Tyler Ulis had three of UK's season-high 12 steals in a win over Providence on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Willie Cauley-Stein heard all about LaDontae Henton.
Entering a matchup between Kentucky and Providence, the senior forward was averaging better than 24 points per game. John Calipari, knowing Cauley-Stein would shadow Henton to start, may have exaggerated the numbers just a bit.
"I was told he averaged 28, 30 points," Cauley-Stein said, drawing laughs from reporters surrounding him.
Whether it was 24, 28 or 30, Henton didn't come close on Sunday with Cauley-Stein - who had 11 points and six rebounds - guarding him. He managed only three points on 1-of-8 shooting, frustrated continually by Cauley-Stein during his 25 minutes and Marcus Lee during his 15. With Henton handcuffed, UK (7-0) surged past Providence (6-1) in a 58-38 slugfest that featured just 54 possessions, seven fewer than any of the Wildcats' first six games.
"It was a good game," Coach Cal said. "And they did what teams are going to do. They're going to try to move the ball, try to go into the shot clock, they're going to sag in a man or a zone, they're going to play like everybody else is going to play us."
It was no ordinary player who hounded Henton. Cauley-Stein may be a 7-footer, but he had no issues chasing the 6-6 Henton around the perimeter, leading Providence head coach Ed Cooley to call him a "one-man wrecking crew."
"I think they put probably one of the best defensive players I've seen in a long time in Cauley-Stein (on Henton)," Cooley said. "He's got quick feet, he's long, he jumps over mountains. It was a tough matchup."
That length and versatility might be the most eye-catching facet of UK's defense, which held an opponent to under 30-percent shooting for the fourth time this season, but both coaches agreed it was a player Cauley-Stein's polar opposite in size who flipped Sunday's game.
With the visiting Friars determined to play a half-court game and UK sluggish after a 6-0 burst to start the game, 5-9 Tyler Ulis checked in and made life miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to be guarded by him. In doing so, he drew comparisons to some rather talented Calipari players past.
"I've had three Chicago guys do what Tyler Ulis did today, which is change the game," Calipari said. "I had Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, and Tyler Ulis," Calipari said. "Very rarely do you see a guy walk in and just change the game. Like, change the whole flow of it. And he did that today."
Ulis' statistics hardly jump off the page. He finished with six points, three rebounds and his first-career block, but that hardly captures his impact.
"I think he's a special player," Cooley said. "He's got the 'it.' He's a player who I think you guys are going to see really grow. He does a good job guarding the ball, he's low to the ground and he's got some toughness. He's a player that has the ultimate 'it.' "
Ulis had three of UK's 12 steals and set the tone as the Cats forced 18 turnovers, boosting their season defensive turnover percentage to .271, ninth nationally. He was often assigned to point guard Kris Dunn, who played 29 minutes in spite of battling an ankle injury all week. Dunn had 10 turnovers on his own, a career high by a wide margin.
"Tyler played great defense," Andrew Harrison said. "He's really a pest on the defensive end, and that really picked up the energy of the team."
Harrison played a solid game of his own, posting six points, four assists and four steals in just 20 minutes. With UK's platoon system, which Calipari went away from in stretches for various reasons, the Cats look dangerous at every position. The two-headed point-guard monster of Harrison and Ulis has a strong argument as the scariest of the bunch.
"It's tough, especially when you go back and forth and you don't really get tired throughout the game, and you have to play with energy or Coach is going to take you out," Harrison said. "It would be hard."
UK's opponents so far this season would agree. The Cats have now won seven games by an average margin of 34.4 points and have not yet allowed a team to shoot 40 percent from the field. That adds up to holding opponents to 0.672 points per possession, a total good enough for second nationally behind only Louisville.
Alex Poythress, however, believes UK trails no one when it comes to picking out the nation's best defensive team.
"When we're all playing like we can, I feel like it's hard for teams to score on us," Poythress said. "We're so big, so long, so active, we can switch and really do anything we really need to do on defense."
UK lost to Louisville in its season finale, 44-40. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- A young UK football team spent the week watching clips of classic Governor's Cup games past to learn about the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry.
On Saturday, the Wildcats played in a classic of their own, though the result didn't go in their favor.
"I know people that paid to come watch this game got their money's worth," Mark Stoops said, "because that was a good football game."
