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UK Hoops is off to a quick start to the 2014-15 season, but rarely has that been the case in any single game.

The Wildcats have been consistently sluggish out of the gate, even in their best wins of the season, which Matthew Mitchell knew was unsustainable if they wanted to reach their goals.

On a bitterly cold Thursday night, UK reversed the trend.

"I thought we got off to a very good start," Mitchell said. "I will tell you the kids worked really hard this week on their games and on their minds. We tried to improve, so hopefully all of the hard work paid off with a good start."

Hosting Auburn, the Cats grabbed leads of 9-4 and eventually 21-10. The Tigers would battle back, but UK's lead never dipped below seven points en route to a 78-57 win in Memorial Coliseum to move to 14-2 (3-0 Southeastern Conference).

"I think we did a good job of starting off strong this game," said Jennifer O'Neill, who scored 17 points due in large part to her five made 3s. "Usually we start out real flat or real slow, but we started off faster than we normally do, which got us off to a good pace."

UK's focus after a Sunday win over Ole Miss on improvement wasn't limited to getting off to a quick start.

In that victory over the Rebels, Mitchell was forced to rely on O'Neill, Janee Thompson, Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper to play a combined 140 minutes due to unpredictable post play. All week and against Auburn, Kentucky's young bigs took steps forward.

"I thought we played a little bit better tonight at times," Mitchell said. "They worked real hard. They've worked really, really hard since our game Sunday. They put a lot of time into it. We still have a lot of improvement that we need to make, but we're working like crazy to try to get up to speed."

Included in that group is Azia Bishop, the veteran of the group. The senior, now trying to step into a leadership role, says she's never worked harder.

"(Assistant) Coach (Adeniyi) Amadou pushes us really, really hard," said Bishop, who had eight points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. "We get in before practice, after practice, before games and he believes us a lot and he motivates us really well. So I think that this is the toughest year for me, but I think it's helping me and it's going to help me in the long run."

Though UK is more consistent in the backcourt, the guards haven't been excused from the hard work, most notably in taking care of the basketball. Through the first 10 games of the season, the Cats committed 20 or more turnovers six times. In the last six, they haven't done it once, including three straight in SEC play with 15 or fewer.

Considering Auburn was forcing 21.6 miscues per game with its full-court press and UK turned it over just 12 times against the Tigers, it's clear the Cats are on the right track.

"I'm just happy that we have been able to show some maturity in that area," Mitchell said. "I've really faulted the team throughout the year about our lack of maturity. It shows that they have taken it seriously."

With a trip to face an unbeaten, top-ranked and overwhelmingly big South Carolina team on Sunday looming, the next order of business is to address rebounding. UK was bested on the boards by a count of 45-35 against Auburn, but with the way the Cats dedicated themselves earlier this week, there's no reason to think they can't progress in that area against the Gamecocks.  

"I can't tell you how hard the players and the coaches have worked this week and we're just fighting every day to try to get better and see if we can become a good team," Mitchell said.

John Calipari leads Kentucky into a road matchup with Texas A&M on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari leads Kentucky into a road matchup with Texas A&M on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari took a new approach to the holiday break this year.

For this edition of the practices, workouts and film sessions known affectionately (or un-affectionately, depending on who's talking) as Camp Cal, Calipari shifted the focus from team to individual. He asked his players to name an area of their game they wanted to add or improve before the end of the season and committed to helping them do it.

Willie Cauley-Stein said he wanted to handle the ball more effectively. Andrew Harrison picked out his mid-range shot as an area for growth. So too did Dakari Johnson, who even attempted one such shot in Kentucky's first game after the break.

"I kind of scrunched, like, 'Phew, not now,' " Calipari said. "But we've been working on that. That's one of the things he's added to his game. So I can't now work on it with him and then tell him not to do it."

Johnson's shot, which missed, came in the second half of an overtime win over Ole Miss with UK up just two, so it's only natural Calipari cringed a bit when his bruising 7 footer decided to show off his newfound range. So then, does that reveal he may have erred in changing things up for a team that had steamrolled through its first 13 games?

Ahead of a Saturday trip to Texas A&M (9-4, 0-1 Southeastern Conference), Coach Cal thinks not.

"I'm not backing up," Calipari said. "Each individual by the end of this year, I want you to look at and say, 'He is a better player.' Every one of these guys you look at: 'He is a better player.' And if that happens, then our team has grown, we're doing all the kind of stuff we need to do."

Karl-Anthony Towns, meanwhile, acknowledges there's a balancing act for UK (14-0, 1-0 SEC) in adding new individual elements, but he's on board with Calipari's point of view. He used one familiar phrase and a new metaphor in the span of a sentence to make his point.

"Of course, but at the same time, if it's not broke, don't fix it, but if the pencil is good enough to use, why not make it sharper?" Towns said. "We can still do a lot of things to improve your game and make it even a more valuable part and asset to your game. That's my thing. I just want to make sure I continue growing and doing new things, but also, like I said, make the pencil sharper."

