On top of being a respected coach and recruiter, Rohrssen has famously dabbled as an actor, starring alongside the likes of Al Pacino and Kevin Spacey.
Nonetheless, one subject escaped him in school.
"You know, for some people, even like myself, chemistry was the hardest subject," Rohrssen said.
The same is true, though not in quite so literal a sense, for the Kentucky basketball team. The Wildcats, set for the second of two exhibitions on Sunday at 7 p.m. against Georgetown (Ky.), are still in the process of figuring out exactly how they fit together.
John Calipari knows UK, at least to start the season, will operate in a two-platoon system. Last Sunday, the Cats dominated Pikeville by sharing time in two groups, the first featuring Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns and the second Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson.
Whether those platoons remain the same is still a question mark.
"It's Friday now and we've still got two more days and maybe three more practices to go before that," Rohrssen said. "So it could change; it could be the same."
In that victory over Pikeville, all 10 members of the two platoons played at least 16 minutes, and none more than 20. The system calls for that kind of balance on paper, but the coaching staff doesn't expect for it to play out that way when the season heats up.
"It's still to be determined," Rohrssen said. "I think Cal might've spoken to you guys already; he said it's not communism. That was kind of his phrase about it, where those that will produce are going to get more time or find themselves with the opportunity for more time."
Taking on the in-state Tigers, boasting a 3-0 record and a No. 8 ranking in NAIA Division I, will arm UK with 40 minutes more of data to evaluate the platoons. Just as importantly, it's another chance to adjust to the game-day routine.
"One of the things that's nice about college basketball is you get a chance to get out there, simulate game days, go through a shootaround or a walk-through in the morning the day of a game, have your pregame meal with your team, just to get in a rhythm and get comfortable, and especially for the new guys," Rohrssen said. "... So it's good to get some of those exhibitions under your belt, and this will be another step towards our improvement." Booker getting better
Devin Booker. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
Though he showcased his talent at points, Devin Booker was relatively quiet during UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour.
The 6-foot-6 guard averaged just 5.2 points and shot 34.4 percent from the field, but Rohrssen pinpointed Booker as the freshman who has improved the most since.
"Well, one guy that's really improving rapidly and on a day-to-day basis is Devin Booker," Rohrssen said. "He's really made some very good strides since he's been here on campus, like most of the freshmen."
Those strides were apparent last Sunday, as Booker scored 16 points and had three assists in 16 minutes of UK's exhibition win over Pikeville, leading the second platoon in scoring in the process. Booker did his damage in a variety ways, showing the dead-eye shooting for which he's known in hitting 2-of-4 3-pointers, but also running the floor and scoring at the rim.
"He's just finding things a bit more comfortably now, getting up and down the court a lot quicker, using some of his athleticism," Rohrssen said. "He moves well without the basketball. He's releasing his shot a lot quicker."
Rohrssen talks recruiting
When he first committed to using the two-platoon system in the preseason, Coach Cal said it could represent a "watershed moment" should it work as planned.
By making it work, he said UK could change the face of college basketball just like in 2010 when five Wildcats were drafted in the first round by proving so many talented players could coexist and succeed both as a team and individually.
But for now, UK is sticking to a more familiar script on the trail.
"Recruiting, these guys have been very receptive," Rohrssen said. "It's nice to be ranked No. 1 in the polls. It's a nice way to have a conversation, go into somebody's home."
Pitching the platoons, according to Rohrssen, is premature. Could UK have a similarly constructed roster with 12 players deserving of time next season? Sure. Is it a guarantee? No.
"I mean, that's to unfold next season," Rohrssen said. "If we're talking about this season, Kentucky is very well received no matter where you go and who you speak with it. It's nice to have that royal blue UK on your chest when you're walking into a high school or a home."
Even as spoke of high hopes for the season, Matthew Mitchell was quick to point out it would take time for Kentucky to round into offensive form.
