an addiction ... Ask my parents

Name three things you like? Exploring the outdoors, creating inside jokes and when the hairdresser washes my hair ...

Name three things you dislike? Stepping on gum, my toes being cold and when I forget a headband for practice ...

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime? I want to just travel to Greece for a summer. I would love to actually see all the things that I've grown up learning about.  

Where is your favorite place on Earth? Anywhere the people I love are!

Describe your perfect sandwich. Honey wheat bread, three pieces of turkey, three pieces of salami, American cheese, pickles, slap on a couple of cut banana peppers and you have the best sandwich ever.

Funniest player on the team and why?
I honestly think we're all hilarious. I could just be biased though. The closet comedian is Griffin, she makes me laugh at the weirdest things.

Best dancer on the team is... It depends on the type of dancing you're looking for ... If you want to laugh hysterically at awkwardness, Maisie is your girl. If you want actual coordination then it's definitely Dari.  

What is one TV show you cannot miss? Scandal, its sooo juicy!

The most famous person you've ever met is... Sam Hunt. I'm obsessed with him so I was at a loss of words, and that's rare for me!

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now?
Sam Smith, he has the voice of an angel ...

What did you do growing up that always got you into trouble? Staying up and reading past my bedtime ...  

Do you collect anything? Souls ... Just kidding haha

What three things do you think of most each day? "Did I feed my fish Diego?" "Do I really have to walk all the way to C8?" "Is eating Mexican food three days in a row a bad thing? No."

How did you get your name? It may be hard to believe, but Smith is a very common last name ... So my Dad gave me a name that not many people have to make up for it.  

O'Neill comes up clutch, leads UK past Georgia

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Mirroring her team's play, Jennifer O'Neill had an up-and-down-and-up-again afternoon.

She started off "in spectacular fashion," according to her coach, and Kentucky built a big lead, but hit a wall in the middle portion of a Sunday showdown with Georgia. The Lady Bulldogs capitalized and UK's 17-point margin disappeared.

But over the final 97 seconds, O'Neill took over.

"We had to try to regroup and then she ended the game with a big flourish and was really money down the stretch," Matthew Mitchell said. "So it was an interesting game. Started great and ended great and the middle was something not as great."

Exactly when Kentucky needed it, the senior guard stepped up. The Wildcats trailing Georgia 72-70 in a back-and-forth Sunday showdown, O'Neill wasn't about to let her team lose a home game it could have won against a top-25 opponent for the second time in four days.

"I think at the end of the game, in this game today, she was really able to lock in and focus and correct any mistakes she was making," Mitchell said.

After Jelleah Sidney came up with a steal, Matthew Mitchell called timeout. The play he called went awry, so he called timeout again and drew up another for O'Neill, who had 13 points at the time. O'Neill used two screens and took a pass from Bria Goss. Calmly rising, O'Neill drilled a 3 with 1:37 left to give the No. 10 Cats (17-5, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) a 73-72 lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"Once it left my hands I felt pretty good about it," O'Neill said.

"It's good to have really good players sometimes, you know, because she just made a play," Mitchell said.

The shot started a game-ending 10-0 run during which O'Neill scored eight points against No. 21/20 Georgia (17-5, 5-4 SEC). Fittingly, O'Neill grabbed the last defensive rebound and dribbled out the final eight seconds on UK's 80-72 win on UK Hoops' annual Alumni Day.

"I think that 3 helped us gain momentum," O'Neill said. "Everybody started getting excited, everybody started getting up on defense and we started being more aggressive on defense, which allowed us to get turnovers."

UK would get stops on its final four defensive possessions, forcing three turnovers, and O'Neill hit a driving jumper and three free throws to clinch the win. For the game, she had six rebounds and four assists to go with her 21 points.

"She was fantastic overall and we needed every bit of what she gave us today," Mitchell said.

Her team-high point total came in spite of just eight attempts from the field, her lowest total in nearly a month. O'Neill hit six of those shots, 3 of 4 from 3 and 6 of 7 at the free-throw line to score more points than she has since Dec. 12.

For the Cats to be their best, O'Neill needs to be aggressive. However, she's learning to strike a balance between asserting herself and forcing things.

"(Assistant coach Tamika Williams) has been teaching me how to understand how understand quality, not quantity when I'm shooting or when I have a workout," O'Neill said.  "... That's really it: just really paying attention to my form and why I'm missing. I don't want to just keep shooting and missing and not understanding why I'm missing to change it."

Whatever she did on Sunday, the Cats could use more of it.