It's not as if the pencil was dull to begin with, which is why the fact that UK played its first close game after Camp Cal might concern some. Once again, Calipari isn't buying in. He just wants to make sure the new focus doesn't detract from what has made UK so dominant.

"My thing was not 'it's not broke, don't fix it,' " Calipari said. "It was did they focus more on what we were trying to teach them individually and got away from the energy that they need to play with? I'm going to talk about it today. But I'm still -- I'm telling them, 'I'm counting on you to bring energy.' "

If nothing else, Ole Miss proved the Wildcats don't have any choice but to bring energy if they want to keep that unblemished record much longer.

"It was definitely a wake-up call for all of us, I think," Trey Lyles said. "They're going to come out and play that much harder against us. It's SEC play now, very physical. I'd say it was the most physical game we played so far this year and we're going to get every team's best shot so we just have to be prepared for it."

That "everybody's Super Bowl" thing goes to another level on the road, too, and that's exactly where UK will go this weekend against the Aggies. Fortunately for the Cats, they have some experience to call on from their win at Louisville on Dec. 27.

"I learned we really just have to come out with energy," Towns said. "No matter where we are, we have to take control of the game from the get. If we can do that we can have a lot easier time during the game. If we allow the opponent to be the aggressor, it can be a rough night for us."

A&M dropped its SEC opener against Alabama, 65-44, but did so without leading scorer and rebounder Jalen Jones, who missed the game due to a sprained ankle suffered Jan. 3. Second-leading scorer Danuel House was also limited to 21 minutes after picking up two early fouls.

"They're great at pick-and-rolls," Calipari said. "They've got players at every position that can score. They're playing a pack-line defense, man-to-man. They'll also play a tandem zone like all these teams are now playing us. So, they're going to come in with one thought: Let's slow these guys down. They'll run offense. They'll shoot it quick when they get into transition, but they're going to make us play in the half court. They're a good team."

UK will have to respond, and there's only one way to do it.

"It's all effort and energy, but these guys are young," Calipari said. "What we're asking them to do is really hard. They'd rather not do it. They'd rather do it their way: Let me jog and stand straight up and shoot a fade away. You just can't win playing that way."

Marrow's decision to stay all about relationships

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Vince Marrow signed a contract extension through 2018 to stay at UK. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Vince Marrow signed a contract extension through 2018 to stay at UK. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The offer was tough to pass up.

Jim Harbaugh, one of the most respected coaches in the game, was returning to his alma mater, Michigan, to resurrect the winningest program in college football history. So when Harbaugh called Vince Marrow to offer him a job, Marrow had to listen.

Marrow, however, just couldn't leave what he was helping to build at Kentucky. More importantly, he just couldn't leave the people he was building with.

"Michigan, being a Midwest guy and being from Ohio, it was very tempting," Marrow said on Wednesday, "but it was just my relationship here with the administration and our staff and even the kids that I have coming in this year and the kids that I have recruited the last two years played a big part of that."

On Monday, Marrow signed a contract extension that will keep him at UK through the end of the 2018 season as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. The news ended a week of speculation about whether Marrow would stay or leave.

"The last three days I couldn't really go anywhere without people saying things to me," Marrow said. "We were in church and the guy doing the offering said something, that is how deep it got. Relationships played a big part to just be honest with you guys."

Building relationships is the biggest reason why Marrow has developed a reputation as an ace recruiter, establishing a pipeline to Ohio and reeling in 14 prospects in UK's 2013 and 2014 signing classes. As for the 2015 recruits who have already pledged to come to Kentucky, even they were a little surprised he told Michigan thanks but no thanks after sleepless nights last weekend.

"I know that a lot of our recruits were very fired up because for some reason they just assumed I was gone," Marrow said. "I told people that it wasn't a slam dunk and a lot of people were saying that it was a slam dunk I was going."

Marrow, at the end of the day, had invested too much in Mark Stoops' vision for the future of UK football to leave even for an opportunity like the one he passed up. And with an athletics department so willing to invest in Marrow, as well as in more than $150 million in ongoing facility upgrades, he sees that vision become reality.

"It shows that our athletics director, Mitch (Barnhart), the route he is going, our administration and it shows were the program is going and I believe in that wholeheartedly," Marrow said. "You look at the stadium renovations and just at the type of support that we have been getting over the last two years here. That always plays a big part in it."

His decision made, Marrow's attention goes back to recruiting. He played a crucial role in securing classes ranked 17th and 29th by Rivals.com in the past two seasons, the two best classes in the history of the recruiting service. Marrow expects similar success come signing day in February.

"We are going to finish strong just like we did the last two years," Marrow said. "We have a couple more slots that we have to fill and it is just a situation where I know with me staying here a lot of those guys were very fired up to see that. We will see where we are going to finish, but I feel pretty good about it though. It is going to be pretty good."

Andrew Harrison had 12 points and five assists in UK's overtime win over Ole Miss on Tuesday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison had 12 points and five assists in UK's overtime win over Ole Miss on Tuesday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
It had been almost nine months to the day since the Harrison twins last played in a close game.