For that reason, he was unsure what to expect as the Wildcats played their lone exhibition vs. Pikeville.
"To be honest with you, I was a little concerned what it might look like offensively if it got into a half-court game," Mitchell said.
Fortunately for UK, that rarely happened on Thursday night.
UK Hoops raced paced visiting Pikeville both on the floor and on the scoreboard, 141-63. The Cats shot 56-of-89 (62.9 percent) from the field in putting together an offensive night that would have eclipsed the school record for points in a game had it been a regular-season affair.
"I was just happy to see them run. No matter who the opponent is--I hope Pikeville has a great season, but we just really weren't concerned with the opponent," Mitchell said. "We were just trying to run tonight and I thought they did that really well."
Though the final box score showed just 18 fast-break points, the Cats continually sprinted past the Bears, scoring 52 points off 37 turnovers. Jennifer O'Neill and Alexis Jennings led eight players scoring in double figures with 20 points apiece.
"I think we have potential to be like we were today," O'Neill said. "But the thing that got us into the one hundreds was the fact that everybody was running the floor."
The most impressive statistical performance, however, belonged to Makayla Epps. The sophomore flirted with a triple-double, posting 18 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.
"Honestly, I was completely unaware until I came off the bench and (assistant) Coach Adeniyi (Amadou) was like, 'Oh, two more rebounds,' " Epps said. "And I was like, 'Wow, I've never even been close to 10 rebounds.' Ever, like in my life."
Mitchell, however, was more concerned with the way Epps looked than her stat line.
"I don't even really look at the numbers, just the way she moved out there," Mitchell said.
On that front, Epps is unmistakably a different player than the one who had an up-and-down freshman season.
"That is easy to spot, which is a compliment to her because that shows you hard she's worked," Mitchell said. "She's worked really hard and she just looked super."
Epps, like her teammates, has room for growth though, but that's to be expected with the regular season still eight days away from starting with a Nov. 14 matchup with Appalachian State.
"I thought the players did what they were charged to do tonight," Mitchell said. "We really tried to talk about energy and effort and playing hard. We are a long, long away from being a finished product, but we have worked very hard on our effort and conditioning and running the floor."
After a season in which coaches and players agreed they fell short of their potential, the UK men's soccer team reconvened.
In returning from the holiday break, the Wildcats discovered their head coach was just a little different.
"I've been extremely demanding," Cedergren said. "I'm not a very nice guy. I'm very impatient and the guys have put up with me and now we're sitting here seeing the end result."
The end result has been a special 2014 season.
Riding a nine-match unbeaten streak, UK (10-3-4, 5-0-2 Conference USA) is set to host its regular-season finale on Friday against Charlotte at 7 p.m. at the Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex. With the Wildcats sitting a point ahead of the No. 5 49ers, UK can clinch the C-USA regular-season championship with a win or draw.
Though it all comes down to 90 minutes on Senior Night, UK's path to a potential title started back in January with a meaner Cedergren. In spite of being picked sixth in the conference before the season and relying on a roster that features 20 freshmen or sophomores and only two seniors, the Cats have responded to Cedergren's tough coaching and embraced his high expectations.
"We worked a lot with the players becoming problem solvers, being disciplined, selfless, humble and having a UK attitude," Cedergren said. "That means focusing on all the little things, having belief no matter where we go, no matter who we play and whatever happens we do things together."
UK's togetherness has been tested repeatedly this season, first through a challenging early-season schedule that brought two losses in its first three games. The Cats then responded with a 1-0 win at Notre Dame, the defending national champion.
More recently, UK has played four of its last five matches on the road, the only home match coming against defending C-USA champion and ninth-ranked New Mexico. All the Cats have done is win four times and draw once.
Considering all that, playing in what amounts to a conference championship game shouldn't faze this team.
"We have a lot of experience to look back on to prepare us for Friday," Cedergren.
The fact that UK has a defense that's allowed a school-record and conference-best 0.55 goals per match doesn't hurt either.