Get to know UK softball's Sylver Samuel

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Sylver Samuel.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

Having played in 126 games with 104 starts in centerfield, junior Sylver Samuel has become a staple for UK's defense in the outfield. Samuel, who has great speed and takes away hits in the gaps, played almost every out in centerfield in 2014 and only committed two errors with six assists.

Samuel has been a strong contributor at the plate as well, posting a .298 career batting average with 60 runs scored and 41 stolen bases. The native of Simpsonville, S.C., showed drastic improvements last season from her freshman campaign with 52 hits, four doubles, two triples, an inside-the-park home run and nine RBI. Samuel has led UK in stolen bases each of the last two season with 21 in 2013 and 20 in 2014.

A two-year member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll, Samuel currently ranks seventh in career stolen bases at UK with 41 and has shined in postseason play the last two seasons with a hit in 12 of her 16 career NCAA Tournament games.

Come see Sylver and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.  

To help you get to know Kara better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

Do you have any pets? A German shepherd ...

When was the last time you were moved to tears? Anytime I watch a depressing movie ...

If you had a Derby horse, what would you name it?
Two2Tango

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create? A Jawk, half jaguar, half hawk ... the ultimate predator!

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I wish I knew multiple languages, which would always come in handy

After softball, what would be your dream job? If I could ever work with the New York Yankees I would probably cry tears of joy every single day ... and later get fired for being too emotional in the workplace.

Name three things you like? Animals, 80's pants and the Yankees ...

Name three things you dislike? Weekdays, moths and moths ...

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime? I would love to go to Bora Bora or Brazil.

What do you typically have for breakfast?
I will eat any type of food at any time of the day.

What is your favorite dessert? Ice cream ...

What is one TV show you cannot miss? American Horror Story

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now? Jhené Aiko

How do you like your eggs? Scrambled

Have you ever bought anything from ebay and if so, what was it?
A phone case ...

If you were famous would you rather have a statue or a building named after you?
A building ...

Do you collect anything?
80's pants and fun socks (currently on hold until further notice)...

How many text messages do you receive on average a day? Um, depends on when I start my day ...

What is your favorite class you've taken in college so far? Art was the most fun class I've taken, even though I can't draw ...

What three things do you think of most each day?
What I'm eating for dinner, when can I take a nap, and do I have any homework ...

Karl-Anthony Towns scored all 12 of his points in the first half of UK's 70-55 win over Alabama. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Karl-Anthony Towns scored all 12 of his points in the first half of UK's 70-55 win over Alabama. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
It was yet another double-digit win.

Kentucky built a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes against Alabama, but John Calipari didn't sound afterward like he is coaching the nation's lone unbeaten team.

"We're just, we're reverting, doing some things that are just absolute sins in this program," Calipari said.

Coach Cal went on to talk about the Wildcats too often going for rebounds with one hand. On a night when UK shot a season-high 58.5 percent and committed just five turnovers, Calipari still found reason to say the Cats were "just a little bit off."

Considering UK has blitzed through the first three months of the season and has trailed only 103:43 of a possible 855 minutes after its 70-55 win over Alabama on Saturday night, that might sound like nitpicking.

Well, that's kind of the point.

"I may be wanting these guys to be perfect on every possession, but you know what?" Calipari said. "I just think we have to keep that standard high of what we'll accept and what we're not accepting."

The perfection that everyone else is talking about - 40-0 - isn't the perfection Calipari and the Cats have in mind. If it happens along the way so be it, but each step in the journey is the focus.

"Right now, you should just try to find out how good you can be," Calipari said. "And that's all we're doing."

Take Karl-Anthony Towns as an example.

The freshman wasn't subtle about showing his potential in the first half against the Crimson Tide, scoring in the post on each of UK's first two possession en route to 12 points. But for the second consecutive game, Towns took a step back in the second half. He wouldn't score again after dealing with foul trouble.

"Gotta keep playing, play through a lot of things that happen in the second half and no excuses," Towns said. "Just keep playing through what the game is giving me in the second half. I just gotta keep making sure that I play the game (like) I played the game in the first half."

Anywhere else, Towns' line of 12 points in 15 minutes is solid. At UK, it's merely a tease of what he should be all the time.

"We're trying to get them to be confident and we did some stuff with Karl that I think helped him, but that second half is just like, come on now," Calipari said. "No way. This should have been a 25 and 8 night for him, it really should have."

Towns has remained near the top of NBA Draft boards throughout, but he admits adjusting to the physicality of the college game has been more difficult than he expected. He's learning.

