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Get to know UK softball's Sylver Samuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite dessert? Ice cream ...

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

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

How do you like your eggs? Scrambled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that's kind of the point.

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

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

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

Take Karl-Anthony Towns as an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They changed that against Alabama.

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

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

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

Tough loss behind them, Cats on to Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to know UK softball's Nikki Sagermann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether that trend continues remains to be seen.

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

Get to know UK softball's Christian Stokes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your shoe size? 9

What is your favorite word? Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your worst fear? Heights

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

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

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

Andrew Harrison sharp in otherwise dull game

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Andrew Harrison had 15 points, three assists, three rebounds and three steals in UK's win at Missouri on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison had 15 points, three assists, three rebounds and three steals in UK's win at Missouri on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On a night that lacked rhythm from start to finish and was frankly fairly ugly, Andrew Harrison's game was anything but.

"Andrew Harrison, look at how he played today," John Calipari said. "Drew fouls, ran our team."

Harrison was excellent in a rematch with Missouri, needing just four field-goal attempts to score a team-high 15 points. He got to the line 11 times, making nine, and added three assists, three rebounds and three steals.

All told, he was the biggest reason why No. 1 UK moved to 20-0 (7-0 Southeastern Conference) with a 69-53 win over the home-standing Tigers (7-13, 1-6 SEC) on Saturday night.

"He did a great job of running his team," Calipari said.

It was a confidence-boosting performance for a player who Coach Cal often says is too hard on himself.

Harrison entered the game shooting just 32.7 percent from the field and 21.9 percent over his previous 10 outings. The difference, in his mind, is simple.

"Just being more aggressive, really," Harrison said. "Being more aggressive and having more confidence in myself, so attack the rim and stuff like that."

Simple as that may be, it's not always easy to put into practice. That's why Coach Cal has so consistently pounded the idea into his sophomore point guard's head.

"It's like I said: You have the green light to go play basketball, but not mess around with the ball," Calipari said. "Go by people, get fouled and no one's stopping you."

Coach Cal has compared Harrison to a former pupil in that respect, saying he falls victim to the same kind of sensitivity as Derrick Rose did when it comes to his own failure. The difference, says Calipari, is that Harrison isn't yet able to consistently turn that into something positive.

"He is too self-critical," Calipari said. "And it's OK to be self-critical if you're using it to improve yourself. But if you use it--your inner dialogue buries you, then you gotta change your inner dialogue."

As a result, Harrison has struggled at times. The same, however, is true for most all his teammates.

"What's happened for this team, all year guys have played poorly (at times) and we've still won," Calipari said. "So maybe it was Dakari (Johnson). Maybe it was Karl(-Anthony Towns). Maybe it was Willie (Cauley-Stein). Maybe it was Marcus Lee. Maybe it was guards. Maybe it was Andrew. Maybe it was Tyler (Ulis), who couldn't play against Mississippi at the end of the game. Maybe it was Devin (Booker), today and in a few games early in the year where he just played awful."

The latest player to find himself mired in a short-term slump is Cauley-Stein, who managed only two points and three rebounds. Harrison can relate to his 7-foot teammate, and that makes him certain Cauley-Stein will come out on the other end of it.

"You're going to have your up and down games," Harrison said. "Just like myself, I haven't been playing well either. So Willie will be fine. Willie will do him and he'll be just fine. I can promise you that."

In the meantime, the Cats are going to try to keep piling up Ws no matter who's playing well and who isn't.

"Well, it's OK," Calipari said. "We can win without you. Just play hard. Play with energy. And that's, I think, what makes this team pretty good."

Get to know UK softball's Darington Richardson

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darington richardson.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 outfielder Darington Richardson played in every game this fall and showed her superior athleticism in the outfield. Richardson, who was injured her freshman season and only played in 26 games, played in 59 games with six starts last season, stealing six bases and scoring 19 runs. The slapper led Kentucky with three triples and added four RBI.

For her career, Richardson has played in 85 games with seven starts, adding 12 stolen bases and 39 runs scored. In 2014, Richardson had a career game vs. Loyola Marymount with two hits, including her first career triple and two runs scored. In NCAA Tournament play, Richardson scored a run and stole a base in the NCAA Lexington Regional before scoring two runs as a pinch running in the NCAA Super Regional.

A two-year member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll, Richardson is majoring in biology with pre-med aspirations.

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

What is your nickname? Dari

Do you have any pets? Yes. I loved the movie Life of Pi so much that I bought a kitten after my freshman season and named him Richard Parker.

What is your favorite word? Swagestic - it's a mixture of swag and majestic.  It's the perfect combination, kind of like sweet and salty.

What talents do you have besides softball? I am a professional air guitarist.  