They didn't forget what to do.

"We just knew that we had to step up to win the game and that's what we did," Aaron Harrison said. "We'd do anything to win. We've been in big games before, obviously, so we just knew how hard we had to fight."

Though Aaron Harrison didn't hit one of his patented game-winning 3s from the left wing, the twins made all kinds of clutch plays on Tuesday night in an 89-86 win. Top-ranked Kentucky (14-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), with the two big guards leading the way, survived an overtime thriller in Rupp Arena against Ole Miss (9-5, 0-1 SEC).

"Just gotta make big plays at important times," Aaron Harrison said. "That's what we did."

After the visiting Rebels took a 63-61 lead with 7:17 left, the twins combined to score 15 of UK's final 28 points, including Andrew Harrison's 3-pointer with 2:08 left in overtime to put the Cats up one. He also hit the free throw that sent the game to overtime after Trey Lyles came away with a steal.

"I think Coach looks to me to make the big plays, so I just try to do it," Andrew Harrison said. "If they give me a shot I'm going to try and take it and make it for my team."

On the evening, Andrew Harrison had 12 points, five assists and only one turnover, steadying the ship as Ole Miss hit 49.2 percent from the field and 9-of-17 from 3-point range against UK's historically stingy defense. It was a far cry from his last outing, when he had just three points and an uncharacteristic six turnovers in a win at Louisville.

The performance drew unfair criticism, but Aaron Harrison never doubted whether his brother would bounce back.

"I knew he was going to respond well," Aaron Harrison said. "He always gets criticized and stuff like that. We just gotta not listen to it. It's nonsense anyway."

That "nonsense" is likely in reference to the talk that UK would be better off by relying primarily on freshman Tyler Ulis at point guard instead of the timeshare that's propelled the Wildcats to an unbeaten start. Andrew Harrison admits the talk got in his head, but only briefly.

"After that game I took it personal, just stuff - kind of stupid," Andrew Harrison said. "But you just try to move on to the next game and play as hard as you can and win for your team and not pay attention to people who really don't know anything about our team."

For UK to reach its ceiling, Andrew Harrison, Ulis, John Calipari and everyone in the team huddle always knew it would take both point guards. Tuesday was proof of that.

Ole Miss saw an opportunity to take advantage of the 5-foot-9 Ulis and did just that.

"You saw we had an issue, they went after Tyler, his size," Calipari said. "They took him right to the middle of the lane and just jumped up over him. So that's why I went with a bigger lineup."

The bigger of UK's two platoons - the Harrison twins' blue group - staked UK to 15-2 lead. Aaron Harrison hit a pair of 3s in the scorching start and five for the game, but the Rebels responded behind Stefan Moody, who scored 16 of his 25 points in the first half to put the Cats in a 38-36 hole at the break.

"I mean, we knew they were going to fight," said Aaron Harrison, who poured in 26 points. "All SEC's tough. It's a tougher conference than people think and we knew they weren't just going to lay down. So they just came out and fought really hard. They played really well."

Prior to Tuesday, the closest game UK had played was decided by eight points. A game like this one was always going to come, so the Cats needed it.

"You just kind of learn who's going to fight," Aaron Harrison said. "And I think we do have a deep team and most everybody fought today. We all had points in the game where we had to make big plays and we made them. I think we learned a lot about our team today."

In talking about that very thing, Coach Cal trotted out one of his favorite phrases.

"I got a team with a will to win," Calipari said. "They fought. They had every chance to let go of the rope and pout and feel bad for themselves and they didn't. They all made plays. That's a good sign."

A good sign, yes, but the fact that it had to show up at all was surprising.

On top of entering as heavy favorites, the Cats shot 11 of 20 from 3-point range, the kind of shooting night Calipari has said previously would almost guarantee UK of a blowout win. Instead, Kentucky had to scratch and claw for every inch against a game Ole Miss team that may very well have won had Moody not cramped late and Jarvis Summers (23 points) hit a 3 in the waning moments of regulation.

For this much talked-about unbeaten run to continue, the Cats will have to improve and soon with a trip on Saturday to College Station, Texas, looming, where Texas A&M is "having parties" in anticipation of a shot at UK.

"I see it as his team played out of their mind and we, we kind of didn't have the fight we need," Calipari said. "A lot of young guys not knowing, even some vets not understanding that there's no one going to surrender.  They're playing their hearts out and that's what you saw from Mississippi today."

Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For nine days, UK fans have had to live life without watching their beloved (and top-ranked) Wildcats.

The players, meanwhile, surely enjoyed a breather with no classes and no games for almost a week-and-a-half, right?

Wrong.

"It hasn't been a break," Tyler Ulis said.

Instead, the Cats (13-0) have endured the rigors of "Camp Cal" leading up to their Southeastern Conference opener vs. Ole Miss (9-4) at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday. John Calipari has happily filled his team's would-be free time.