"That's the biggest thing for me," Towns said. "Just keep being physical and keep playing my game. Now sometimes I get too aggressive and then I pick up fouls, but I'm just trying to play the game, trying to make sure I control the paint at all costs, defensively and offensively. It's a process."

Though the process is far from over, Saturday was a step forward for Towns and his fellow post players.

Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein each made all four of their field-goal tries to tie for the team lead with 12 points, while Dakari Johnson got to the free-throw line eight times and chipped in six points. Add in Marcus Lee's eight points and UK's bigs combined for 38 points on 13-of-16 shooting.

"Today our post play was good, which is why we shot over 50 percent," Calipari said. "Because now it opens up everything else."

Considering UK's size, the Cats projected to have that kind of post presence all season, but that hasn't been the case in recent weeks. Opponents began to worry less about the interior with Devin Booker, Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis hitting from the outside and the post players were unable to make them pay.

They changed that against Alabama.

"You either got to double team or you got to dig, you got to do something or the guy's going to score," Calipari said. "That's what Karl and Dakari and Willie should be able to do. Even in a physical game they should be able to do that."

If they do, UK's ceiling becomes even higher. That's a frightening proposition.

"Like I said, this team, the question is, how good can we be," Calipari said. "And I don't know yet. I'm trying to get guys to go to that next level. I'm prodding and pushing and screaming and yelling, go, because I really do want to see how good can we really be."

Tough loss behind them, Cats on to Georgia

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Matthew Mitchell has been a head coach for a decade now.

Losing hasn't gotten any easier for him in that time.

"It's just misery, man," Mitchell said. "I don't know how to describe it other than it's just miserable. I'm no fun to be around."

Mitchell got his most recent reminder of how unpleasant it is to lose on Thursday night. No. 10 Kentucky (16-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) dropped a 73-72 heartbreaker to No. 6 Tennessee, missing four potential game winners in the final 16 seconds.

Afterward, Mitchell spent some time sulking, but not too much.

"You can fuss and mull it over and stew and fume at the house like I did last night for three or four hours and then you gotta get up this morning and turn the page, man," Mitchell said. "You gotta get going because this game is in front of us and that one last night is behind us."

The page turned, UK is on to Georgia. The Wildcats better be.

"We're playing a Georgia team that will beat our tail if we don't get ready for them. It's a wonderful thing from that standpoint," Mitchell said. "If you want to hang your head right now, Georgia will be more than happy to take advantage of that."

The No. 21/20 Lady Bulldogs enter Sunday's 1 p.m. matchup with UK at Memorial Coliseum 17-4 (5-3 SEC). The Cats will be Georgia's third straight top 10 foe after the Lady Bulldogs beat Texas A&M on Jan. 22 and lost at Tennessee on Sunday.

Georgia played the final 22:42 of that game without leading scorer Shacobia Barbee. Barbee will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in her lower right leg. The Cats, only weeks removed from losing Janee Thompson to a season-ending injury as well, can relate.

"It just takes away an extremely talented, experienced, tough player that can affect the game defensively, on the rebounding, the scoring," Mitchell said. "She's just a really outstanding player for them. It's just absolutely horrible for that kid. It's horrible for anybody to have a season-ending injury."

Since Georgia had an open date on Thursday, Mitchell isn't sure exactly how Barbee's absence will affect the Lady Bulldogs. What he does know is they'll be ready come Sunday.

"If I needed somebody to figure it out, Coach (Andy) Landers is probably as good as anybody to figure it out," Mitchell said. "So they'll be ready. They'll play real hard. They'll be tough. They will know how to attack us and what our weaknesses are and they'll put stress on that."

Similarly focused on UK's weaknesses are the Cats themselves.

UK played the No. 6 Lady Vols to just a made shot or foul call away from a victory in spite of 19 turnovers and a still-developing group of young post players. As difficult as it might be for Mitchell to remember, that's a reminder of what the Cats are capable of.

"With this team, we don't have any time to waste," Mitchell said. "I really do think we're improving. I really do. I think we're getting better. I think we're headed in the right direction. I think this team has a chance to be really good. That's what we need to stay focused on right now, just fight for improvement every day."

Get to know UK softball's Nikki Sagermann

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Nikki Sagermann.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

In just two years with the program, junior infielder Nikki Sagermann already ranks eighth in school history in career home runs with 20 and fourth in slugging percentage at .526. The third baseman saw a dip in average her sophomore season but not power, belting 12 doubles, one triple, 13 homers and 49 RBI, which nearly doubled her production from her freshman season.