In a back-and-forth affair that featured some pregame pushing and shoving and seven lead changes -- four in the fourth quarter alone -- UK (5-7) fell to rival Louisville (9-3), 44-40. The loss left the Wildcats a win shy of bowl eligibility.
"Obviously very disappointed in the outcome of this one, disappointed for our seniors to come up short in such an important game for us," Stoops said. "I was proud of the way our team fought. I felt like our guys played with great energy, great passion and really did a lot of good things. Give them credit, give Louisville credit: They made plays when they had to to win the football game and they beat us."
The thing is, the Cats made their share of plays too.
There were the two defensive touchdowns, the first scored on a 40-yard interception return by Fred Tiller and the second on a fumble forced by Bud Dupree that fellow senior Mike Douglas scooped and carried 30 yards for a touchdown. The plays gave UK leads in the second and fourth quarter, respectively, but Kyle Bolin (21-of-31 passing for 381 yards and three touchdowns) and DeVante Parker (six catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns) were too much to handle.
There were Stanley "Boom" Williams' two touchdowns - the second giving UK a 40-37 lead with just 5:31 to go - big fourth-quarter throws by Patrick Towles after a slow start and clutch catches by Demarco Robinson and Joey Herrick. The UK offense had a shot at game-winning play on its final drive, but Gerod Holliman tied an NCAA record with his 14th interception on a fourth-down pass by Towles to seal the outcome.
For Williams, who finished with 126 rushing yards to go with his two touchdowns, the day only served to make him eager to play in the game again.
"It's one of the biggest rivalries in college football history," Williams said. "It's real fun getting to play against crosstown rivals, going out there with my teammates and going to battle with those guys."
Unfortunately, Saturday will be the last time the group plays as currently constituted. Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and other seniors will move on to pursue professional careers, whether in football or elsewhere.
"It's very emotional," said Dupree, who had seven tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. "My last college game and I had a chance to win and just couldn't pull through. The team just has to learn from it for next year coming in."
Dupree's tone was the consensus among UK players and coaches: a combination of disappointment and looking to the future.
"Growing up a Kentucky fan, this is a game you dream about playing," said Towles, who was intercepted twice in 29 attempts in throwing for 176 yards against a tough Louisville defense. "And we had an opportunity and I didn't get it done today. We gotta go back to work so I will get it done next year."
This time next year, no one wants to be done playing football, but there's a certain satisfaction that comes with leaving everything on the field on the heels of two lopsided losses.
"I think it was important to come out and play against a very good football team on the road, with our rival," Stoops said. "We had lost some games. That was pointed out, and our guys responded and played a hard-fought game. We tried and competed at a high level."
The effort served as a reminder of the progress the Cats have made in Stoops' second season. Though the season ended with six losses in a row, UK won more games in 2014 than in the previous two seasons combined while also dropping tough battles to the likes of Florida, then-No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 22 Louisville.
"I don't think you can let the ending of the season cloud the progress that's been made," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.
"We've definitely made progress and the offseason starts tomorrow for us," Williams said. "We're going to get to work and we're just going to improve this offseason and get better and go into next season with a winning mentality, approach every game right."
While Williams and the UK returners are getting back to work, Dupree will be preparing for the NFL Draft, where he is projected as a first-round selection. He'll be following the program he helped begin to rebuilt nonetheless.
"I'm confident in Coach Stoops and the program and the staff members," Dupree said. "I see a bright future for this team, for this program and big-time recruits coming in. The only thing they can do is just keep going up. We've been to the bottom. The only thing they can do is keep going up."
Stoops, meanwhile, will hit the recruiting trail looking to finalize another good signing class. Reaching a bowl game would have been a boost, but the path forward remains the same.
"As you look at this season, I never hid from the fact that it was important to win one of these games down the stretch," Stoops said. "We didn't get that done. We'll continue to work. We'll reset ourselves and go back to work. But I am proud of this group. I'm proud of the seniors. I know we've improved."
UK will host Providence at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Rupp Arena. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Six games in, the Kentucky Wildcats have handled their business.
Save for a stray sluggish half here or there and that domination of Kansas, the Cats have comfortably dispatched opponents unable to cope with their size, talent and depth, saying the right things about taking it one game at a time along the way.
But now UK is in for a step up in competition. The Cats are excited for the challenge.
"We look at every game the same, but we know we have a lot of big games coming up that we have to get prepared for," Dakari Johnson said. "So we're going to have a great couple practices and just really go after it."
