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Big finish paves way for another solid Stoops class

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UK's 2015 signing class is rated 35th nationally according to Rivals.com. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK's 2015 signing class is rated 35th nationally according to Rivals.com. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Everyone from the media in attendance to the diehard fans watching live online at home and at work knew exactly what Mark Stoops was talking about.

"As you all know and have been following, it's been a little bit of a grind," Stoops said.

Stoops had just put a bow on his third recruiting class as Kentucky head coach. After reeling in a record haul the first time around and doing it again in 2014 with a group remarkable for its lack of turnover, the 2015 ride had, in his words, some "ups and downs."

The downs were very public, with a handful of longtime pledges opting to de-commit and go elsewhere in January. For the first time since his arrival in late 2012, momentum seemed to trend in the wrong direction.

But not for long.

By securing a number of late commitments, Stoops and his staff put together a 23-member class - the exact number they set out to hit - that ranked 35th nationally as of Wednesday afternoon according to Rivals.com. Outside of Stoops' first two classes - rated 29th and 17th, respectively - it's the best in the history of the ranking service and the ranking doesn't take into account Nebraska transfers Courtney Love and Greg Hart.

"There are some very good football players that are going to be joining us and very excited to have them," Stoops said. "So just overall very pleased, very happy. I really appreciate our staff. I feel like this group of coaches worked extremely hard. They work relentlessly, around the clock, did an awful lot of traveling, and really worked hard to hold this class together."

They did more than hold the class together; they filled needs.

Thirteen of the 23 members of the class are defensive players, headlined by unanimous four-star linebacker and Bowling Green, Ky., native Eli Brown. Brown joins Love and Jordan Jones - both of whom enrolled in January and will practice this spring - and Josh Allen in adding depth at linebacker, while the likes of Kengera Daniel, Courtney Miggins, JaVon Provitt and Alvonte Bell - a Signing Day surprise and UK commitment out of high school - give the Wildcats some much-needed size along the defensive line.

But Stoops, with his background as a defensive backs coach, is most excited about the infusion of talent his secondary will get. That talent, by the way, is tall, too. Derrick Baity, Will Jackson and Chris Westry all stand 6-foot-3 or taller.

"Y'all know, you've listened to me enough after each game, we had some bad matchup problems at times," Stoops said. "We play against some guys in this league that have great size and great skill at the receiver position, and I felt like we really needed to upgrade and get some quality guys in the secondary, and I feel very good about this group."

Baity, Jackson and Westry figure to have some good battles on their hands with the wide receivers joining them in this class. Therell Gosier, Jabari Greenwood and Tavin Richardson are 6-6, 6-3 and 6-3, respectively.

"When you're talking about physical in length, you're talking about all levels of your team," Stoops said. "So I really felt like we needed to continue to improve that size and that physicality in the secondary and in the wide receiver position and linebackers and so on and certainly tight ends."

At tight end, UK added two 6-5 targets in Hart and C.J. Conrad, both of whom are on campus this spring. Four offensive linemen - all standing 6-5 or taller (surprise, surprise) - also join the class. The trend of Stoops and his staff transforming Kentucky's roster continues.

"I think we're much closer to where we want to be," Stoops said. "... So it's very exciting to wrap up this class.  Everybody asks me all the time, what do I feel about this?  We put a lot of hard work, and it's good to get it wrapped up. It's good to introduce them to our fan base and to the media and talk about these guys publicly, which is nice."

Now that the class is public and Letters of Intent are signed, the risk of further de-commitments evaporates. With that in mind, Stoops spoke Wednesday on behalf of a rule change that would create a new early signing period.

"I think it's a situation that probably needs to be addressed on a national level, but, again, I'm not concerned about the guys we did not get," Stoops said. "I'm very excited about the players we got."

He has reason to be.

"Overall, I feel very good about this group," Stoops said. "I felt like it was key for us this last week, these last couple days, into last night and into this morning to close on a few guys. As you know, it gets very delicate when you try to hit that number perfectly. Heading into this recruiting class, we had 23 spots available. ... That's what we signed. I feel very good about that."

Get to know UK softball's Kara Howard

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Kara Howard.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.

Considered one of the best defensive outfielders on the team, senior Kara Howard has recovered from an injury that sidelined her last season and is expected to contribute to the team's depth in the outfield this spring.