Sagermann had a five-game stretch during the 2014 season where she hit five home runs, including three that clinched the game-winning RBI for Kentucky. The native of Buford, Ga., ended the season strong by recording an RBI in 27 of UK's last 49 games, including 14 multi-RBI games during that stretch. Sagermann was UK's leading scoring in its Super Regional win, hitting .444 with two RBI.

Last season, Sagermann earned NFCA All-Southeast Region honors on top of being named All-Southeastern Conference Second Team by league coaches and to the SEC All-Tournament Team. Sagermann was a member of the 2014 SEC Academic Honor Roll and has been active in the Lexington community since arriving on campus.

Come see Nikki and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.  

To help you get to know Nikki better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

What is your nickname? My parents call me Bug, my coaches and people from home call me Saga, my teammates call me Keisha, and the fans call me Swag ...

What talents do you have besides softball? I sing so so so good in the shower.

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? First, I would go to her house and count how many cats she has and then I would go through her phone to see who she texts because I'm so nosy. And then I would find her childhood pictures because I have always wanted to see her in her elementary days. Then go on a shopping trip or two and cancel the team's 6 a.m. workouts forever.

Person that has most influenced you in life, why?
My Dad because he is the reason why I am the player and person I am today. He pushed me so hard when I was little, so all you girls who do not like your Dad right now ... Just know it is worth it in the end.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Definitely how to dance, because I love to dance but I look like a fool ... So if I could dance and be great at it, you'd find me dancing down the streets

Name three things you dislike?
I dislike clowns, people smacking when they eat and French fries.

Where is your favorite place on Earth? My bed ... If I'm missing, check my bed first because I will literally be in it for hours by myself.

What do you typically have for breakfast? Every day Nana (Maisie Steed) and I make ham, egg and cheese sandwiches. They are 10x better than any other place you can buy them at.

What is your most memorable moment as a softball player so far?
It would be seeing our crowd of UK fans and my parents in the front row as we took the field for the first time at the Women's College World Series. There are no words to describe the emotion I felt at that very moment.

Funniest player on the team and why? Depends on the type of humor you like. Griffin has the wittiest comments of any person I have met. Dari is great at impersonating. Kelsey and Christian are so southern that hearing them talk makes you laugh. So, take your pick.

Best dancer on the team is... Darington, the girl is talented. Griffin is definitely runner up, she knows how to groove.

What is your worst fear? Clowns, clowns, clowns, clowns, clowns ...

What did you do growing up that always got you into trouble? I always forgot to put the clip back on the chips, so they would go stale. Mom didn't like that.

Favorite saying or quote you like to live by: Go with the flow ... it's the definition of my life.

How do you like your eggs? Well I told the waitress the other day that I like them fully cooked and she called it "over hard" or scrambled with cheese.

Have you ever bought anything from ebay and if so, what was it? My Mother is an ebay queen, so there's a whole bunch of my stuff from there.

If you were famous would you rather have a statue or a building named after you?
Statue, so everyone could remember my face.

Do you collect anything? My Dad and I collect quarters and we are trying to get every state in America.

How many text messages do you receive on average a day? Depends on the day ...  if the group message with the team sparks up, you better be ready for hundreds of texts that are about complete nonsense and lots of laughs.

What three things do you think of most each day? I think about my future a lot, what I'm going to eat for each meal because food is very important in my life, and I think about softball and my swing during class, whoops.

Aaron Harrison scored 11 points in UK's win at Missouri on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison scored 11 points in UK's win at Missouri on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On Friday afternoon, assistant John Robic allowed himself about as long a moment of reflection as you'll see a coach take during the season.

Kentucky, with a win late on Thursday at Missouri, became the first Southeastern Conference team since Rupp's Runts in 1965-66 to start the season with 20 wins in a row. Robic credited the players for making it happen.

"It's kinda neat that they can make their mark as a team," Robic said. "But they probably don't even know it. It's a good feeling to have, and we're just going to try to keep stringing games along right now."

The No. 1 Wildcats (20-0, 7-0 SEC) have no shortage of opportunities to do just that.

The trip to Missouri started a stretch of three games in six days, the next coming at 7 p.m. on Saturday against Alabama (13-7, 3-4 SEC). The Cats didn't return to campus until close to 2 a.m. on Friday morning, leaving them barely 40 hours to prepare for a rematch with the Crimson Tide at Rupp Arena, a turnaround similar to what UK will face during the NCAA Tournament.

