Cat Scratches

Recently in Features Category

Saturday, the Kentucky swimming and diving team will honor its 12 seniors before the Wildcats take on in-state rival Louisville.

The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry already packs plenty of emotion and significance. No matter the sport, it's the one opponent on every UK team's schedule that you don't need help getting excited for.  Add in Senior Day, and it makes for an even bigger meet Saturday at the Lancaster Aquatics Center. Not to mention the postseason begins in less than a month.

Saturday is the last home meet for the 12 seniors. For Christina Bechtel, Christa Cabot, Michael Christian, Brent Dillon, Katrina Keirns, Lindsay Keahey, Blair Kuethe, Abby Myers, Robert Resch, Samantha Shaheen, Derrick Smith and Kristen Wilson, UK vs. U of L is one last time competing in the Lancaster Aquatics Center.

Hours upon hours in the pool for practice. Lap after lap, with a coaching change halfway through their four years.

Lars Jorgensen arrived in Lexington as an assistant coach for the 2012-13 season, and took over as the head coach the following season. As Jorgensen prepares to take the Wildcats into the postseason for the second time and continues to build the program, the impact of this year's senior class cannot be overstated.

"They've been awesome; it's really been tremendous," Jorgensen said of the 12 seniors. "I've been fortunate to have worked with them for three years now, one year as an assistant. Watching them grow as people and as athletes has been a lot of fun. I've loved coaching them. They're great."

It's a group of All-Americans and walk-ons, from as close as Lexington to as far away as Texas and Ontario, Canada. Their shared goal and aspiration to help bring their team to new heights has made this group of 12 student-athletes a tight-knit group.

They bought into his vision and direction for the program when Jorgensen took over two years ago. As his second season nears its peak, Jorgensen's championship mentality and goals have rubbed off on his team.

From record times in the pool to their leadership outside of it, the seniors are a big reason why Jorgensen has taken the Wildcats so far in just two seasons.

It's the perfect mix of leadership and immense athletic talent for a team that has more freshmen (27) than juniors and seniors combined (21).

"They are good people, good citizens and good athletes," Jorgensen said. "We are going to have some big shoes next year to fill. But I think they have been instrumental in helping shape and help turning around the program. We still have a long way to go, but I think that's one of the things that this class in particular, both the men and women's teams, have done is started the transition on becoming more competitive."

Saturday will be an opportunity to honor the 12 Wildcats that signal the start of that transition that began last year.

While several swimmers have already earned NCAA "A" or "B" qualifying times, the next month, with a meet at Cincinnati next weekend before the SEC Championships in the middle of February, is when the competition really heat up. The Wildcats will have an opportunity to add to their total that have qualified for the NCAA Championships, therefore giving them a better chance at improving on last year's 23rd-place finish by the women and 37th-place showing by the men.

It's the teams' performance at the SEC Championships, held Feb. 17-21 in Auburn, Ala., and the NCAA Championships the following month, that will solidify the legacy of this year's senior class.

As Jorgensen continues to build the UK program on a daily basis, the team, led by its seniors, has embraced the change that their head coach has encouraged.

"I think change has got to start somewhere and they have been really good about that," Jorgensen said. "The big thing is creating a culture of expectations both in practice and meets and they've done that. They have been really instrumental in turning our program around. I hope we do hang some banners in the future, and would look back and say this year's seniors had a big impact."

The legacy of the 2014-15 senior class 10 years from now might be unknown, but all signs point to one that leaves a lasting impact on their team and university.

Andrew Harrison and Kentucky travel to face South Carolina on Saturday. (Bob Leverone, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison and Kentucky travel to face South Carolina on Saturday. (Bob Leverone, UK Athletics)
How things have changed.

In early March of last year, Kentucky had suffered back-to-back losses and sat at 21-8. The second of the two was the most disappointing of the season, as the Wildcats fell behind by as many as 16 points en route to a 72-67 loss at South Carolina.

"I remember we lost," Andrew Harrison said. "It was tough. They were a very good team last year, but we didn't play as well as we should have."

The other Harrison twin, Aaron, would of course say after the loss that the remainder of the season would be "a great story," a promise that drew skepticism at the time only to prove prophetic.

Eleven months later, UK has lost just three games in 29 tries, two to top-ranked Florida and one in the national championship. The Cats, after falling just shy of the title, were back as the preseason No. 1 for 2014-15 and haven't lost since, running their record to 18-0 and reigniting the unbeaten talk that started the previous season.