Howard has played in 87 career games with 38 starts, recording a triple, three RBI and 11 runs scored. The native of Riverside, Calif., had her sophomore season cut short due to injury, but made an impact defensively before the injury in the outfield. Howard made several amazing catches, including a diving catch against Mississippi State, which was the No. 6 play on ESPN's Sportscenter Top Plays.

Howard is a two-year member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll and comes from an athletic family as her older sister, Kaylan, played softball at Oregon.

Come see Kara 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.

What is your nickname?
Teddy, because according to the whole team (and strangers!) I look like those graham crackers in the shape of a teddy bear.

Do you have any pets? Two fish named Perseus and Albino, my dog Baby, and partial ownership of the cat outside that I call Chester (but his real name is Dusty Cheeks).

What is your shoe size? 7.5, which is why I believe I'm so clumsy because my feet are too small for my height and it's hard to stand balanced.

When was the last time you were moved to tears? Last night I stubbed my toe on my bed.

If you had a Derby horse, what would you name it? All I do is whiny, whiny, whiny.

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?
A chicken with the face of a monkey ...  just so people stop hating on the Chinese Crested dog for being so ugly. Plus, Monkey popping out of an egg! How awesome would that be?!

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I want to learn how to fight like Black Widow from The Avengers, that way no big kid can steal my chocolate milk again.

Name three things you like? Candy, movies and sarcasm

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime? Going to Disney World ...

What do you typically have for breakfast? Whatever is closest to me, more often than not it's left over pizza ...

What is your favorite dessert?
Strawberry cheesecake

Best dancer on the team is... We're all pretty terrible, but it's either Dari or Shannon ...

What is one TV show you cannot miss?
Supernatural, Doctor Who or Sherlock

How do you like your eggs? Scrambled and drowned in syrup ...

Do you collect anything? I collect first seasons of my favorite TV shows, books and their movie adaptations, and all Marvel & Disney movies.

Are you related or distantly related to anyone famous?
I like to say that Terrence Howard is my uncle, a girl can dream.

What three things do you think of most each day? Food, Netflix, and the lyrics to Let It Go

What is your favorite class you've taken in college so far?
German Fairytales

Can you solve a Rubik's Cube?
Yeah, when the stickers come off

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do?
I would buy a horse named "The Walking Couch"

Andrew Harrison had 23 points and seven assists in UK's win over Georgia on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison had 23 points and seven assists in UK's win over Georgia on Tuesday night. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Aaron Harrison Sr. might want to extend his stay in Lexington if his son is going to play like that.

With his father in town the last couple days to work with him and his brother, Andrew Harrison had his best game of the season thanks in part to a little advice he kept in mind throughout.

"Just keep being aggressive," Andrew Harrison said. "Don't lose confidence in yourself. Just make sure you realize what you can do on the basketball court and do it and just play with confidence and have fun."

Aggressive, confident and having fun. Check, double check and triple check.

Andrew Harrison scored a season-high 23 points in a 69-58 win for top-ranked Kentucky (22-0, 9-0 Southeastern Conference). He made 8 of his 16 field-goal tries and 3 of 6 from 3-point range, but he found open teammates just as often, adding seven assists to just one turnover.

"Hard work pays off and, like I said, it's a blessing," he said, referencing the extra time spent in the gym with his father. "We've been working hard, the whole team has, and I got to play well today. I'm excited about that."

When opportunities presented themselves, he attacked in the open floor, a pleasing development for his coach.

"I don't want you pulling it out, playing it slow and bully ball," John Calipari said. "It doesn't work. Play, attack, go."

When assessing his strengths, Andrew Harrison's 6-foot-6 frame and ability to physically overwhelm smaller opponents is one of the first things mentioned. Calipari, however, doesn't want that to cause him to forgo the other things he can do well.

"He just wants me to use my speed, to show everybody my speed," Andrew Harrison said. "Even when I have smaller guards on me I still could have a speed advantage on them. He just wants me to show that."

On Tuesday night, he certainly did.

"Andrew played amazing today," said Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds. "He played out of his mind. He was hitting jump shots, he was locked in, kept the pace high, just made some great passes. If he could do this, what he did today, every day, we could be a really scary team."

Andrew Harrison came up especially big in the second half, as Georgia threatened to come back from a deficit that grew to as large as 18 points in the minutes after halftime. Many times the Bulldogs made big baskets to cut the UK lead to a little as five points, but it was Andrew Harrison who had the answer.