Cedergren knew junior Callum Irving would be the anchor of the unit, calling his goalkeeper one of the best in the country in the preseason. Irving has been as advertised, but Kaelon Fox, Jordan Wilson, Charlie Reymann and Matt Quick have made the defense elite.
"He's been as good as I know he can be," Cedergren said. "I think what has been exceeding my expectations is the back four, the guys that are in front of Cally."
On offense, UK relies on sophomore Napo Matsoso, who is second on the team with 12 points and consistently leads the Cats in distance covered during games. Cedergren estimated that 80 percent of UK's attacks involve Matsoso in some way.
"As many games as I've watched, I can't say that I've had a better playmaker on a team," Cedergren said. "So Napo is huge for us."
"Friday, we're hoping we can get north of 2,000 people to come out to the game and support us, which is I think very, very doable," Cedergren said.
With a loud crowd behind them, Cedergren and the Cats are out to make a special season historic.
"We've put ourselves in a place where we have everything to play for still," Cedergren said. "We need to finish strong. The Kentucky men's soccer program hasn't won a title since 2004, so it's about time for us to do it again."
Bud Dupree is among 22 Wildcats who will participate in Senior Day festivities before UK's game vs. Georgia on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Bud Dupree heard the cliches from his older teammates about how he should treasure his time at Kentucky because of how quickly it would pass.
"I remember when I was a freshman and all the upperclassmen were telling me that it would fly by. I kind of just brushed it off, just thinking they were talking."
Three years later, Dupree has changed his tune.
"But now that I'm in their shoes, I'm telling the freshmen now everything's gonna fly by," Dupree said.
Dupree, now second in school history with 21.5 career sacks, will be one of 22 players honored as part of Senior Day festivities before UK's game against Georgia at noon ET on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The star defensive end/linebacker will have family up from his hometown of Irwinton, Ga., including both of his parents, and knows it will be an emotional day, though his focus is elsewhere.
"I try not to think about it, because I don't want to get soft, you know?" Dupree said.
Dupree doesn't want to "get soft" because the Wildcats (5-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) have an important game to play. UK, having lost three straight against tough league opponents, will try once again for bowl eligibility.
"It would mean a lot to me as well as the fellow seniors to go out on Senior Night, last game at Commonwealth, and win," Dupree said. "Just get the program another boost that we have been working so hard for and just put us in the (position) to get to a different, a bigger bowl. At the end of the day, that's the goal, just get to a bowl and just keep winning games, one week at a time."
This week, the No. 17 Georgia (6-2, 4-2 SEC) presents the challenge at hand. The Bulldogs are coming off a 38-20 defeat against Florida, but likely only makes them more dangerous.
"They bring a very good football team," Mark Stoops said. "I think they bring a power running team that we know has hurt us in the past as well. They can run the heck out of the football. They're very talented. They can throw it. They're very balanced. They're playing great defense."
Georgia will once again be without star running back Todd Gurley, who is serving the last of a four-game suspension for a violation of team rules, but Nick Chubb has gained at least 174 yards from scrimmage in the three games Gurley has missed. The Bulldogs, in other words, have been effective on the ground no matter who has carried the load, ranking third in the SEC with 250.2 rushing yards per game.
"Georgia is very multiple on offense and they can do a lot of things in a lot of different ways with different players," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "So you have to prepare for them and be able to defend them in a lot of different looks and versus a lot of different plays. So that's quite a challenge."
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs present a similarly stiff test. Georgia is fourth in the SEC in total defense, allowing just 336.1 yards per game.
"They're very talented up front," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I think when you talk about the best teams in our league, much like Missouri, the ability of their guys up front. They have length."
UK, of course, struggled on offense against Missouri. Patrick Towles was sacked just twice, but faced regular pressure in the pocket and completed just 19-of-37 passes for 158 yards after a big game the previous week against top-ranked Mississippi State.