Now they return to Columbia, S.C. But as much as things have changed, one thing remains the same.

"If we go down there and play like we did last year we'll lose again," Andrew Harrison said.

Last season, in spite of a 14-20 record, South Carolina was able to point to that late-season win over Kentucky as proof the Gamecocks were improving under Frank Martin. In his third season, South Carolina (10-7, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) is offering further proof ahead of Saturday's noon matchup with the Cats (18-0, 5-0 SEC).

"They take on Frank's personality," John Calipari said. "They're balling."

South Carolina has gotten off to a slow start in conference play, dropping four games and three by four points or fewer, but the Gamecocks still check in at No. 48 in's ratings, up almost 70 spots from a season ago. They have wins over Oklahoma State (by 26 points) and Iowa State from the powerhouse Big 12 on the strength of a defense that ranks 22nd nationally in points per possession allowed (0.906).

"They come right at you," Calipari said. "If you drive, you've got three guys running. As you run at them, they run at you. Frank, the one thing I've got to tell you as I watch his team - it's a great concept - they'll pressure you all over the place and deny wings."

The Gamecocks excel at contesting shots and forcing miscues, ranking in the top 40 nationally in both effective field-goal percentage defense and defensive turnover percentage. The Cats will have to respond.

"Got to be strong with the ball," Calipari said. "Got to play through bumps. You got to know that they're coming and find open men."

That's where having two of the nation's top point guards on one roster comes in handy.

UK's two-headed lead guard monster of Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis has combined to average 13 points and 7.7 assists. Both the 6-foot-6 sophomore and 5-9 freshman have had bright moments and a handful of off nights, but it's been Andrew Harrison who has more often drawn criticism.

"When it rains in Lexington, whose fault is it?" Calipari said. "Andrew's fault. There was a car accident on 75, whose fault is it? Andrew's fault. So that's just how it is right now and he has accepted it."

Not only has Andrew Harrison accepted that fact, he also takes joy in deflecting scrutiny away from his freshman teammates.

"I can take whatever anyone throws at me now," Andrew Harrison said. "I know whatever is said doesn't really matter. I've heard it all. I'm just starting to get my confidence back, and just knowing I'm the starting point guard or whatever and I can play just as well as anybody."

Andrew Harrison may be the starter, but that hasn't stopped Ulis from playing nearly 21 minutes per game, a total that's gone up in recent weeks with Calipari more often using them together. Among Coach Cal's many options, a favorite lineup of the two point guards, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson has emerged as a possibility for close-and-late situations.

"It puts two playmakers on the court with me and Andrew," Ulis said. "Then he can play-make it to the basket. It allows him to score more because I like to pass. And you know Book with his shooting ability, and us getting in the lane and finding him, it should be hard to stop us."

South Carolina will try nonetheless, surely confident from what happened not long ago.

"You just have to play your game," Andrew Harrison said. "You can't really worry about last year. Last year was last year. Now we have to go in there for another tough game against South Carolina."

Get to know UK softball's Rachael Metzger

| No TrackBacks | Add a Comment
Rachael Metzger.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.

One of two Californians on the team this season, Rachael Metzger showed great promise during the fall with two home runs and spelled senior catcher Griffin Joiner behind the plate. Metzger hit a home run in her first game during fall play and showed her versatility in eight games played by seeing time at first base, third base and catcher.

Metzger was a standout performer in high school for Garces Memorial High School, ending her career with a .545 batting average, 186 hits, 163 runs scored, 170 RBI, 38 doubles, 37 homers and struck out only 18 times, a ridiculously low total. Metzger has that winning mentality after leading her high school team to four straight California Central Section Division II SEYL League Championships.

On top of being a four-year, first-team all-league honoree and league offensive player of the year, Metzger also excelled in the classroom as the 2014 Bakersfield Jockey Club Outstanding Scholar-Athlete and GMHS Dante Alighieri Scholar-Athlete. Metzger was also active off the softball field, volunteering with special needs children and the homeless.

Come see Rachael 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  

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

What is your nickname?
My nickname on the team is Metz because if someone calls for Rachael, me and Coach Lawson both turn our heads to respond.

Do you have pets? I have a cat from France and he looks like he is wearing a tuxedo.

What is your shoe size? I wear a size 11. Big foot!

What is your favorite word? My favorite word is la mantequilla de cacahuete, which is Spanish for peanut butter. Try saying that five times fast!

What talents do you have besides softball? I have some artistic talent. I love to draw when I have time.