Five of UK's seven games over the next month will come against teams currently ranked the coaches' poll, starting with Providence (5-0) at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Friars, fresh off an impressive neutral-court win over Notre Dame in which LaDontae Henton poured in 38 points, entered the poll this week at No. 25 with a home game against Yale on Friday before this weekend's trip to Rupp Arena.
"Watching them on tape, really doing a heck of a job of iso'ing guys and putting guys in (the) best positions to score," John Calipari said. "Playing extremely hard defensively. Playing both man-to-man and zone."
Coach Cal, who praised Providence head coach Ed Cooley as a "great coach that no one knows about yet," expects the Friars to show both man and zone, as well as some press. Providence has caused problems for opponents with its pressure so far this season, forcing 15.6 turnovers per game and ranking 43rd nationally in turnover percentage (.237).
Though guards Kris Dunn (averaging 7.4 assists) and Jalen Lindsey (7 of 14 from 3-point range) are dealing with injuries, the Friars will have Hinton, who is averaging 23.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. Providence is also the tallest team UK has faced to date, with 7-footer Carson Desrosiers in the starting lineup and 7-2 freshman Paschal Chukwu coming off the bench.
All that means Kentucky, which has won games by an average margin of 36.8 points (second nationally) and none by fewer than 19 points, could be in for its first tense moments in the final minutes this season. Coach Cal says his team needs exactly that kind of test, particularly of its offensive execution in such a situation.
"Well what we need is just a hand-to-hand kind of game where a team's not afraid of us, that they make plays and continue to make them throughout," Calipari said. "And then we got to understand, like, right now we're probably getting 16, 17 seconds a possession. There's got to be games where it's gonna be in the 20s. And that's gonna be as teams get better and you don't get it in transition and you don't get it and you got to pull it out.
"We're trying to create a great shot every time down, whenever that happens. Now, if it's a late game, we probably are using 25 seconds to 30 seconds before we do anything, unless it's a layup or a dunk."
Once again, the Cats are eager for the chance.
"A close game would put a little pressure on us, see how we respond to it, you know, test us, especially the freshmen, because we haven't been in that situation yet," Tyler Ulis said. "The other guys were here last year, so, you know, they've had that before, but for us it would be a lot of help."
Johnson trying to repeat UTA performance at the line
Johnson entered UK's game on Tuesday shooting 45.5 percent (50 of 110) from the free-throw line for his career.
All he did against UT Arlington was step up and bury of 12 of 14 tries.
That tells his coach something.
"If he went 12 for 14, it means he's capable of that," Calipari said. "So what gets in the way of him making 12 out of 14? It's those six inches between his ears."
Along those lines, Johnson didn't attribute his big night at the line, in which he scored in double figures even though he didn't register his lone field-goal attempt until the final minutes, to revamping his shot or anything mechanical.
"Just coming down to relaxing," Johnson said. "Just taking your time. Sometimes I rush them and think too much. Just relax and just shoot, shoot free throws."
Staying out of his own head isn't always easy, especially when he hears opposing players say Johnson going to the line is exactly what they want. However, he's not about to start talking trash when he proves them wrong.
"I don't do that," Johnson said. "Yeah, I go 12 out of 14. That's all I'm going to say."
The sophomore center will let his play do the talking. And if he keeps knocking down his free throws, he'll be playing plenty, and when it counts too.
"You're not going to be in late if you don't make free throws so I just try to get that down pat because I want to be in games late so I have to practice," Johnson said.
Calipari confirms UK-UCLA scheduling talks
ESPN's Andy Katz reported earlier this week that UK and UCLA are in talks regarding a two-year home-and-home series that would begin next season. Coach Cal confirmed as much on Friday, saying UCLA would fill the spot normally occupied by North Carolina in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons should talks result in a final agreement.
For those two seasons, UK and UNC will take a break from their home-and-home series, the reason being the Cats and Tar Heels will face off in Las Vegas as part of the 2016-17 CBS Sports Classic and continuing the series would throw off the home-road balance for the teams' schedules for those two years.
"This is all based on what we need," Calipari said. "Don't care about anybody else. You don't want to play us, listen, don't play us. So they take off two years; we'll plug in UCLA for two years."