"Georgia is going to present a real problem to us because, first of all, they're not going to give you anything," Stoops said. "They're one of those aggressive defenses. They're very well coached. They're not going to give you anything easy."
To overcome that, Stoops said there is no "magical little scheme." Of course UK's coaches can refine and enhance the game plan, but this week has been about challenging the Cats more than anything else.
"It comes down to winning some matchups," Stoops said. "If you just watch them, take a couple examples, they need a third and five or something, they're going to create space, they're going to catch it and get it. We get covered and there's nowhere to throw the ball."
Stoops has delivered that message all week, starting on Monday with the first team meeting after the Missouri loss. Dupree called the scene "ugly," but necessary.
"Coach Stoops said he was going to give it to us, and he did," Dupree said. "He did exactly what he said. But we needed that. You need a reality check sometimes and guys need to be called out for situations that they were in and things they do on the field - and off the field."
That challenge would be more difficult to respond to if they Cats hadn't already proven themselves capable of winning those individual battles against the likes of Mississippi State, South Carolina and Florida.
"We've just gotta be more consistent as a whole," Towles said. "We've had some really good games; we've had some not-so-good games. We just gotta holistically execute better."
To that end, Stoops has relied on a "special group" of seniors UK will bid farewell to on Saturday as he has all season.
"I think it's important to show some leadership and some character," Stoops said. "We need those guys to step up and push us over the top, push the younger guys to, again, be more disciplined, to do the little things right, to create those winning habits."
Dupree and his fellow seniors have balanced a lot this week, from thinking about the approach end of their college careers to planning time with family to leading their team, but Saturday will be all about one thing.
"It's going to be a lot of emotions flying around, but we just gotta bottle all that up and focus on the win," Dupree said.
Kentucky continued its work ahead of a Senior Day matchup with Georgia on Wednesday. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot left the practice field happy with the Wildcats' effort.
"We had a good day of practice," Eliot said. "Kids were into it, flying around, good and physical. It was a good Wednesday; it's what we're looking for."
The coaching staff is getting what it wants out of practice on the heels of a performance at Missouri that Mark Stoops said was among the most disappointing of his two-year tenure. Unsurprisingly, that drew Stoops' ire in the team's first meeting of the week on Monday.
"It was ugly," senior Bud Dupree said. "Coach Stoops said he was going to give it to us and he did exactly what he said. But we needed that. You need a reality check sometimes."
Dupree certainly would rather have avoided that reality check, but he knows it was necessary.
"At the end of the day, he still cares," Dupree said. "But that shows a lot that he cares that much about us that he really thought we could win the games that we've been losing. It was coming and the time couldn't be at a better point in the season."
With three games remaining and therefore three more chances at gaining bowl eligibility, Eliot says the Cats have "responded well."
"They got the message and they came out in practice all week and have focused on being disciplined and doing the little things right, practiced hard and paid attention to detail," Eliot said.
UK will call on that work on Saturday at noon ET when the No. 17 Bulldogs come to town.
"Georgia is very multiple on offense and they can do a lot of things in a lot of different way with different players," Eliot said. "So you have to prepare for them and be able to defend them in a lot of different looks and versus a lot of different plays. So that's quite a challenge."
Throughout the fall, each UK gymnast will share her thoughts about the upcoming 2015 season, what it's like being a Division I student-athlete at Kentucky and what makes being a Wildcat so special. Please note that these posts are the student-athletes' personal reactions and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Kentucky or UK Athletics.
Next up is junior Montana Whittle, a native of Lincoln, Neb. Whittle talks about some of the non-athletic team bonding activities the team has done this year. From going bowling and community service projects, the team chemistry is better then ever thanks to the team spending more time together away from the gym.
A full archive of all the gymnast's "In Their Own Words" entries can be found here.