What is one thing you could tell us about yourself that others would be shocked to know? Before I started playing softball, I took tap dance and gymnastics lessons and quit because I complained about sweating too much.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? I love the family environment that Kentucky softball showed while I was visiting and I loved the coaching staff.

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? No running test. Ever.

When was the last time you were moved to tears?
When I watched the video about Lauren Hill and how she didn't give up on achieving her dream to play in a college basketball game despite her being very sick. Determination like that is something I greatly admire and I couldn't help but find myself in tears.

What is your biggest accomplishment to date? Being the first in my family to go to college and be able to play the sport I love at a higher level.

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

After softball, what would be your dream job? I want to travel the world and play in the Olympics, when they bring it back in 2020, or play international softball. After that, I want to make prosthetic legs/arms that connect to the nervous system for soldiers who have been wounded in battle.

What is your guilty pleasure? New York style cheesecake

Best dancer on the team is ...
I want to say Darington, but I think the team knows the real MVP is Griffin.

Favorite all-time move? Howl's Moving Castle

Favorite actor/actress? Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson

What actor/actress would play in a move? Ali Hillis

The most famous person you've ever met is ... Ali Hillis

How do you like your eggs?
As dry as they can possibly be while still tasting good ...

Do you collect anything?
I use to collect Pokémon cards ... I still have them.

Get to know UK softball's Brooklin Hinz

| No TrackBacks | 1 Comment
Brooklin Hinz.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.

On the heels of a strong showing this fall, true freshman outfielder Brooklin Hinz should provide some pop to the Wildcats lineup and depth to the UK outfield. The native of Olathe, Kansas, hit .357 during the fall with a double, home run and five RBI. Hinz added a .400 on-base percentage and .646 slugging percentage in seven fall games played.

The results this fall came as no surprise to head coach Rachel Lawson and Co., after Hinz dominated in high school for St. Thomas Aquinas. The outfielder ended her career by holding eight offensive school records, including a .561 career batting average with 174 hits, 21 home runs and 108 RBI. A state champion in high school, Hinz best season came her senior year when she hit .701 with eight homers.

Hinz is as good off the field as she in on the field, volunteering more than 100 hours of community service during high school. She was also a four-year member of her high school's academic honor roll.

Come see Brooklin 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

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

Do you have any pets? I have a yellow lab named Maggie.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? I chose Kentucky because I love the coaching staff and the team. It's one of the top programs in the country and I knew it would be a challenge.

If you had a Derby horse, what would you name it? I would name my horse Flash. I really have no reason for that name other than the fact that it sounds cool and that you would assume it would be fast.

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?
A dog and a pig ...

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I would love to learn how to sing or cook.

After softball, what would be your dream job?
A job in the medical field that would get to work with a sports team ...

Name three things you like?
Food, softball and movies ...

Name three things you dislike?
Spiders, cold weather and Chinese food ...

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime? I want to go either Fiji or Bora Bora.

Where is your favorite place on Earth?
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is my favorite place. I love the beaches and the city.

What do you typically have for breakfast?
I usually have a big glass of milk and cereal.

What is your favorite dessert?
A big piece of chocolate cake ...

Describe your perfect sandwich ... A turkey sandwich on white bread ...

What is your most memorable moment as a softball player so far? Either playing in the state championship my sophomore year or hitting a home run that Coach Lawson saw that eventually led me here to UK.

Favorite all-time movie? Remember the Titans.

What is one TV show you cannot miss? Pretty Little Liars

What is your worst fear?
Being buried alive ...

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

What three things do you think of most each day? When I'm going to eat, what I want to eat and softball ...

How did you get your name?
A guy at my dad's work mentioned the name and my parents liked it. Of course, it had to be different so they changed the 'y' to an 'i'.

Aaron Harrison scored all 14 of his points in the second half of UK's win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison scored all 14 of his points in the second half of UK's win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
John Calipari was talking about just one game, but he summed up Aaron Harrison's two seasons at Kentucky along the way.

"Aaron basically threw dagger after dagger," Coach Cal said.

Marcus Lee, speaking after Harrison's latest clutch display, did the same.

"If he's throwing it up, I'm gonna go shake hands with everybody else," Lee said.

Yet again, it was the sophomore shooting guard who sent UK (18-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) to the postgame handshake line victorious. He scored seven of the Wildcats' final nine points to seal a 65-57 win over Vanderbilt (11-7, 1-4 SEC).

"I think it's fun to be in that situation and it's fun to be the guy that people look to to take the big shot and make the big shot," Harrison said.