"We're going to work out later today, show them some film and get ready for Alabama," Robic said. "But, these kids are used to playing AAU basketball where they play four or five times a day. That's a good thing about playing as many players as we're playing, they should be somewhat OK physically."

Alabama, on the other hand, last played on Tuesday evening. The Crimson Tide lost 52-50 to Florida after trailing by 13 early in the second half, its fourth loss in five games after a 2-0 start to conference play.  

Included in that stretch is a 70-48 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 17. The Cats were dominant, leading by as many as 28 in shooting an even 50 percent from the field. Robic expects Alabama, which ranks 44th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com, to respond to that.

"Well, they played us all zone the first game and played their tandem matchup zone," Robic said. "I think they'll mix it up a little bit this time with some man and some zone, and have us make shots."

UK hasn't had to make or even take many outside shots of late, attempting only 22 3-pointers combined over its previous three games. The Cats have tallied three of their four lowest single-game totals for 3-point tries this season during that stretch after attempting an average of 22.1 3s in their previous seven games.

Robic says the shift isn't by design. Rather, UK is responding to the way opponents are defending.

"I mean, if they're open we want to shoot them, so from our standpoint, if they're not forcing 3s we'll take what they give us," Robic said.

Aaron Harrison continues to take 3s often, but his 10 tries over the last three games are a far cry from the 51 he shot over a six-game stretch from the end of nonconference play through his first two SEC games. He's attacking the basket more often instead, attempting 15 2s over his last three games after shooting just two in his previous two games combined.

Whether that trend continues remains to be seen.

"In the last couple games he's shown that," Robic said. "Against a zone could be different. Missouri played us all man-to-man. We just gotta go with how the game is flowing and take open shots when they're there."

Get to know UK softball's Christian Stokes

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Christian Stokes.jpg Over the next two weeks, Cat Scratches will give fans an inside look at UK softball's 2015 roster with 20 fun questions and a quick outlook heading into the team's season opener on Feb. 4 vs. Florida A&M.

Junior shortstop Christian Stokes has started 129 games for Kentucky and busted onto the scene last year in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Stokes was named to the SEC's All-Tournament Team after going 6-for-14 with two doubles, two homers, three RBI and a game-saving defensive play at shortstop to help UK defeat Tennessee.

Stokes, who was named a SEC Freshman of the Week in 2013, has a .267 career batting average with 62 runs scored, 17 doubles, 14 homers, 51 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Last season, Stokes helped UK to the Women's College World Series by hitting .279 with 13 doubles, two triples, seven homers and 22 RBI.

The native of Chesterfield, S.C., was successful in postseason play with a bases-clearing double against DePaul that propelled UK to the NCAA Super Regional. In Super Regional play, she had three hits and scored three runs. Stokes went 2-for-4 vs. Baylor in the WCWS with an RBI.

Stokes has been active in the Lexington community and is a two-year member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

Come see Christian and the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats this spring at John Cropp Stadium. UK's home opener is March 11 vs. EKU at 5 p.m. ET. Season tickets can be purchased by calling the UK Ticket Office at 1-800-928-2287, in person at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office or online at www.ukathletics.com/tickets.  

To help you get to know Christian better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

What is your nickname? Crick, I acquired this nickname on my travel team ... not really sure why.

Do you have any pets? Yes, two boxers and a cocker spaniel.

What is your shoe size? 9

What is your favorite word? Dog

How many pairs of shoes do you own? Too many tennis shoes to count ...

What talents do you have besides softball? I love playing ping pong, basketball and volleyball.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? Because when I came on my unofficial visit the team just really looked like they were a family and cared a lot about each other.

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? I'd go on a nice shopping spree, buy a few more pairs of tennis shoes and go back to her hometown to find out funny stories about her.

What is your biggest accomplishment to date? Beating a Harlem Globetrotter in an arcade basketball game ...

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create? Dog and a parrot so it could talk to me ...

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Pole vault

Name three things you dislike? Peanut butter, people popping their nails and my dad putting his hand in my glove ...

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime? A trip to Aruba ...

Where is your favorite place on Earth? My Grandma's couch ...

What do you typically have for breakfast? A ham, egg and cheese sandwich ...

What is your favorite dessert? My Grandma's 12-layer chocolate cake ...

What is your worst fear? Heights

What did you do growing up that always got you into trouble? Fist fighting with my brother ...

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now? Sam Hunt

What is your all-time favorite movie?
Legends of the Fall

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