This year, we have been doing a lot more non-athletic team bonding activities which has really created a good chemistry within the team. From community service projects and organized team activities to informal things put together by the upperclassmen, I have noticed a difference in this team. Doing things together and hanging out more voluntarily has made us closer, and therefore we are working together better. Our team chemistry and ability to work well together as a team is all really important for competing well together.
Having spent more time together as a team, we have gotten to know each other better, which helps develop that good chemistry. This makes it easier to trust each other and know what we need from each other to get better in the gym. Whether you are the type of person that needs encouragement, needs someone to be hard on you, or needs someone to tell you everything's going to be ok, we will be able to fulfill those individual needs better by knowing each other's personalities.
In the past, I personally wasn't as close with each one of my teammates as I am now. We were close as a team in the gym and on the road, but outside of team events, we did not hang out together, all of us as a team. At the end of last year, we went to Tim and said that we wanted to do more team bonding activities and things that would make us closer as a team. The coaching staff has really taken that on and helped us get those opportunities.
The time we spend together outside of the gym has really forged those bonds between us as teammates to a whole new level. We are more apt to hang out with each other as a team outside of the gym, not just the teammates that we live with. We are one team, in and out of the gym, that share the same goals and are fighting for the same thing in practice.
My favorite team bonding activity was a surprise organized by the coaches. Tim had us all get ready for practice, taped up and all, and then he told us we were going bowling instead of practicing. That was really fun. Kirsten beat me on the last couple of bowls in the first game, and in the second game, Tim went crazy and beat all of us. At first we thought he was terrible, but he was letting Reese, his son who is a toddler, play for him. That was probably the most exciting thing we did, especially because it was a surprise and broke from routine.
Doing community service work with Habitat for Humanity was also a really cool experience. About a month ago, we helped a family finish building their home, which was the first of several community service projects we have done this fall. It felt great to help a family build a home, and to be able to do that together as a team was a neat experience.
Because of the team bonding and working together, everyone a lot more prepared. Especially with the chemistry going, there's a really good vibe every day in the gym. There's a nice flow and energy to practice.
After a strong end to last season and a great start to the fall, both in and out of the gym, we are feeling more confident in each other as a team. The freshmen have really helped with that too. They came in confident with their skills, and they bring a lot to the team. Together, we have all grown over the past year and had a lot of improvements. Everyone is confident in what they can do, and when you put that together we can accomplish anything.
Together, we will keep getting stronger as a team, both in and out of the gym. When it comes time for competition to start in January, we'll be ready.
While six of Kentucky's 11 NFL alumni spent the weekend at home enjoying their respective teams' bye weeks, the remaining five former Cats went home with losses in NFL Week 9. Fullback John Conner's New York Jets fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 24-10, while offensive tackle Garry Williams and the Carolina Panthers lost to the New Orleans Saints, 28-10.
With Denver Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan sidelined by injury, only two UK skill players saw the field on Sunday:
Cats in the Spotlight
Stevie Johnson | #13 WR | San Francisco 49ers (4-4) Despite three catches for 41 yards from Stevie Johnson, the 49ers fumbled away a chance for a go-ahead touchdown with only two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. San Francisco was upset by the St. Louis Rams, 13-10. Jacob Tamme | #84 TE | Denver Broncos (6-2) In what was perhaps an even more surprising outcome than the conclusion of the 49ers-Rams matchup, the AFC West-leading Broncos were embarrassed by the New England Patriots on the road in Foxboro, Mass. Targeted five times by quarterback Peyton Manning, Jacob Tamme connected on one recpetion for 10 yards. Tom Brady's Patriots emerged victorious, 43-21.
With the NBA a week into the 2014-15 season, several former Wildcats have dominated national headlines throughout the league.
First, Julius Randle entered his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the most disturbing fashion imaginable. After logging just 14 minutes of play in the season opener against Houston Randle went down with a broken tibia in his right leg.
Randle's injury will leave him out of action for the remainder of his rookie season. But after being selected as the seventh overall pick in last June's draft the power forward is expected to play a significant role in rebuilding the Lakers back up to a championship level franchise.