The big shot, on this Tuesday night, was a 3-pointer with 2:09 remaining.

The Commodores, who never wilted before a top-ranked UK team and a Rupp Arena crowd of 24,249, had just cut Kentucky's lead to four on a 3 by Matthew Fisher-Davis.

On the crucial possession, Devin Booker tried his hand at the big shot and missed from outside for just the ninth time in his last 29 tries. Harrison, however, kept the play alive with an offensive rebound, passed and drifted to the left corner, just a few feet from the wing where so many of his memorable makes have come from. The ball came to Booker, who with a small opening at another try from deep elected instead to pass on to Harrison.

Good choice.

"Devin made a great extra pass and I knew I had to make the shot and (be) ready and focused for it and knocked it down," Harrison said.

Harrison would hit two free throws in the final minute to bring his team-high scoring total to 14, a number he seemed unlikely to hit when he left the floor at halftime. At that point, he was scoreless, having taken just one shot in seven minutes as UK led 33-26.

The performance surely drew the kind of paint-peeling message you'd expect, but Coach Cal merely smiled and said he told Harrison he loved him. Harrison knew that was the sentiment behind what he heard from his coach, though those might not have been Calipari's exact words.

"I guess it's really, really, really tough love," Harrison said, drawing hearty laughs from the horde of reporters gathered around.

Whatever Calipari said, it worked. The Aaron Harrison who played the second half hardly resembled the one who was on the floor for the first 20 minutes.

"I think he played so well in the second half," Calipari said. "That's who he is."

For some, a first half like that makes a similarly poor second half a given, but not Harrison.

"I think it's just his confidence knowing that no matter what happens in the first half, the second half, he can come back and do what he needs to do," said Marcus Lee, who had six of his seven points in a flurry that sparked UK after a sluggish second-half start. "There are some players who when a couple bad things happen they just go in a hole. He knows he's good enough where he can just keep going."

Harrison kept going and carried UK down the stretch, but he was hardly alone.

His twin brother, Andrew, and Willie Cauley-Stein combined with him to score UK's final 15 points and it was the 7-footer who delivered when Vandy cut the lead to three with 5:06 left.

First, Cauley-Stein snagged one of his three steals, a familiar sight for arguably the nation's top defender. But on the other end of the floor, he showed something new. Receiving a pass a few feet inside the 3-point arc on the left wing, Cauley-Stein didn't hesitate in taking and making a jumper that prompted a double-take from even his coach.

"Willie did what Willie does," Calipari said. "Then he took that jumper and I know we all looked at each other like what in the world. But he's been practicing that. That's something that he's been working on."

Aaron Harrison, meanwhile, was happy to share the big-shot spotlight.

"I was really proud of Willie for even taking that shot because I know last year he wouldn't have even taken than shot," Aaron Harrison said. "So just to see him have the confidence to take that shot and make that shot, I'm excited for him and happy for him."

Cauley-Stein might not have been the likeliest suspect to make a clutch jumper, but you can now add him to the list of players capable of delivering a basket when it matters most.

That list, it's a long one.

"I don't think we have just one guy for that," Lee said. "I think we have a whole team that can do that. They're all complete finishers and have done that their whole lives. It just comes out natural."

After the Green Bay Packers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks in last Sunday's NFC Championship, Seahawks wide receiver Chris Matthews will be the only former Kentucky Wildcat competing in next month's Super Bowl XLIX. Despite limited playing time since being promoted from the Seattle practice squad, Matthews was able to make the biggest play of his young career in last Sunday's contest, keeping the Seahawks' season alive.

Playoff Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (12-4)
Cobb made seven catches for 62 yards in Green Bay's 28-22 overtime loss to the defending Super Bowl champions. Cobb recorded his first career playoff touchdown reception by way of a 13-yard Aaron Rodgers pass to end the first quarter, but it was not enough to break the historic Seahawks defense. Cobb will miss out on playing in the Super Bowl, but he was named to his first Pro Bowl as a consolation.

Chris Matthews | #13 WR | Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
With the Packers leading 19-7 with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled for a one-yard touchdown to bring the Seahawks within five. As a last-ditch effort for a chance to become the NFL's first back-to-back world champions since the '03-'04 New England Patriots, Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka successfully completed an onside kick that was recovered by the 6-foot-5 Matthews. Matthews' special teams heroism led the way for a come-from-behind overtime victory by Seattle, solidifying a second consecutive NFC Championship. The Seahawks will face the AFC Champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, February 1 in Glendale, Arizona.