According to Calipari, talks to resume the UK-UNC schedule in 2017-18 are already underway
Mark Stoops leads Kentucky into a road matchup with rival Louisville on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Patrick Towles emerged from practice on Tuesday without his customary red jersey.
At this late stage of the season, it's almost unheard of for a coach to allow his quarterback to be hit in practice. So was Mark Stoops trying something drastic before Kentucky's season finale?
No, it turns out. It's just Louisville week.
"No red in this facility this week," Towles said.
With UK (5-6) set to travel to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for a matchup with the No. 22 Cardinals (8-3) at noon ET on Saturday, Towles and his fellow quarterbacks decided in a walkthrough they wanted no part of wearing their archrivals' color. With the Ft. Thomas, Ky., native set to start against Louisville for the first time, it just wouldn't feel right.
"I've been a Kentucky fan my whole life, so this is a game that I look forward to every year," Towles said. "Being able to play in it is truly special for me and my family, so I'm excited - we're all excited to go down there and play 'em."
The excitement is team-wide, but Towles is somewhat of a rarity among the Wildcats when it comes to intimate familiarity with the heated UK-U of L rivalry. He's one of just 10 players on the two-deep depth chart from Kentucky, meaning the coaching staff has had some work to do in helping a young UK team understand the passion behind the annual battle for the Governor's Cup.
"We're giving them different things each (day) and having former players talk to the team a bit and just get them educated on (the rivalry) a little bit and the importance of it," Stoops said. "I don't think there should be any lack of motivation for our team. Just the opportunity to go in there and get our sixth victory, which we all know is very important to us and this program. So I think our team is motivated, but it's also good to educate them on the series and get them caught up to speed on the rivalry."
As Stoops said, UK is trying to manage the emotions of playing its biggest rival and working toward its sixth win, which would make the Cats bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Stoops expects his team to handle it all just fine, especially with the open date UK had to recuperate mentally and physically beforehand.
"We'll prepare and be excited to go play," Stoops said. "But there is no reason to be tense or to go play tight. I don't anticipate that. I'd like to see us play with that great passion and energy that we did for most of the season."
The Cardinals can be expected to do the same.
"They're playing some very good football coming off a great win at Notre Dame," Stoops said. "So Louisville's a very good football team, very well-coached and playing at a high level right now."
That starts on defense, where the Cardinals rank seventh nationally in total defense at 290.2 yards per game and 14th in scoring defense at 18.7 points per game. Only unbeaten and defending national champion Florida State has managed more than 28 points or better than 4.1 yards per carry against U of L.
"They've got one of the top defenses in the country," Towles said. "Bring a lot of pressure. They're really good at defensive end. They've got a lot of really good players, and of course they've got that defensive back with all those interceptions."
That defensive back is safety Gerod Holliman, who, with 13 interceptions, is one pick away from tying a national record that has stood since 1968.
"I think some of that is schematic," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "You have to give some of the credit to their defensive staff. He's a free player quite a bit. But the thing about it is he breaks on the ball really well and he's got good ball skills."
Louisville's pass rush doesn't hurt his cause either.
The Cardinals are ninth nationally in sacks, racking up 3.27 per game. Senior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin (6.5 sacks) anchors the Cardinal pass rush while also helping to hold opponents to 88.5 yards per game on the ground, good for third nationally.
"They've rushed the passer so well you've got to keep them honest (with the run)," Brown said. "But I think that's important. We've got to do a good job, not only at the offensive line position, but our tight ends, fullbacks have to be involved in the game plan and we've gotta, our running backs have got to run."
On the other side of the ball, UK will contend with a U of L offense that has handed the reins to athletic freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon after a season-ending injury to Will Gardner. The Cardinals also have a stable of running backs that features three runners with at least 378 yards and four touchdowns, as well as a receiving corps boosted by the return of DeVante Parker.
In just five games in 2014, Parker has 29 catches for 555 yards.
"Certainly them having DeVante back outside is a real weapon," Stoops said. "He is a fantastic football player and a guy you've constantly got to have your eye on and know where he's at."
Whether it's in defending Parker or otherwise, it's all hands on deck for a UK team that's as healthy as it's been in a long time after a much-needed bye.
"We'll need to go in there and play our very best," Stoops said. "I expect our team to do that. We've had a great bye week and we're off to a great start here this week. Guys are energized and working extremely hard. Again, we'll need to improve to go in there and compete at a high level with Louisville."