Randle being carted off the court on opening night stole the attention away from what was a very strong outing from Terrence Jones, who has now solidified himself in a starting role for the Houston Rockets next to All-Star center Dwight Howard. Jones posted 16 points and 13 rebounds against the Lakers and has shown no signs of slowing down through week one.
Jones has been the answer for what was a failed experiment last season in Houston when the Rockets attempted to play Howard and 7-foot center Omer Asik side-by-side in the frontcourt. This offseason Asik decided to go elsewhere and he ended up in New Orleans where he combined with All-Star forward Anthony Davis on opening night for 40 points, 34 rebounds and 14 blocks as the Pelicans defeated the Magic 101-84.
Davis came into the season with sky-high expectations and after a near triple-double in game one, and a 30 and 15 outing in game two, the 6-10 star is more than living up to his No. 3 player ranking by ESPN.
Another ultra-talented big man having his way in the Western Conference is fifth-year pro DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings have been mediocre at best during the first three years of his career, but after winning a gold medal this summer in the FIBA World Championships in Spain with Team USA, Cousins - now 24 years old - seems more than ready to change the culture in Sac-town.
The Kings' week one schedule was arguably the most difficult in the entire league as they faced off against three Western Conference playoff teams from a year ago, recording a 2-1 record in those games. Most recently Sacramento began a two-game road trip on Sunday with a gritty win over heated rival the Clippers at Staples Center. It was a statement game for the 6-11 center as he finished with 34 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. If Boogie can combine consistent contributions like this with his goal of just five technical fouls this whole season, it will be impossible to keep him out of the All-Star game in April.
Two former Cats who are considered to be locks to represent the eastern conference in the All-Star game are point guards Rajon Rondo and John Wall.
Rondo's availability for the season opener was in question all entire offseason after suffering a hand injury, but the Celtics' floor general has not missed a beat in his first two outings. Averaging just shy of a triple-double after the first week, Rondo is among the league leaders for point guards in several statistical categories, a feat that is not likely to change as the season advances.
John Wall has posted a double-double in each of the Wizards' first three games. That sort of production will almost certainly continue as Wall carries the load for his young team during the first several weeks of the season without backcourt running mate Bradley Beal. Washington is looking to build on last season's playoff run and Wall will be the centerpiece for whatever success the Wizkids enjoy in 2014-15.
Wall's former Kentucky teammate Eric Bledsoe was a hot topic this offseason as experts debated whether or not he was worth the max contract he desired. In the end, Bledsoe was able to reach a five-year deal worth $70 million. Now in his fifth year in the league, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound guard has set out to shake off the injury woes that have defined his career to this point and drag his team in Phoenix to a playoff appearance in the West for the first time since 2010.
Entering the 2014-15 NBA season, Kentucky has 19 ex-players on 16 different rosters. Cat Scratches will provide a unique inside look at former UK fan favorites, as well as a detailed TV schedule and updated statistics as the season moves along.