Get to know UK softball's Erin Rethlake

| No TrackBacks | 2 Comments
Erin Rethlake3.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.

A true freshman from Huntington, Indiana, Erin Rethlake had a dazzling high school career at Huntington North High School. The left-handed pitcher won numerous awards in high school, including 2014 News-Sentinel Softball Player of the Year, 2014 Indiana Miss Softball and Gatorade Indiana Softball Player of the Year following her junior season.

Rethlake's best season came her junior season as she posted a 23-1 record with a 0.18 earned-run average and 317 strikeouts in 154 innings pitched. Although her senior season was cut short due to injury, Rethlake had a 13-2 record with a 0.80 ERA. Off the field, she was very active as a member of the National Honor Society, Student-Athlete Board, Huntington Class Council and Future Educators of America.

Rethlake projects to have an immediate impact on the UK pitching staff and could possible see time in the UK outfield when not in the circle. During the fall, Rethlake threw just over 10 innings with a 1.74 ERA, striking out 12 batters. At the plate, the true freshman hit .250 with four walks drawn.

Come see Erin 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

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

What is your shoe size? 10.5

What is your favorite word? Giggle, it has too many Gs in it and it is amusing to me.

What is one thing you could tell us about yourself that others would be shocked to know? I played the clarinet and alto saxophone in middle school and freshman year of high school.

Why did you choose to play softball at Kentucky? The family environment, the distance from home, the beautiful campus and also the competitive softball team ...

If you could trade places with Coach Lawson for one day, what would you do? I would cancel all of the running days for the entire team, forever.

Person that has most influenced your life and why? My little sister, Emily. She has overcome every obstacle she has ever been thrown and come out defeating every challenge. She sees the good in everyone and is a constant reminder to be thankful for everything I have been blessed with.

If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create? A giraffe and a koala, imagining what that would look like just makes me laugh ... every time!

If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Whistle ... I'm sick of not being able to join in when everybody else does it.

After softball, what would be your dream job? To be a speech therapist for special needs kids.

Name three things you like ... Food, sleeping and chocolate

Name three things your dislike ... Heights, sharks and scary movies

What trip would you like to take in your lifetime ... I really want to go to the island St. Lucia because I saw it on The Bachelor and decided that I would go there before I died.

Favorite actor/actress ... Sandra Bullock and Leonardo DiCaprio

What is one TV show you cannot miss? Nashville because I secretly wish I was a famous country singer.

What is your worst fear?
Sharks, even though I live in a completely landlocked state near zero sharks ...

What artist gets the most play on your iPod right now?
Usher. I don't even need to explain that one

Favorite saying or quote you like to live by ... The Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated

How do you like your eggs?
Sunny side up of course ...

Are you allergic to anything? Copper, so pennies and I aren't exactly friends.

What is your favorite class you have taken so far at UK? Not Greek Mythology ...

Derek Willis (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Derek Willis (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari often says there's no room for delusional players at Kentucky.

Derek Willis, then, picked the right school.

Asked on Monday what he needs to do to earn more playing time, Willis gave a refreshingly candid answer.

"I'm trying to be self-critical about everything right now, and I think just be more focused, just show that I really want to be here and I don't think, being honest, I've done that," Willis said.

The Mt. Washington, Ky., native, halfway through his sophomore season, has had a limited role on a top-ranked and historically deep UK team. Willis has seen action in nine games for the 17-0 (4-0 Southeastern Conference) Wildcats, most often in the final minutes of their frequent blowout wins.

Willis arrived in Lexington a highly regarded prospect, though without the McDonald's All-American credentials of most of his teammates. A star for Bullitt East High School, the 6-foot-9 forward had had to adjust to getting only spot duty.

"It's just kind of weird," Willis said. "I mean, you go your whole life playing and then you're just not playing as much, so I don't know. Just kind of fallen out of the game, just don't know what to do really, just looking for answers."

The first step to finding the answers, of course, is asking the right questions. One question he's never asked is whether UK is the place for him.

"I'm going to stay here four years, regardless," Willis said. "I love this place."

For the questions he doesn't have answers for, Willis has consulted everyone from his father to his friends to Coach Cal. A common theme has emerged.

"Just get in the gym more and be around the game more, I guess," Willis said.

Making that commitment in Willis' position isn't easy though.