Karl-Anthony Towns had 13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal in UK's 92-44 win over UT Arlington on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari can sense the narrative changing.
The season began with incessant talk of Kentucky's platoon system and whether it would work, but the way the Wildcats are playing shifted the talk to defense.
Calipari, however, wants to press rewind. He wants to go back to the platoon talk, though with, as he would surely put it, a tweak.
"The story, everybody wants to talk about defense, they all want to talk about the energy, the blocked shots and the length, and the story is you have 10 guys sharing minutes," Calipari said. "That's the whole story in a nutshell."
No offense, Coach Cal, but this team's story can't fit in a nutshell, not with the way the Cats have been smothering opponents.
The latest victim to succumb to UK's waves of depth and athleticism was UT Arlington. Top-ranked Kentucky moved to 6-0 with a dominant 92-44 victory, holding the visiting Mavericks (3-2) to 27-percent shooting and a mere 0.611 points per possession and leaving yet another opposing coach raving, this time about exactly the topic Calipari wants everyone talking about.
"They played the game the right way, that's what is really impressive, to be able to get all of those NCAA All-Americans to play together as a team with 10 different guys, that is impressive," Scott Cross said.
But that defense though.
UK allowed just 12 points in building a 43-point halftime advantage, the second-largest in school history behind only the 44-point lead the 1996 team had on LSU on the strength of an 86-point explosion. Astoundingly, UT Arlington made just four field goals in 32 attempts, compared with eight blocks for the Cats, as UK closed the half on a 42-5 run.
The performance would have been more remarkable if it wasn't so, well, commonplace for this team.
Six times in 12 halves now, UK has held its opponent under 20 points. The Cats have not yet allowed 40-percent shooting from the field in a game this season and opponents are shooting just 28.7 percent from 2-point range, good for second nationally. UK has 60 blocks to boot, and at least seven in every game this season.
"This team has a chance of being one of those teams you talk about defensively, like of all time, if they choose to be," Calipari said. "But they're going to have to choose to be that."
It seems they've already made that choice.
"Coach is a defensive guy," said Karl-Anthony Towns, who had his first double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. "He wants our offense to just (feed) off of our defense. So that's the biggest thing for us."
Towns, who upped his team-leading total to 21 blocks with three against UT Arlington, can remember hearing the old "defense wins championships" cliche throughout his youth, but it took coming to Kentucky for it to sink in.
"You're told that all the time in high school and middle school," Towns said. "You go to camps and stuff. But you don't really see that happening until you're in college. That's really the biggest thing. We're realizing that probably our biggest strength is our defense."
Calipari may have been the one who got the ball rolling with the defensive emphasis, but the players have taken over pushing it down the hill.
"I wouldn't say it's Cal that's getting us into it," said Devin Booker, who has made 12 of his last 17 3-point tries after pouring in 19 points on 5-of-6 shooting from deep on Tuesday. "It's us as a collective group, you know. We just want to lock teams down. We take pride in it."
Booker and the Cats have quite a bit to be proud of, having allowed 72 points in their last two games combined. Seventy-eight Division-I teams are allowing 72 points per game or more on average this season.
For a team with 10 players among ESPN's top 100 prospects for next June's draft to sustain the focus necessary to do that to two admittedly overmatched opponents, not to mention holding then-No. 5 Kansas to 40 points, is nothing short of incredible.
Uh oh, Coach Cal heard that.
"I'll come back to this: In this day and age, every one of these kids has pro aspirations and pro potential, and they're draftable players, and they're doing this for each other," Calipari said. "This is crazy. That's why I say, for anybody in our society, where everybody talks about the me and mine and narcissism and all that, why wouldn't you root for this to happen and be good? I don't understand why you wouldn't root for this?"
The Cats become even harder to root against once you hear Towns navigate his way around an extended metaphor expertly cooked up for Thanksgiving week.
"I would say that if your group is doing what it's supposed to do, then everyone should eat," Towns said. "That's the biggest thing. There's a lot of food out there to go get. All you gotta do is go grab a plate and just go get it. That's the biggest thing for all of us. We have the utensils."
How does UK's defense fit into mix?
"It seems like the buffet line starts there," Towns said.
With two former Cats sidelined by injury and one former Cat enjoying his team's bye week, Week 12 saw five Kentucky NFL alumni emerge victorious and four go home with the sour taste of defeat.