"Just the flow of the game," he said, sounding like the point guard he is. "They were guarding all my teammates and they left me with a shot I could make and I took it."

With UK's offense sputtering a bit after halftime and Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker combining to make just 1-of-10 3-pointers, Andrew Harrison scored 11 of the Wildcats' 27 points in the second half.

He often did it while sharing the floor with Tyler Ulis, as the two point guards combined to play 32 minutes after halftime. The two would alternate handling point-guard responsibilities, stressing the Bulldog defense.

"They're both intelligent players, both good players," Calipari said. "Both can score, both are skilled."

As well as they played together, there's no guarantee Calipari will go back to the two point-guard look at Florida on Saturday.

"But next game it may be Aaron playing out of his mind," Calipari said. "I mean, that's just how this is. That's why I keep saying, you know, we don't want to teach one guy to lead. That guy struggles, we lose.  He feels bad, I'm sad, we lose. Well, just step back, man. We're fine. You're struggling today. Step back.  Let Karl go get all the rebounds. You step back and let us win this thing."

Get to know UK softball's Kelsey Nunley

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Kelsey Nunley.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.

After two years in Kentucky blue, junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley has placed her name all over the UK record books, becoming only the third player in UK history with 400+ career strikeouts and ranks second in school history with 57 career wins.

Nunley, who won every postseason game for Kentucky last season on the way to a WCWS appearance, is 57-22 in 92 career appearances, throwing 551.0 innings with 412 strikeouts, a 2.01 ERA and .214 opponent batting average. Last season, Nunley become the first player in program history to win 30 games in a season, posting a 30-11 record with a 1.88 ERA and 219 strikeouts.

The native of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., has won several awards since stepping on campus, including a two-time All-Southeastern Conference honoree, SEC Pitcher of the Week, SEC Freshman of the Week, SEC All-Tournament team member, WCWS All-Tournament team member  and NFCA All-Southeast Region honoree. Off the field, Nunley has been a model student as a two-year member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

Come see Kelsey 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 Kelsey better, it's time to play a game called 20 questions.

What is your nickname? My nickname is Skeeter. My dad gave me the nickname many years ago because he said my legs look like a mosquito.

Do you have any pets? Yes, I have a pet sugar glider and her name is Bonnie.

What is your shoe size? I got a big foot, size 12 in women's.

What is your favorite word? Ignorant ... and I don't care if I use it uncorrectly. (that's a joke haha)

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? I chose to play softball at Kentucky because I believe God directed my path here. I have dreamed of playing softball in the SEC since I was a little girl, and who doesn't look good in blue?  

When was the last time you were moved to tears? Last time I cried was I think listening to a song in my car, they get me fired up sometimes.

Person that has most influenced you in life, why? My Dad has been a big influence on my life, but I think that everyone I have come across has either influenced me for the better or I've used them as a learning experience.

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?
If I could breed two animals it would have to be a cat and a monkey. Those are my favorite animals, and I would call it a catmonk.

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? If I could learn to do anything it would have to be scuba diving.

After softball, what would be your dream job?
My dream job after softball is to open my own business giving pitching lessons, that way I can try my best to give younger girls the same opportunity as I've had.

Name three things you like? Spending time with my friends, good surprises and shooting hoops at the park with my Dad.

Name three things you dislike? When people scrape the fork on their teeth when they're eating, butterfingers and feet ...

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime?
I would love to go to Africa on a wild safari, or just go to a rainforest there and see all kinds of different animals.

What is your favorite dessert? Depends on my mood ... People think I'm crazy when I want ice cream even though it's cold outside.

What is your most memorable moment as a softball player so far?
My most memorable moment as a softball player would have to be stepping my own two feet on the pitching mound at the Women's College World Series in OKC.

Best dancer on the team is...
Best dancer on the team is definitely Dari. She's got moves, a little soul and rhythm.

Favorite all-time movie? My favorite all-time movie is the Sandlot ... "You're killing me smalls!"

The most famous person you've ever met is... I was lucky enough to meet Eli Manning, Michael Phelps, and Venus and Serena Williams at the Best of Preps Banquets in Chattanooga during high school.

How do you like your eggs? I like my eggs over easy with cheese on top.

Are you allergic to anything? I'm allergic to cats, but I still love 'em.

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 ...

Recent Comments

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