"He's gotta really step on the gas and it's hard now," Calipari said. "When you haven't been playing to come in every day and spend extra time and not know if you're going to play or not. It's one thing if you know you're one of those 10 and you're playing. It's another thing if you're one of 10 or 11 or 12 and you don't know if you're going to play. It's a hard thing, especially for a young guy."

That's why the last week has been so important.

When Coach Cal elected to go back to the 10-man platoon system against Missouri last Tuesday, Dominique Hawkins - who has spent most of the season seated next to Willis on the bench - took full advantage of his opportunity.

"Dominique stepped up the last game that he played and played well," assistant coach John Robic said.

Four days later, with Hawkins - whose status is unknown for UK's next game - out after undergoing a minor medical procedure, it was Willis who got four minutes of first-half action in a blowout win at Alabama, posting two rebounds and a steal. Calipari and Robic both said he did well, but Willis was once again honest in admitting he was nervous in playing his first meaningful minutes in a long while.

"I was a little tense out there," Willis said. "I haven't really gotten a lot of experience in the games this year, other than like the beginning of the season, and I went out there and just tried to do like a million different things. My mind was all worried about everything else really but the game."

That drives at maybe the most difficult challenge facing Willis: balancing between the honesty and self-reflection needed to earn more time and the confidence needed to play well when he gets it. To cope with that, Willis would likely do well to listen to his teammates.

"Derek's been playing very well with the minutes that he's getting," Trey Lyles said. "He practices with us every day, so he just had to get his opportunity to go out there and play and that's what he did the other day. He did well."

Willis also excelled this summer on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour, averaging 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds. With Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein out due to injury, he stepped in and more than held his own against professional opponents.

"With Willie not playing down there, it sort of put him into that role, and it was good to see," Robic said. "That was a little bit more free-wheeling type of basketball, which he's really good (at) because of his athleticism, the way he can pass the ball."

It was that passing ability that earned Willis six minutes last season against Vanderbilt, UK's next opponent. The Cats unable to effectively find post players inside, Coach Cal turned to Willis, who counts feeding the post as a specialty. With the Commodores (11-6, 1-3 SEC) coming to town at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Willis will need to be ready again.

But whether he plays against Vandy or not, he knows his time will come as long as he does what he needs to.

"I'll get a chance," Willis said. "I've just got to like turn it on. I know I can play. Everyone else knows I can play, and so I've just got to turn it on, kick it into gear. I haven't (done) that yet."

On the road recruiting, John Calipari called into the Southeastern Conference Coaches' Teleconference on Monday ahead of matchups with Vanderbilt and South Carolina this week. Read everything he had to say about the games, Devin Booker's development and Dominique Hawkins' status below, as well as comments from Vandy's Kevin Stallings and South Carolina's Frank Martin.

Coach Cal

On this week's games ...
"Well, they're both hard games. I watched some of the Vanderbilt tape, especially their game with Georgia. I think their big kid (Damian Jones) is really good. Obviously they shoot the ball well. Got a freshman (Riley LaChance) that'll shoot from anywhere and make it. And Kevin is at his best with these kind of teams. They're running like a combination of Princeton (offense) and their stuff to free 3-point shooters. So he's doing a little combo, but he's doing a great job with them. And then Frank's teams are Frank's teams. They're going to play hard. You're not just getting a game. When you go in there--we've lost, I think we've lost the last couple times we've gone in there. You're going to have to play. They're not giving you anything. They beat Iowa State and I watched the game. I called Frank after and I thought what a great win for his program and our league. So he's doing the things that he's gotta do to give his guys a chance, which he always does, and it's a hard place for us to play."

On Devin Booker's development ...
"The thing that I was on him for early is getting it off. It's not high school; you're not going to jump over anybody. You gotta be able to catch and get it off. You gotta be able to have your shot prepared before you even catch the ball. And he's doing that. The rim has gotten big for him because of that, because it's not a slow, I'm going to jump over you and then all of a sudden the guy's all over him. These are looks that he's saying, 'I'm getting a good look at the rim.' But more importantly, you guys all keep looking at him shooting the ball and it's good stuff, but defensively I never thought he'd guard this way. His energy defensively, his ability to stay in front, fight screens is what's setting him apart for us right now. So we can all talk shooting, but the reason we're winning is because when you put him in and Tyler (Ulis), that energy defensively is what really takes us to another level."

On the difference between coaching freshmen like his who will likely leave early and freshmen like Vanderbilt's who will stay four years ...