Stats through games on Sunday, Nov. 2)
Rajon Rondo, Boston - 8.5 PPG, 10 APG, 8.5 RPG, 2 SPG James Young, Boston - Earned a DNP in season opener, scored six points in six minutes in game two Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte - 11.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG in three starts Nazr Mohammed, Chicago - DNP for the Bulls in week one Jodie Meeks, Detroit - Out 8 weeks with a back injury Terrence Jones, Houston - 16.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG Julius Randle, LA Lakers - scored two points in 14 minutes off the bench before sustaining a season-ending leg injury on opening night Tayshaun Prince, Memphis - 4 PPG, 2 RPG in 18 minutes per game Brandon Knight, Milwaukee - 19.7 PPG, 9 APG, 6.7 RPG Anthony Davis, New Orleans - 28.5 PPG, 16 RPG, 6 BPG, 2.5 SPG Darius Miller, New Orleans - DNP for the Pelicans in week one Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia - 7.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.3 BPG in three starts Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix - 12.7 PPG, 6.7 APG, 6.3 RPG Archie Goodwin, Phoenix - 2.5 PPG, 1.5 APG in 10 minutes per game DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento - 23.7 PPG, 12.3 RPG Patrick Patterson, Toronto - 4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG in 21 minutes per game Chuck Hayes, Toronto - grabbed three rebounds in 12 minutes in his only appearance in week one Enes Kanter, Utah - 8 PPG, 3.7 RPG in three games as a starter John Wall, Washington - 21.7 PPG, 11 APG, 4.7 RPG, 3 SPG in more than 37 minutes per game
Week two TV schedule
This week's nationally televised games featuring former UK players:
Tuesday: Houston (Terrence Jones) @ Miami 7:30 p.m. on NBA TV Wednesday: Indiana @ Washington (John Wall) 8:00 p.m. on ESPN Thursday: San Antonio @ Houston (Terrence Jones) 8:00 p.m. on TNT Friday: Memphis (Tayshaun Prince) @ Oklahoma City 8:00 p.m. on ESPN Saturday: New Orleans (Anthony Davis, Darius Miller) @ San Antonio 8:30 p.m. on NBA TV Sunday: Philadelphia (Nerlens Noel) @ Toronto (Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson) 7:00 p.m. on NBA TV
Shelby Workman had 10 kills in UK's sweep of Morehead State on Monday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
A scheduling quirk made for a strange week for the Kentucky volleyball team.
The Wildcats, accustomed to having matches on Fridays and Saturdays, spent their weekend practicing instead of playing following a sweep of rival Tennessee on Wednesday.
"Pretty unusual, actually," head coach Craig Skinner said. "It's kind of weird going through a weekend without playing a match."
For that reason, UK scheduled a match with in-state foe Morehead State on Monday to bridge the gap between the Tennessee win and the Cats' return to Southeastern Conference play on Friday against Georgia. Kentucky came in the heavy favorite and performed accordingly in a sweep.
"When on paper you should win a match it's hard to always be focused the entire way," Skinner said. "For us to--I don't think we had any hitting errors in set three. ... For us to be able to do that and sustain it through three sets I think is good."
After a competitive first set, the Cats were dominant. UK outscored the visitors 50-26 in the final two sets behind an efficient offensive effort. The Cats hit a season-high .449 as a team in reaching the 20-win plateau for the seventh time in eight seasons and fourth in a row.
"I guess I don't think a whole lot about it, but it's the next win," Skinner said. "As we go down the stretch, I think some matches down the road are more important, Georgia obviously being the first one this weekend (in the) middle of a home stretch, which is nice to kind of get some confidence, get some training in."
UK used Monday's match as a training ground of sorts, testing out a new scheme with its two middle blockers, playing 13 total players and getting some important work for Shelby Workman.
"We were able to try some different things," Skinner said. "We've been trying to smooth some things out with Shelby and trying to get some people some playing time in different scenarios. We were able to do that and rest a couple people that have been banged up a little bit. So it was nice to be able to take care of business."
Workman responded, hitting .444 and tallying 10 kills. She trailed only Lauren O'Conner, who followed back-to-back 19-kill performances with an efficient 11-kill effort. O'Conner, it seems, is intent on making the final weeks of her decorated UK career count.
"She's just a veteran leader," Skinner said. "She's confident hitting any shot. She's just really proving herself right now as a true (No. 1 left-side hitter), someone that can carry the offensive load when you need it, which relieves some stress off your setter and also relieves some stress of your other hitters. She's playing well and playing with a lot of confidence."
Almost two years into his Kentucky tenure, Mark Stoops has become famous for his fire.
That passion, one of the driving forces behind the progress of the UK program, is most often seen on the sideline on Saturday, but this week it made an earlier appearance.