Cats in the Spotlight
Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (8-3) In a game that concluded on a much tighter note than expected, Cobb hauled in four receptions for 58 yards in a 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings. For the second consecutive week, Cobb failed to reach the end zone, leaving his season touchdown total untouched at 10 (tied for fourth most in the NFL).
John Conner | #38 FB | New York Jets (2-9) Conner, who came to the University of Kentucky as a walk-on in 2005, has been considered one of the best blocking backs in football since his days in college. As many teams stray away from the fullback position in favor of today's modern rushing attack, Conner still continues to find his way onto an NFL roster each season. "The Terminator" recorded his first rushing attempt since 2011 with a 13-yard run in Monday's 38-3 loss to the displaced Buffalo Bills.
Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-9) For the sixth time in his rookie season, Williamson totaled at least six tackles in one contest. The 6-foot-1 Tennessee native made five solo tackles and one assist in the Titans' 43-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-9) For the fourth time this season, Woodyard totaled at least eight tackles in one contest. The seven-year NFL veteran matched Williamson's tally of five solo tackles, but surpassed his Titans teammate with three assisted tackles in Tennessee's fifth consecutive loss.
Two weeks into the season, Kentucky is one of just three teams with a win over a top-10 opponent.
To go with that victory against then-No. 8 Baylor, the Wildcats have two more home wins and another on the road against a Central Michigan expected to contend for a conference championship.
But for UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell, it's not all sunshine and rainbows.
"We are off to a 4-0 start and it's good results for us," Mitchell said, "but we really, really need to get better as a basketball team."
During Thanksgiving week, the ninth-ranked Cats will have ample opportunity to do just that while getting some literal sunshine along the way.
Starting on Thursday, UK will play in the Paradise Jam Island Tournament in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The Cats left for the U.S. Virgin Islands (forecast 81 degrees and sunny on Thanksgiving Day) early Tuesday morning for a trip where they'll mix basketball and some tourist activities.
First up, UK will face Illinois, off to 4-0 start identical to the Cats', at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. Next is 3-0 Oklahoma (receiving votes in the AP Top 25) on Friday at 6 p.m. with USF (3-1) to close it out on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
"Three games against three really quality opponents in three days will be a tough task down in the Virgin Islands," Mitchell said. "It's a great trip; it's a great tournament."
For UK to most effectively capitalize, Mitchell has one thing on his mind above all else.
"From a basketball standpoint right now, we are really needing to improve defensively," Mitchell said. "You can be a good defensive team if you give consistent effort. You're a great defensive team if you give consistent effort along with consistent fundamentals and technique. We are neither one of those right now."
More than anything else, it was the second half of UK's win at Central Michigan that had him thinking that way.
After a solid first half, the Cats built a lead that ballooned to 20 points with 16:13 left. The Chippewas would chip away from there, missing a would-be game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds as UK survived, 71-68. CMU shot 44.8 percent from the field in the second half after the Cats held them to 28.6 in the first.
"A lot of energy in the first half, a lot of focus in the first half, a lot of disruption," Mitchell said. "And in the second half, it was very little attention to detail, very little energy defensively."
Mitchell, though he's demanding improvement, isn't concerned. Bumps in the road, especially this early in the season, are to be expected. What the Cats can't do is become satisfied with a little early-season success.
"We can't take the approach of, 'Well, we beat Baylor and we're a highly ranked team and so we just show up and take the floor,' " Mitchell said. "That's not our formula. Our formula is being honest with ourselves, working really hard and having some discipline. I think that the players, once they see the visual evidence, they'll get it corrected."
With that in mind, Mitchell will be looking for a few simple things as he coaches his team this week.
"If we do nothing else, we're just Kentucky tough and Kentucky tenacious and playing together and being the fastest, most disruptive, toughest team we can be in that tournament," Mitchell said. "If we can accomplish those goals, the technique and the positioning and those kind of mistakes will start to work itself out."
Week four in the NBA was highlighted by a heavyweight matchup between two of the most dominant big men the league has to offer. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis squared off on Tuesday night as the Pelicans edged the Kings 106-100.
Even in a losing effort Cousins was still able to battle one of the toughest frontcourts in the NBA as he scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Davis had 28 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals in the Pelicans' win.