"No, the reality of it is, you know what, we're all in position where we're forcing these kids to grow up fast. Kevin's asking them to grow up fast. So am I. We all have challenges. I told a coaching friend of mine the other day, 'Every team's having problems, all of us, and you gotta deal with yours better than someone else is dealing with his.' So the problems Kevin will have with freshmen, some of them are similar to what I'll have. Some of them are not. I know we're all dealing with helping these kids confidence-wise, feeling good about themselves, getting them to understand there's no escaping industry, hard work. You can't escape it. Either you're going to go and outwork the other guy or you're going to break down your confidence. And that's hard freshmen. Here's what freshmen usually have done in high school: Every fifth play, they did something really good that people said, 'Oh my gosh.' And the other four, they tried to hide, they tried to just kind walk through. And then they come to college and you're asking them to play on every single possession. Guess what. Really difficult for them. That's the challenge we all have."

On the lineup of Tyler Ulis, Andrew Harrison, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson ...

"It depends on the game. I mean, guys, every game we play, somebody different has stepped up and done great. That's the great thing about having a lot of guys. What I say to them at times is, 'Look, I don't need all 10 of you to play well. I need five of you, and I'll ride those five. But if you want to play, play well.' And playing well for us is come with energy. Play extremely hard and I can leave you on the floor. If they're scoring points on your group, you're out. If you're the one not doing your thing at times, I'll take you out. Kind of the challenge is for them to help each other, to be there for each other and play off of one another. They seem to be doing it pretty good."

On what he liked about the aforementioned lineup against Alabama ...
"There was a really good play where Andrew came down and assisted Tyler for a 3. Tyler assisted him for a 3, and he didn't take it. I was tell him to shoot it. That's how they have to play. If the other has the ball, you're the finisher, he's the playmaker. Either one of you two. And then, it gives you that one more ball handler, one more free-throw shooter that we can really grind out. And what we did against Alabama I'm guessing the last five minutes is play grind it out basketball. We weren't looking to score 85 (points). We were looking as though that was a six-point game and we have to grind it out and finish the game. And that's what we were working on and I thought they did pretty good."

On if there are matchups where Derek Willis will play more, or if it's strictly based on practice ...
"He's gotta really step on the gas and it's hard now. When you haven't been playing to come in every day and spend extra time and not know if you're going to play or not. It's one thing if you know you're one of those 10 and you're playing. It's another thing if you're one of 10 or 11 or 12 and you don't know if you're going to play. It's a hard thing, especially for a young guy. But, Dom gives us that unbelievable energy that that unit needs. Now, if he's not bringing it, or something (where) I look at this and I say, Derek's better and Derek's earned time in practice, then it'll be Derek. Everybody was ecstatic for Dom, and then they were ecstatic for Derek last game. Now, I didn't put him in the first rotation because I didn't think he was ready for that. But I put him in the next rotation. Then in the second half we kind of got out of whack and I just was more or less trying to finish the game, but they both have done great."

On the status of Dominique Hawkins ...

"I don't know yet because I haven't seen him, but I would imagine after two days he should be fine."

Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings

Opening statement ...
"We're coming off tough week. We lost a couple of close games that we felt like we could have won. So, it doesn't get any easier. Kentucky and LSU are both extremely, extremely talented. We're just going to have to try to figure out how to make ourselves better and climb out of this valley we're in a little bit. Every week is a tough week in this league. This one certainly is as tough as any we will have. I'm hoping our guys are up to it."

On if coaches would prefer to coach players three or four years as opposed to just one ...
"I guess that depends on the stipulations. I certainly think that all of us would coach one and done guys if we were able to recruit those types of talents. Do I think that there are a large portion of coaches who would prefer maybe some different rules to where guys had to be in college a little bit longer? Perhaps so. Or maybe let them sign out of high school if they're that type of talent, and then maybe have a modified rule like baseball does or something. But certainly I think all of us would recruit and coach that type of player if we could get them."

On the ability of Kentucky's defense to take away players' confidence ...
"Their defense is perhaps as good as I've ever seen. And, I don't think from a positive or negative perspective, I think if you allow your mojo, if you will, to be defined by what happens in one game, particularly in a game against Kentucky, then I think you're missing the boat a little bit because they're different than just about every other team we play, or they are than every other team we play. So, I don't think that that - I'm hopeful that that's not something I have to worry about. But, their defense is truly amazing. Hopefully it doesn't happen to where our confidence gets dinged any more than it already is."

On Kentucky's shooting ability ...