"They can't wait for us to go back to school," Calipari said in a video on CoachCal.com. "I can't do three-a-days if they're going to class."

Coach Cal has been demanding, but he's not the only one doing the pushing.

A pair of guards - Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker - haven't allowed their team to take a break either.

"The biggest thing those two add to this team is their absolute competitive fire," Calipari said on Monday's SEC Coaches' Teleconference. "Every day in practice, whatever drill, however we scrimmage, they want to win."

Ulis and Booker make up the backcourt of UK's White platoon. If it looks at times like they have a chemistry developed over years, it's because they do. The two freshmen first met as eighth graders at the Nike Elite 100 Camp in St. Louis and became camp teammates first and fast friends soon after.

"We really liked each other's game and that was more basketball," Ulis said. "Once we started talking more and exchanged numbers we just became really cool and decided we'd come to school together."

After more time spent together on camp teams, they would of course follow through and have reaped the benefits since arriving in Lexington over the summer.

"Coming to school, first, it made it a lot easier, you know just someone there that you've been friends with for a while so you can relate," Booker said. "We had to adjust to new things together, so I think it brought our brotherhood together even closer than it was."

The two, who call themselves best friends, might have grown tighter since coming to college, but the energy they've used to set the tone for UK's practices has always been there.

"When we were on the same team at camp and stuff we were the same way," Booker said. "We never wanted to lose. We're just two competitive people. Even when we're going against each other, even when we're playing video games, just everything, we're competitive. I guess it was just something that was instilled in us at a young age and we just use it all the time. Coming here, practice is so competitive and it makes us better every day."

Ulis and Booker developed the mentality separate from one another, but it becomes even stronger when the two are together.

"We have an understanding," said Ulis, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Monday. "We're both competitive and want to win every time we're on the court. We feed off each other."

In spite of their team's unblemished record, that doesn't mean they actually do win all the time in practice. Going up against Andrew and Aaron Harrison's Blue platoon every day, that would be impossible.

"A few days ago, the White smashed the Blue and then two days ago the Blue absolutely smashed the White," Calipari said. "They had no chance. That's how it's been and if you don't show (up), then that's what's happening."

It should come as no surprise that Ulis took the loss hard, even though it was in a practice.

"Tyler made a couple bad plays, turned it over and he apologized. 'My fault, guys.' " Calipari said. "And he was really upset with himself because he wanted to win that scrimmage. That's why, when you see how hard these kids play, you see them compete in games, it's because they compete that way in practice. And Devin and Tyler have really driven that part of the culture that we have here."

That culture is why the Cats are in constant search of the next improvement to be made in spite of leading the nation in scoring margin, as well as a score of other defensive statistics.

"I feel like we all understand that we need to get better because offensively we know we're not where we need to be," Ulis said. "Our defense is very good but we need to execute more, so that's what we're working on."

To that end, Coach Cal has implemented a change to the way his guards play that has evoked memories of the "tweak" that preceded UK's 2014 Final Four run, right down to his evasiveness when asked exactly what it is.

"Now there's a few areas that we're looking at, like OK let's now keep these players engaged and get them to focus on a couple areas, which is what we've done the last seven, eight days," Calipari said. "And obviously I'm not talking about those things, but you'll see them."

Ulis was willing to share a little more information.

"He's just trying to help us draw fouls and not flail into the defenders when we get to the bucket," Ulis said. "Basically, just helping us all out a little bit, which has helped. It's changed a lot in practice. We're actually doing great with the adjustments."

Considering league coaches spent much of Monday's teleconference talking in reverent tones about how the Cats have established themselves as ahead of the pack in not only the SEC but the nation, that might seem like piling on. But it's not greed that's driving UK; it's that competitive fire.

"I think we have to focus on ourselves like Coach stresses to us - to play against ourselves, and you know, whoever's out there, we're not playing against them," Booker said. "We're playing against ourselves."

Marrow signs contract extension through 2018

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Vince Marrow has signed a contract extension that will keep him at UK through 2018. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Vince Marrow has signed a contract extension that will keep him at UK through 2018. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After a week of speculation about whether he might take another job, Kentucky tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in Lexington through June of 2018. The news was first announced on UK's official football Twitter account.

Marrow has earned a reputation as an ace recruiter in his two years at UK, playing an instrumental role in the two highest-rated classes in school history according to Rivals.com over the last two seasons. Marrow, a teammate of Mark Stoops at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio, has been especially active in establishing a pipeline to his home state.

"I'm thankful for the support of Dr. (Eli) Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and Coach Stoops with this contract extension," Marrow said. "Our program is headed in the right direction on and off the field with the new facilities and overwhelming support of the Big Blue Nation. I'm excited to be part of it as we continue moving forward."

Stoops, as you might expect, was excited about the news as well.



We'll have more on the Marrow news later this week.