Both bigs followed up their blockbuster battle with even more dominance later in the week. Cousins was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the second time in his career as he finished out the week with 31 points and 18 rebounds in a road win Sunday against the Timberwolves. Davis posted a career-high 43 points to go along with 14 rebounds in a 106-94 win against former Cat Enes Kanter and the Utah Jazz.
Kanter has solidified his role as a starter and major contributor for the Jazz while averaging 13 points and six rebounds through 11 games this season.
Other week four highlights
Eric Bledsoe has been a model of consistency in his first 14 games under a new contract for the Phoenix Suns. In week four Bledsoe was the focus in leading the Suns to a 4-0 record on the road dating back to last Monday. The former Kentucky guard posted 14 points, six assists, and six rebounds per game during the current win-streak for phoenix.
James Young shined in his D-League stint with the Maine Red Claws. The rookie shooting guard scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a winning effort for the Celtics' D-League affiliate. The goal for Young was to use his time in the D-League to work back into game shape after sustaining multiple injuries in the preseason. He is set to rejoin the Celtics this week for their home stand against the Bulls and the Spurs.
Week five TV schedule
Wednesday: Memphis (Tayshaun Prince) @ L.A. Lakers 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV Friday: L.A. Clippers @ Houston (Terrence Jones) 8:00 p.m. on NBA TV Saturday: New Orleans (Anthony Davis, Darius Miller) @ Washington (John Wall) 7:00 p.m. on NBA TV
Win-or-go-home games are a rarity in college football.
With the way the season is structured, most teams know by the final week of the regular season whether a bowl game is in their future.
Kentucky's December, however, is still very much up in the air.
The Wildcats now face a simple choice: win a game on the road against their archrival or watch their season end one victory shy of bowl eligibility.
Mark Stoops doesn't dispute that it's a source of motivation, though he adds a caveat.
"I think they all know what we're playing for," Stoops said. "They know that. There's no point in hiding from it. But it's not the only message, right?"
The circumstances of UK's regular-season finale are different than any of the first 11 games of 2014, but Stoops isn't about to forsake the focus that he's had all year for a trip to Louisville at noon on Saturday.
"The message is to do what we constantly preach, and that is put the time and effort and focus into our preparation," Stoops said. "It's not just turning it on on game day. We've got to have a great week."
The hope is that UK laid the groundwork for that great week by capitalizing on a much-needed open date. The Cats' bye week began with days off for players on Sunday and Monday, followed by a return to practice on Tuesday.
"It was good just to get out, after a couple days' rest, get out and do some good, competitive work," Stoops said. "Get back to some fundamentals. Do some things that we do through camp where we go good against good, do some one-on-ones."
In the midst of a grueling stretch of eight games in eight weeks - seven coming against league opponents - UK had little choice but to go straight from one game plan to the next. The bye week afforded the Cats the opportunity to think about football, not any specific game.
"You get so enamored with the Xs and Os and assignments that you drift from some of the basics," Stoops said. "We obviously try not to. We constantly have individual in certain things, but it was good to spend more time with that last week."
Once the week of practice was over on Friday, the Cats were given the weekend off. Many players took the opportunity to spend some time at home considering they'll be practicing in Lexington over Thanksgiving this week, while Stoops stayed in town and watched football on Saturday.
"I couldn't get away from it too far," Stoops said. "I didn't watch as much as I normally do though, actually. I got out of the house. Took my boys out of the house for a while."
Stoops made sure to be in front of a television for most of Louisville's 31-28 win at Notre Dame on Saturday. He was impressed.
"Their coach (Bobby Petrino) is doing a great job," Stoops said. "They haven't missed a beat to what they've been doing. They win a bunch of football games, they play extremely hard. They're very well coached, and that's an impressive win. They're playing good football." Stoops wants UK-U of L to go national
Stoops came to Kentucky to build a program. In doing so he hopes to turn UK-U of L into a football rivalry known nationally.
"Well, we're trying to create it to be a bigger and better rivalry," Stoops said. "I think that comes from us having to play better football and winning more games and putting ourselves in a position where we can get this game on a more national scale."
In the meantime, it's a game both sides still want to win badly.
"It's important to the people in this state," Stoops said. "It's important to our fans and our players and coaches. So, you know, I think it's just like most of these games. It's important to a lot of people, and you feel that, and you want to go play well."
Baker out for season with knee injury
Wide receiver Dorian Baker sustained a non-contact injury to his knee in practice last week. He will undergo surgery and will miss the Louisville, as well as a bowl game should UK reach one. The true freshman has appeared in 10 of UK's 11 games this season, making three starts and catching 19 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown.