"Well, they've got shot makers and I just think they're a complete team. I think that's what makes them better than everyone else. They're complete. They're really good shooting. They're really good rebounding. They're really good defending. They're great at the rim, both offensively and defensively. They take care of the ball. They share it. There's just nothing that they're not doing well. You can sit back and hope they miss shots, but the numbers suggest they're not going to. They've got guys on that team that have made shots to win NCAA championships, so it's not like they're nervous about taking shots. Those two freshman guards obviously have come in and shot it very, very well. So, shooting is, to me, is a strength of Kentucky's. It's certainly not a weakness."

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin

On games this week against Tennessee and Kentucky ...
"Obviously we got two homes this week starting with Tennessee tomorrow. Donnie Tyndall, the job he's done to go through the transition phase and deal with injuries and defections and new faces and get them playing at the level they're at. A credit to him, his staff and those kids. And then finish off the week with the best team in the country, the Kentucky Wildcats, here also at home. Exciting week for us. Hard, but exciting and that's what it's all about in league play."

On what last year's win over Kentucky did for his program and what kind of atmosphere he expects Saturday ...
"Well, I mean, those are the kind of wins that you want to build on. Anytime you can figure out a way to defeat one of the top programs in the country year in and year out and especially when they're in your own league. And I think that gave our guys confidence. We'd been close a whole lot towards the end of last year when we got that win. I think it gave us confidence, I think it gave our fans confidence and I think it's no surprise that we're fourth in the league in attendance, that our fans are buying into our players and our team and hopefully it's something we continue to build on."

Winning is woven into the culture of the Kentucky cheerleading team. So when the Wildcats don't reach their goal - a national championship - disappointment is inevitable.

That was the case on Sunday evening, as UK fell short in its bid for an unprecedented 21st national championship.

"I know we're better than that, but today just wasn't our day," head coach Jomo Thompson said. "Hats off to the University of Alabama for taking that title."

Kentucky finished third at the UCA/UDA National Championships in Orlando, Fla., behind Alabama and second-place UCF. Thompson cited execution as the reason why the Cats couldn't bring home their 16th championship since 1995 and second in a row, but a difficult routine still kept UK in the top three.

"The competition's tough, but I always tell the kids we're our own competition," Thompson said. "We compete against the UK teams in the past before and we just didn't live up to that standard today."

UK will have to wait a year to reclaim its spot atop the world of college cheerleading, but the Cats have a history of responding when they don't win the title. Each of the four times the cheerleading team has been beaten out for the championship since 1995, UK has won the title the following year.

"We definitely have to come back stronger," Thompson said. "That starts with getting some good recruits in here and using this lesson that we learned today and kind of letting it burn in our bellies and just using it as fuel for next year, to re-motivate us."

The Kentucky dance team, which also competed at nationals this weekend, will have plenty of motivation heading into next year as well having turned in one of its best performances ever. The Cats came in third in the Hip Hop competition behind only Cincinnati and UNLV.

"I could not be more proud of these young ladies," head coach Dawn Walters said. "This is such a positive and hard-working group of girls. Even after one-third of the team got the flu two days before we left, they continued to support each other and stay focused on our goal. I'm so excited that their hard work was rewarded. It's been our goal to make top three and I am so proud."

The finish marks an improvement of two places from 2014.

UK Athletics congratulates both the cheer and dance teams for their achievements this weekend!

3rd in the Nation in HIP HOP!!! #YES #UKDT #UKDTproud #UDAnationals #PROUD

A photo posted by UK Dance Team (@ukdanceteam) on

Recent Comments

  • Rao: The twins are unselfish and unstoppable. I love these kids. At some point during the season press played politics to read more
  • Rao: Andrew/Ulis should not drive the ball along the edges of the court. Arkansas play aggressive full court and they mob read more
  • charles grubbs: These young men just need to go out and play and have fun. A deaf ear to the media is read more
  • Guy Ramsey: You have a couple options. You can stream audio using our official app. Find it by searching "Kentucky Wildcats Gameday." read more
  • Gayle Niemeyer: i've had difficulty finding your streaming coverage or even your live coverage of the UK basketball games. Can you help read more
  • Berdj Joseph Rassam: Out of these guys my favorite 2 players are Cousins and Wall. read more
  • frank barlow: Wildcats will be tested in NCAA tourment Lets go all the way focus improve Keep attitude of we will Win read more
  • Galaxy: You guys played great basketball Saturday. South Carolina Didn't have a chance! Let's see more of the same, Tuesday In read more
  • anon: Not as fair with Poy being out. read more
  • John: UK '74 Rock on you guys!! let's get it done!!! read more