Video: Booker, Ulis on friendship, SEC opener

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SEC coaches not ruling out unbeaten run for UK

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The Wildcats themselves might be brushing off the possibility of an unbeaten run through the regular season, but Southeastern Conference coaches are a little more willing to participate in the talk. Here's what a few coaches from throughout the league had to say on Monday, including Andy Kennedy, whose Ole Miss Rebels will face Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
Opening statement
"Excited to get the SEC schedule under way, and we obviously do it in grand fashion in Rupp Arena tomorrow night. So I know our guys will be excited about the opportunity, playing in the most storied venue in all of college basketball, against arguably the best team in college basketball. So I know our guys will be looking forward to the opportunity."

On how intimidating UK's defense/defensive stats are ...
"Well, I'm trying not to think about it. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't bring that back up. They're a special defensive team. I've certainly watched them casually when I could throughout the course of the season, and then as we gear up for them in preparation. That is what gives them an opportunity to do what I know is a topic of conversation not only in Kentucky but throughout the country: Can this team go through the regular season undefeated? It'll be a monumental challenge, obviously, but defensively is the reason that I think it's a valid question, simply because they don't give you anything easy, and as a result teams have really struggled to score against them."

On how his team has transitioned from the Marshall Henderson era ...

"Well, certainly, we always try to adjust to the personnel at hand. We try to play to the strengths of our guys. One of the things that has been a little bit puzzling to me in the non-league, even though we have some quality wins, we've got some puzzling losses because we've been inconsistent with our guard play. With the veteran players that we have in those positions, I was expecting a little more consistency. We're in the ultimate make-or-miss business and we just haven't shot well in games that we haven't played well. So we know we're going to have to go in and make open shots tomorrow night to give ourselves any hope."

On what about UK's offense impresses him ...
"Their ability to get it off the offensive glass, I think, is their best strength. If they can get a shot at the basket - I was a part of Bob Huggins' staff at Cincinnati for four years in the early 2000s, and that was really our best offense. Our best offense was a missed shot. Don't turn it over; just get on the glass and go get it. And that's where they're really, really good. If they get it on the backboard, they do a tremendous job of pursuing the ball. And as these freshmen have gotten a few more games under their belt, I think they're becoming much more consistent with their perimeter shooting, most especially Devin Booker, who's been in incredible rhythm, and Tyler Ulis' ability to crack people off the bounce and create help situations, which are giving other guys angles. And they certainly don't need help, but when you give Kentucky angles, they're very, very difficult to stop."

On Willie Cauley-Stein ...
If you ask me for my vote right now, I'd vote him player of the year in the league. I think he's been the X-factor among many X-factors for Kentucky because of his ability to be so versatile. His motor has gone to another level. He's playing like a junior, an upperclassman (like) you would expect. He's playing with a real sense of urgency, and I think that has been contagious on their team."

Florida head coach Billy Donovan
On whether he agrees with Kevin Stallings that UK has separated from the pack nationally ...
"For me it's probably--I'm not the best guy to ask and the only thing I can do: We played Kansas so I watched the first half of the Kansas game against Kentucky and obviously in that game they were obviously incredibly dominant and played at a such a high, high level. Obviously their size at the basket I thought was really difficult for Kansas in the game. Their ability to obviously play a lot of numbers of people right now. I think clearly on paper I would agree with Kevin based on the half that I saw. I haven't seen enough of Kentucky just because I think when you get into your season as a coach you're watching film of yourself or your next opponent. It just so happened that Kansas was kind of a mutual opponent for the both of us. But what I watched in terms of that first half, I would sit there and say that all the film that I've watched this year of different teams that we've played against, and I think that we've played against some good teams. North Carolina, we played against Kansas, UConn, Georgetown, Miami. We've played good teams. I would say that based on teams that we've played and based on the teams that we've played and what I saw in the first half, Kentucky was definitely head and shoulders above everybody else."

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings
On the state of the SEC ...
"I missed a little bit of the first part of your question, I believe, but in terms of the league, I haven't really gotten to see anyone to speak of until the last couple days in watching Auburn. Obviously, I see the scores and that sort of thing, but I think the league is deep. Kentucky has sort of separated themselves in the nonconference from the rest of the world, not only in our league, but from everybody else's league as well. Our league is deep and I think the conference season will be an absolute grind because there are so many teams that are probably competitive and equal enough that a lot of teams can win on any given night."

On if it would benefit the SEC for Kentucky to go undefeated ...
"I haven't given that much thought, but it would certainly be an exciting storyline. It hasn't happened since 1976. It would be a very exciting storyline for all of college basketball. Again, that's a lot easier said than done. I suppose if anybody can do it, they could. Nevertheless, I don't know how it would be for the SEC. It would be interesting for college basketball in general. I think it would be very exciting for college basketball in general, as well."

On the exposure it would generate for the SEC each time they took the floor if it continued ...
"I don't really have any way to assess that, but gyms are more electric when they walk in anyway. That part wouldn't change. The media coverage changes when they walk in the gym already, so it wouldn't take an undefeated season for that to be any different. It's already like that. I don't know that that would represent a big difference, honestly."