Stoops, at his regular Monday press conference, minced no words in evaluating his team's performance in a loss over the weekend and spoke in no uncertain terms about what the Wildcats need to do over the final month of the regular season.
The gathered media, noting his frustration, wondered what Stoops would be like when he met with his team later in the day.
"You can stand out in the street and you'll hear," Stoops said.
Stoops isn't angry for the sake of being angry either. He sees a UK team that has fallen to 5-4 (2-4 Southeastern Conference) but still has every opportunity to address the discipline issues that plagued the Cats in a deflating 20-10 loss at Missouri.
"I feel like our players and our coaches, starting with me, we have a choice in that matter," Stoops said. "We either choose to be disciplined or we choose to be undisciplined. We either choose to be a trained football team and us as a coaching staff need to train them."
To Stoops, that all comes down to details.
"If you're supposed to run a six-step out, run it six, not eight," Stoops said. "If you're supposed to follow the guard on a run play, follow the guard, not just run anywhere you want to run. That's what I mean by 'untrained.' It's creating those habits and training to play when you're under pressure. When we're under pressure, our habits come right to the surface and they're bad habits."
In the midst of three straight losses, the mood around UK football is much different than it was after a 5-1 start that generated talk of the Cats contending for the SEC Eastern Division crown. But just as things weren't as good as they seemed three weeks ago, they aren't as bad as they seem right now.
"We just need to be better," Stoops said. "We're inconsistent. The wheels aren't falling off; we barely had them on."
UK, in other words, is still very much in development mode.
"We've got to scratch and claw and fight and dig down for everything that we get," Stoops said. "To think that you're going to go out there and hope that they happen, we're mistaken. I constantly talk about that. We cannot wait for our moment. We've got to train to go take it and make our moment."
The Cats have three chances left to make their moment in the regular season, starting with a Senior Day matchup against No. 17 Georgia at noon ET on Saturday. The Bulldogs (6-2, 4-2 SEC) suffered a 38-20 defeat at the hands of Florida over the weekend, but remain a major challenge for any opponent.
"They bring a very good football team," Stoops said. "I think they bring a power running team that we know has hurt us in the past as well. They can run the heck out of the football. They're very talented. They can throw it. They're very balanced. They're playing great defense."
Georgia is the only team to rank in the top four in the SEC in both scoring offense and scoring defense, relying on a ground attack that averages 265.9 yards and a rushing defense that allows just 105.1 yards per game.
"Georgia is going to present a real problem to us because, first of all, they're not going to give you anything," Stoops said. "They're one of those aggressive defenses. They're very well coached. They're not going to give you anything easy. So you've got to go earn your yards. You have to win your one-on-ones."
In the wake of an offensive performance that saw the Cats gain just 258 yards, schemes and play calls have been popular topics, but not as much for Stoops. Of course the UK staff will work hard to craft a game plan that will position the Cats for success, but that's not the priority this week.
"There's no magical little scheme or anything like that," Stoops said. "You got to win. You got to block some people, get open, throw good footballs."
Depth chart update: Williams the new starter at running back
Following a game in which he accounted for 97 of UK's 258 yards from scrimmage, true freshman Stanley "Boom" Williams has moved by himself to the top of the depth chart at running back. Braylon Heard, Mikel Horton and Jojo Kemp follow him.
At wide receiver, there are numerous changes. Garrett Johnson is now listed as a starter at one of the four spots, along with Demarco Robinson, Javess Blue and Ryan Timmons. Joey Herrick has moved into a backup role behind Timmons, while T.V. Williams and Rashad Cunningham are no longer listed.
At quarterback, Drew Barker is no longer listed as a backup. Stoops confirmed on Monday the reason for that is it's too late in the season for the true freshman to burn his redshirt.
In the secondary, Fred Tiller and Blake McClain are still starters at cornerback and nickelback, respectively, in spite of suffering injuries at Missouri. Stoops said both are expected to be "fine" for Saturday.