Also likely to be sidelined for UK's regular-season finale is tackle Kyle Meadows, who is suffering from an ankle injury. Patrick Towles also has an injured ankle, but he played through it against Tennessee and Stoops hopes to have him at full strength for practice on Monday afternoon.
Karl-Anthony Towns had eight points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in UK's 86-28 win over Montana State on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There was another "only at Kentucky" moment on Saturday.
John Calipari took to Twitter to wish a happy birthday to his daughter Megan. The sentiment was nice, but there was a problem.
He was a day early.
Megan quickly replied to tell him of the error. And since Coach Cal has 1.3 million followers, the story was quickly picked up by national outlets, all the way up to "Good Morning America."
"Why does that go all over the world, by the way?" Calipari said, who made light of the mishap by bringing a birthday balloon to his press conference after UK's dominant 86-28 win over Montana State.
Calipari's question was a rhetorical one, mostly because he already knows the answer.
The reason the story blew up the way it did is because of Coach Cal's position at the helm of the most high-profile college basketball program in the country. It's the same reason why fans throughout the country are already tiring of the word "platoon" because of how often it's already been used.
The spotlight, of course, has its perks for Coach Cal and players alike. UK is, as Calipari so often says, the "gold standard" for a reason, but there are drawbacks too.
After the victory over Montana State, in which UK set a shot clock-era record for the fewest points allowed in school history, he coined a new phrase to describe it, adding to his personal pantheon that runs the gamut from ice cream-pooping to Super Bowl-playing to brother-keeping.
"What these kids deal with to be here, to play here, to be a part of this program, they wear a hundred-pound coat," Calipari said.
The burden, Calipari admits, starts with him.
"I am rough on them, I am tough on them, I'm holding them to high standard," Calipari said. "I'm like a hawk. I see everything. I'm coaching them the entire time. They're getting better. It is not an option, you will get better. That's me."
Then you have Kentucky fans, who surely would have made concerned calls to radio shows on Monday had the final margin been much less than the 58-point one they enjoyed on Sunday evening, largest since a 62-point win over Vanderbilt in 2002-03.
"That's another 20 pounds of the coat," Calipari said.
To top it off, there's the media scrutiny that's led to a national debate about whether this UK team could beat the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, not to mention the people surrounding the players who create the "clutter" about which Calipari so often talks.
Contrast that with UK's opponents, whom Calipari says are burden-free next to the Cats.
"The people coming in to play us got windbreakers," Calipari said. "They're loose as a goose. They're just going to go play."
Karl-Anthony Towns, just five games into his UK career, has already noticed.
"Man, windbreakers?" said Towns, who tallied six of UK's 12 blocks to bring his season total to 18. "I don't even think they're wearing anything. They're going to the beach."
Dakari Johnson, who nearly had another double-double with 13 points and eight rebounds in just 17 minutes, is in his second year wearing that heavy coat. He knows there's no taking it off either.
"We're always going to feel that type of pressure because of the expectations and stuff like that," Johnson said. "But I feel like we're a close unit so there's not much pressure to get to us because we're so close together."
That closeness means the Cats can share the burden rather than carry it individually.
"Anytime I need any advice, anytime I need to talk to somebody, it's as easy as calling Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Aaron Harrison, Andrew," Towns said. "I have so many numbers and so much support on my side that this whole being a UK Wildcat basketball player, the pressure really hasn't gotten to me. I've just been having a lot of fun."
With five wins by an average margin of 34.6 points -- the last coming in a game where the Cats held their opponents to 19.7-percent shooting, forced 21 turnovers and had one stretch of 12:37 in which they didn't allow a single point -- it's no surprise Towns has been enjoying himself so much.
Besides, he and his teammates did at least have an idea what they were getting into when they signed to play at UK. It's not like Coach Cal hides the 100-pound coats in the closet during the recruiting process.
"You know, Big Blue Nation is crazy," said Devin Booker, who had his second straight big game with 18 points. "But, you just play through it, it's something you learn. You know, it's a good problem to have. You want to be on this stage, so that's why you come here."
That's lucky, because that coat's not getting any lighter.
"If you're not willing to wear the hundred-pound coat, you don't come here, you can't come here, because it's not changing," Calipari said.