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin

On how big of a favorite UK is in the SEC ...
"All that favorite stuff, and all that Jerry (Tipton), I don't get into all that because I'm so wrapped up in our next game. If I was coaching that team I'd be just like Cal. I would be concerned with continuing to get better and continuing to clean up whatever things he feels that team needs to get cleaned up. They have experience. They're returning four guys. They understand. It goes back to what I was telling you before, Cal doesn't get the credit he deserves for the job he does with freshmen every single year. Well, this year, he doesn't just have freshmen. He has five real good freshmen, or six, seven 12 of them, I think he has like 20 scholarships, but he has a whole bunch of real good freshmen, but he's got a group of upperclassmen who played for the national championship. They get it, they understand. They grew up last year. Cal doesn't get the credit he deserves for the job he does. I watched them the other day. They're magnificent. They're defending as well as any team in the country, and as well as any team I've seen in a long time."

LSU head coach Johnny Jones
On whether Kentucky going for an unbeaten record is good for the league ...
"I think it's great for the league. I think Cal has done a tremendous job of building his program and developing a great identity for it, and not only for Kentucky basketball but for our league as a whole. I think (for) the coaches in our league it's not a great a storyline I would say for us because we have a different agenda at the end of the day, but I'm sure those guys' quest for their ability to do that, especially how they've played early this season against some of the toughest competition in the country, the success that they've had, it would certainly be their goal. And when you have a team that talented, I think you certainly have to put something out there in front of them like that because they're certainly going to have a great deal of success. But to keep them motivated and playing possibly as hard as they have to, I'm sure Cal feels as though that's something that he has to hang out there in front of them. I think their team is great for our league. The success that they've had early on certainly is, but if they have a setback then that shouldn't be a bad thing for our league as well. But it should say a lot about our league that someone had the ability to maybe give them a setback before the season's over."

Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall

On whether Kentucky going for an unbeaten record is good for the league ...
"Well I think it's good not just for our league but for college basketball anytime you have a team that's as talented and as well-coached as Kentucky is. And they're No. 1 in the country, rightfully so. That's good attention not just for Kentucky but for your league. There will be some naysayers, I'm sure, that say, 'Well, it's Kentucky and then the rest of the league. There's a pretty big drop-off.' And I think some talking points have probably been made of how our RPIs have improved. We have a bunch of our league now in the top 100, which maybe hasn't been the case in years prior. So our entire league is getting better and better. You look across the board, teams are showing great improvement from a year ago and Kentucky's going to be the most talked-about team in the SEC for a reason. They're very well-coached, they're talented, they're the No. 1 team in America, but it's hard to go undefeated in any league. Whether it's the OVC, Conference USA or the SEC, it doesn't matter. There's good teams and if you don't come to play there's a chance you can be beat on any given night and they'll have a tough challenge to go undefeated, but as good as they are I certainly think it's possible."

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl

On whether Kentucky going for an unbeaten record is good for the league ...
"Oh, it's great for the SEC. We're all looking for those quality nonconference wins to try to separate the SEC. This year, because Kentucky has got a more veteran team, they've been able to do this work in the nonconference. If you look back over the last three or four years in the nonconference with one-and-dones, they've not been as dominant because it's November, December and they're just trying to figure out how to be a good team and then Cal gets them better throughout the season and you wouldn't want to play them at the end of the year. Those teams that they lost to in November, December couldn't beat them in February and March because that's how much better they got. Well now they're beating them all.' And you look at South Carolina's win over Iowa State and Tennessee's win over Butler and we had a good win over Xavier and there are several teams that have been able to get some good nonconference wins that can help the league."

Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray
On whether Kentucky going for an unbeaten record is good for the league ...
"I haven't had a chance to see a lot because you're so enraptured with your own team and getting ready for the next opponent. I've seen some games casually but just my perspective is Arkansas is a pretty good team from what I've seen so far and the way they've played and the pressure they apply. I think they'll be a hard team to play against. I think LSU is a really, really talented ball club and I know they've got some good components there and they're trying to figure out a way to play together. But I think those guys are really talented. And then I've seen a little bit of Ole Miss and the way they change defenses and give you problems with their zone. I know Florida is going to end up being a quality ball club. I know they're having a struggle with injuries right now. But I think what you can see is that Kentucky is not just ahead of everybody else in the SEC, but ahead of everybody else in the country. And I think you got about three or four teams that could be vying for that second place in the SEC and I think you got a jumble of people there that could end up--somebody could end up being six; somebody could end up being 14. I think it's that close."

Opening statement
"We've had a little bit of a break here, and I'm anxious to see how we respond. We've tried to zero in on a couple areas that we've really got to get better at offensively. They're things we're going to be have to be able to do if we want to be the kind of team everybody keeps talking about. But I'm really pleased with this group. I say it all the time: They've got a genius. Their genius is their basketball ability, their athleticism, their length and all those things that are just not normal. Yet they've got great hearts. They're kind to each other, they're selfless and that's why you see what you're seeing. Everybody (is like), 'How you get them to play together?' Well, they've got to accept. They've got to allow us to do the things we're doing, the platooning and the other things, and they are."