What is one thing you could tell us about yourself that others would be shocked to know? I was a ballerina from when I was 4 years old until I was 18.

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? I would permanently eliminate any 6 a.m. activities.

When was the last time you were moved to tears? After receiving an A on my physics final ...  

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I would love to learn how to have a photographic memory. Being a biology/pre-med major ain't no joke, no lie ...

If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to? Delicious

After softball, what would be your dream job?
I would love to be a plastic surgeon.

What is your favorite dessert? Hands down my Mom's soul sister chocolate cake with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Best dancer on the team is... Myself. Definitely.

Favorite actor/actress? Denzel Washington is the man!

What actor/actress would play you in a movie? Probably Jennifer Lopez ...

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now?
J. Cole

What song gets you pumped up for a game? Anything written by Atlanta's very own Migos ...

What did you do growing up that always got you into trouble? I always tried to turn my younger siblings into servants.

Who is your favorite professor at UK and why? Jim Krupa - he made evolution so interesting by incorporating modern pop culture into the information, making every lecture comical and easy to remember.

What three things do you think of most each day? My family, my future and how I'm going to make my dreams become realities.

How did you get your name? My Mom used to be a flight attendant, and one day while working she overheard some pilots talking.  One of the older men said he was planning on changing his name to Darington Hunter, and my mother liked the name so much that she decided her first child - boy or girl - would be named Darington Hunter.


Matthew Mitchell has never been afraid of a little self-reflection.

His latest look in the mirror came after Kentucky lost at LSU 10 days ago.

"Baton Rouge was a big wake-up call for me because as I looked at the film, it was not a team that was playing with a great desire and it was not a team playing with a lot of fire or that was playing particularly sharp," Mitchell said. "That's all on me."

Particularly when it comes to his young group of post players, the season has brought more than its share of frustration for Mitchell. With coaching departed veterans Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth still so fresh in his mind, he couldn't help it.

"What I noticed and what I think it was not helpful was grading them and comparing them to past teams," Mitchell said. "That got us into a spot where I was probably more negative than I needed to be with our post players."

Ahead of a showdown with No. 6 Tennessee (17-3, 7-0 Southeastern Conference), Mitchell has changed his approach accordingly.

"I need to have an atmosphere in practice and around the program where they will fight, play hard and give you everything that they have," Mitchell said. "I just got the post players together last week and talked with them. It's not a matter of whether they can or they can't. It's a matter of whether they will or they won't."

Mitchell is learning to accept mistakes as he teaches, and also to simplify what he asks of freshmen Alexis Jennings, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers and Alyssa Rice.

"That doesn't mean it can't be good," Mitchell said. "That doesn't mean we can't win tomorrow night. We just have to do what we've been working on real well and we have to play extremely hard and we have to outwork Tennessee and we have to play a lot harder than Tennessee."

Though the goal with the Lady Volunteers coming to Memorial on Thursday at 7 p.m. is of course to win, No. 10 Kentucky (16-4, 5-2 SEC) doesn't view the path to victory as any different than it would be for another opponent. UK-Tennessee remains a rivalry with conference race implications, but the Cats have more immediate priorities.

"The worst thing I can do is go in and tell Alexis Jennings, 'We've gotta get in here and beat Tennessee and if we don't beat Tennessee, the world's gonna stop turning,' " Mitchell said. "She's got enough in her brain right now just knowing what she's got to do in ball-screen defense and what she needs to be doing in the press and what she needs to be doing in our offensive sets that I really haven't put a lot of emphasis on the game, not because we don't respect Tennessee or we don't think it's a very big deal."

Facing Tennessee is a big deal for another reason as well.

The Lady Volunteers, led by seniors Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison and juniors Bashaara Graves and Nia Moore, are dominant, physical and experienced in the frontcourt. Tennessee has an average rebounding margin of plus-nine and has shot 158 more free throws than its opponents this season.

"Where Tennessee poses a great challenge is very important," Mitchell said. "If we want to be a really good team at the end of the year, we're going to play teams like Tennessee that are going to go to the offensive glass and are going to be tough and they're going to be physical in the post. So it's a great opportunity for our post players to compete and to see where they stack up right now."

Regardless of the outcome, Thursday won't be the end of the line for the Cats or their developing post players.

"It's an important game. It's an important rivalry," Mitchell said. "I just haven't had a lot of time to work that angle because we've got so many things this team needs to do and improve on. We're trying. We've got 32 days until Senior Day and we're just trying to build every day on some improvement and see what we can become at the end of the season."

Devin Booker and UK will travel to Missouri for a rematch with the Tigers on Thursday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics) Devin Booker and UK will travel to Missouri for a rematch with the Tigers on Thursday. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics)
Kentucky entered its first matchup with Missouri a heavy favorite and the game proceeded accordingly.