On Willie Cauley-Stein's progression this year ...

"The greatest thing - everybody wants to zero in on players that have stayed with us one year and really improved in a year but stayed one year. But they get away from the kind of guys like Willie and some others who have come in here and really grown year to year. His growth from last year to this year is amazing. And a lot of it becomes that confidence and his mentality - his mental toughness, his ability to push through when it's not going great, his ability to push through comfort levels, to practice and go hard when he doesn't feel like doing those things. He now has become a player, not only defensively but offensively, who can do some things. He didn't play great against Louisville, but they're not machines. He's not gonna play great every night out. But I've been really pleased and proud of him, the way he's grown on the court and the way he's grown off the court."

On the importance of the bond between Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker ...
"Well, you can't do what we're doing unless you have another point guard. What we're doing, we have two outstanding point guards. And they don't play great every night out, neither one. But they come and you know you got two guys. The tie with Devin and Tyler is that they've always wanted to play together and they play off of one another. But the biggest thing those two add to this team is their absolute competitive fire. Every day in practice, whatever drill, however we scrimmage, they want to win. A few days ago they beat the Blue platoon like four straight times, and really beat them good. The next day the Blue platoon stepped on the gas and beat them every time. And Tyler made a couple play, turned it over and he apologized. 'My fault, guys.' And he was really upset with himself because he wanted to win that scrimmage. That's why, when you see how hard these kids play, you see them compete in games, it's because they compete that way in practice. And Devin and Tyler have really driven that part of the culture that we have here."

On what he is zeroing in on offensively ...

"Well, there's areas that I'm going to zero in on every week to 10 days until we get it right. Before we played Louisville, our biggest issue was our defensive rebounding. Our percentage offensive rebounding was off the charts. Nearly 50 percent of our misses we were rebounding. But defensively it was off the charts the wrong way. We were 13th in our league so we zeroed in on it. Now there's a few areas that we're looking at, like OK let's now keep these players engaged and get them to focus on a couple areas, which is what we've done the last seven, eight days. And obviously I'm not talking about those things, but you'll see them.

Linnae Harper had 12 points a career-high 14 rebounds in UK's win over Ole Miss on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Linnae Harper had 12 points a career-high 14 rebounds in UK's win over Ole Miss on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
The absence of Bria Goss and Kentucky's young complement of post players has forced Matthew Mitchell to adjust.

UK is now relying on a shorter rotation than at any time in recent memory. Most notably, UK is relying on a core of top producers -- Jennifer O'Neill, Janee Thompson, Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper -- to carry an abnormally heavy load.

"Right now, where we are without Bria, you have to do what you do and you have to do it well," Mitchell said.

In Mitchell's mind, offensive rebounding tops Harper's list of strengths, but she wasn't getting the job done early in the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference home opener against Ole Miss. That's when he challenged the sophomore to do what she's capable of.

"Linnae's standing out around the perimeter and I just told her she had to get on the glass because she is an incredibly gifted offensive rebounder," Mitchell said. "She went from standing around to eight offensive boards like in a blink of an eye."

Harper had five of her eight offensive rebounds in the second half, including three in a 12-second stretch. It was no coincidence that No. 11 UK (13-2, 2-0 SEC) outscored the visiting Rebels (11-4, 1-1 SEC) by eight after halftime to complete a comeback from six points down with 15:53 remaining in a 64-58 win to overcome a short bench and 30.8-percent shooting.

"We are not as good a team when she doesn't understand how important that is," Mitchell said. "She's gotta get in there and get some boards for us."

All told, Harper had 14 rebounds, a career high, to go with her 12 points in her third career double-double. On the strength of her big afternoon, Harper surged into the team rebounding lead with an average of 6.9 per game even though all but two players on UK's roster are taller than the 5-foot-8 Chicago native.

"I think it's just really passion," Harper said. "I love rebounding and I've always loved rebounding even when I was younger. But as I get older and play on the college level, it gets harder. It's just really about focusing, just a mentality that if I just want to go get. In this game, I just think I had a lot of opportunities and I just went for them and did the best that I can do."

Harper is still working on making that mentality more consistent, but the ability has always been there. Four years ago, Mitchell was watching Thompson when her younger teammate announced herself loudly.

"I was recruiting Janee really hard to try to get her when Janee was a junior," Mitchell said. "And then this kid who was a sophomore is 5-3 or whatever she is and I was sitting under the goal one day at an AAU game and the kid just gets up off the floor and takes it off the rim and I'm like, 'What just happened right there?' "

What happened was Harper took advantage of her explosive vertical leap and uncanny sense of timing.

"You can't teach it," Mitchell said. "There's nothing--Victoria Dunlap had it; Linnae has it. It's a gift, is what it is."

Harper's timing was once again on display in the waning moments.

Even as UK built a five-point lead at the 4:18 mark, Ole Miss wouldn't back down. The Rebels rallied to tie the game, but Harper had two of her game-high four steals a decisive 57-second period.

"Game could go either way," Mitchell said. "Somebody's gotta make a play. Who's going to make a play? These kind of games go that way all the time and she made two huge defensive plays and I just can't tell you how proud I am of her. That was crucial to us being victorious today."

Harper, who hasn't always been a defensive standout, stopped short of saying she couldn't have made the plays a season ago, but did acknowledge her improvement.

"Today in the game I was just really anticipating, just waiting for it and it was all about timing," Harper said. "I just think over time I just got better at playing defense and anticipating and trying to get steals."

Thanks in large part to Harper's tireless effort on the offensive glass and clutch plays on defense, the Cats survived another hard-fought SEC battle to move to 2-0 in league play. For the time being, that's the way it's going to have to be.

"You gotta do what you can do right now so we can some games until we can smooth this thing out a little bit and become a more complete team," Mitchell said.

UK is now relying on a shorter rotation than at any time in recent memory. Most notably, UK is relying on a core of top producers: Jennifer O'Neill, Janee Thompson, Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper.

"Right now, where we are without Bria, you have to do what you do and you have to do it well," Mitchell said.

In Mitchell's mind, offensive rebounding tops Harper's list of strengths, but she wasn't getting the job done early in the Wildcats' Southeastern Conference home opener against Ole Miss. That's when he challenged the sophomore directly to do what she's capable of.

"Linnae's standing out around the perimeter and I just told her she had to get on the glass because she is an incredibly gifted offensive rebounder," Mitchell said. "She went from standing around to eight offensive boards like in a blink of an eye."

Harper had five of her eight offensive rebounds in the second half, including three in a 12-second stretch. It was no coincidence that No. 11 UK (13-2, 2-0 SEC) outscored the visiting Rebels (11-4, 1-1 SEC) by eight to complete a comeback from six points down with 15:53 remaining in a 64-58 win to overcome a short bench and 30.8-percent shooting.

"We are not as good a team when she doesn't understand how important that is," Mitchell said. "She's gotta get in there and get some boards for us."

All told, Harper had 14 rebounds, a career high, to go with her 12 points in her third career double-double.  On the strength of her big afternoon, Harper surged into the team rebounding lead with an average of 6.9 per game even though all but two players on UK's roster are taller than the 5-foot-8 Chicago native.

"I think it's just really passion," Harper said. "I love rebounding and I've always loved rebounding even when I was younger. But as I get older and play on the college level, it gets harder. It's just really about focusing, just a mentality that if I just want to go get. In this game, I just think I had a lot of opportunities and I just went for them and did the best that I can do."

Harper is still working on making that mentality more consistent, but the ability has always been there in spite of her size. Four years ago, Mitchell was watching Thompson when her younger teammate announced herself loudly.

"I was recruiting Janee really hard to try to get her when Janee was a junior," Mitchell said. "And then this kid who was a sophomore is 5-3 or whatever she is and I was sitting under the goal one day at an AAU game and the kid just gets up off the floor and takes it off the rim and I'm like, 'What just happened right there?' "

What happened was Harper took advantage of her explosive vertical leap and uncanny sense of timing.

"You can't teach it," Mitchell said. "There's nothing--Victoria Dunlap had it; Linnae has it. It's a gift, is what it is."

Harper's timing was once again on display in the waning moments.

Even as UK built a five-point lead at the 4:18 mark, Ole Miss wouldn't back down. The Rebels rallied to tie the game, but Harper had two of her game-high four steals a decisive 57-second period.

"Game could go either way," Mitchell said. "Somebody's gotta make a play. Who's going to make a play? These kind of games go that way all the time and she made two huge defensive plays and I just can't tell you how proud I am of her. That was crucial to us being victorious today."

Harper, who hasn't always been a defensive standout, stopped short of saying she couldn't have made the plays a season ago, but did acknowledge her improvement.

"Today in the game I was just really anticipating, just waiting for it and it was all about timing," Harper said. "I just think over time I just got better at playing defense and anticipating and trying to get steals."

Thanks in large part to Harper's tireless effort on the offensive glass and clutch plays on defense, the Cats survived another hard-fought SEC battle to move to 2-0 in league play. For the time being, that's the way it's going to have to be.

"You gotta do what you can do right now so we can some games until we can smooth this thing out a little bit and become a more complete team," Mitchell said.


Recent Comments

  • CHRIS OSEDO: I love the job Coach Call is doing in UK. I hope my son comes there soon. read more
  • B J Vance: Kudos to the Big Blue Nation who turn out everywhere to cheer the Cats. The very entertaining and knowledgeable Dick read more
  • gerald adams: you done a hell of good job today boys. I,m so prod ove you all for the heart some of read more
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  • JR: Erin is one dedicated player of the game of softball.......and it would be hard to find anyone who has worked read more
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  • Patrick Quinn: I've always liked Willis...we will need him getting significant minutes during our run..I have faith in his athletic ability...I remember read more
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  • Helen Spalding: Congrats Makayla and team. We love you here in Marion County and just "proud as punch" of you and your read more
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