Two weeks later, it's time for the rematch. The result, then, would figure to be the same, right?

John Calipari isn't so sure.

"There's a reason you play the games," Calipari said. "The last score does not matter. Whether you won or lost has no bearing on the game you're about to play, especially in college."

Well, maybe some bearing after all. The Tigers (7-12, 1-5 Southeastern Conference), says Coach Cal, will be smarting a bit when the top-ranked Wildcats (19-0, 6-0 SEC) come to Columbia, Mo., on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET, not far removed from an 86-37 loss.

"I think the last game helps them a lot more than it helps us," Calipari said. "Probably stung them a little bit."

Marcus Lee, who has earned a more regular role in recent weeks by playing with the kind of inexorable energy Calipari demands of the 6-foot-9 sophomore, believes the same.

"They're just going to try to go twice as hard and just go at us like there's nothing else to lose," Lee said. "That's how everybody has to go throughout each game no matter who you're playing."

Also working in Missouri's favor is the site of Thursday's game. Rather than dealing with a hostile road crowd in Rupp Arena, the Tigers will be playing in the familiar surroundings of Mizzou Arena.

"It's totally different," Devin Booker said. "It's a road game. So our fans back at Rupp, they helped us a lot during that game, so I feel like their fans are going to try to do the same for them, so we just have to play against ourselves again. That's been like the topic of the season is playing against ourselves and not worrying about who our opponent is."  

Booker, the three-time defending SEC Freshman of the Week, has embraced that attitude, but he won't be able to help but think about UK's opponent this time around.

His father, Melvin, was an All-American at Missouri in the early 1990s. To add fuel to the fire, Booker was recruited by Missouri starting when he was in middle school and has attended "four or five" games there.

"I've actually seen some pretty big games there--when they beat Kansas at their place, so it's a crazy environment," Booker said. "The student section showed me a lot of love. I'm sure it'll be different now, but I understand, so it's all good."

If anyone can cope with that, it's Booker.

The freshman guard has been unflappable so far in his UK career, averaging 14.5 points on 56.3-percent shooting (52.6 percent from 3) in four true road games. Those games have come during an extended hot streak that's spanned more than six weeks, as Booker has hit 22-of-33 3-point tries over his last nine games to bring his season shooting percentage to .500.

"That's pretty salty," said Missouri head coach Kim Anderson, who was an assistant at Missouri when Booker's father played there.

Along the way, Booker has refused to take any heat checks normally expected of a shooter in such a rhythm. That includes the first Missouri matchup, in which Booker attempted only two field goals.

"I've based my game off, my whole life, playing the right way and doing what I have to do to win," Booker said. "So if that was shooting the ball only, what, two times, then that's what I had to do. So just make the most out of it scoring, but if scoring isn't what I have to do then I'm fine with it. We won by 49, so I'm totally OK with it."

Booker, no matter whether he's shooting or not, has proven himself to be willing to do whatever is asked of him, even on defense. Coach Cal might not have believed he would be able to defend as well as he has during the recruiting process, but Booker is making an impact on both ends now.

"I saw his dad after the South Carolina game and I said to Melvin, 'Look, I never thought he would defend this way,' " Booker said. " 'Do you remember me coming and watching you and your friends -- 45-year olds -- playing against your son? He couldn't guard anybody in that game.' Now all of a sudden, he's guarding."

Booker was relied so heavily to score in high school that defense was never a priority. Now playing on a deep team on a historic defensive pace, his mentality has changed.

"I feel like it's come a long way," Booker said. "Me and my dad talked about it a lot in high school that, you know, when I get to the next level I'm going to have to defend, so it's something I've focused on. I've figured out it's more of any effort thing than a skill, so if you out your effort towards it, it'll become easier."

Booker's defense will be tested against Missouri, as highly touted freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar is back in the lineup and playing well after a three-game absence that included the first UK game. Gill-Caesar is second on the team in scoring at 10.8 points per game after scoring 16 on 3-of-3 3-point shooting in 61-60 loss against Arkansas over the weekend.

If you needed any more proof of Gill-Caesar's ability, Coach Cal recruited him.

"He was a great kid," Calipari said. "Hard worker, very competitive, tough. He will mix it up. This will change the complexion of the game. They needed one more guy to mix it up and that's what he'll do. Plus, he can score. He can score baskets for them, which they struggled (with). "

Calipari is concerned about contending with Gill-Caesar, but his primary focus is elsewhere, as it has been all season.

"I would say for us I'm just focused on us getting better," Calipari said. "That's all it is. Trying some new stuff and messing around and getting these guys to continue to compete against one another."

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