John Wall is reminding everyone why he was the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick back in 2010.
The third-year Washington Wizard point guard is having the best month of his NBA career. He's fresh off of being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time since entering the pros out of Kentucky. And after Monday night, Wall is making a pretty strong case to win it for the second time in three weeks.
On Monday night, he set a career high by scoring 47 points in an impressive 107-94 win over the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies. He needed just 22 field-goal attempts to do it, hitting 19 of 24 from the free-throw line. He also added eight assists, seven rebounds, a steal and a block along the way.
Wall is now averaging 21.8 points, 8.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 14 games this month. The Wizards (26-44 overall) are 8-6 during that stretch and now 21-16 since Wall made his return from an offseason knee injury.
A former teammate of Wall's had a career night of his own, as New Orleans Hornets rookie Darius Miller started at shooting guard in place of the injured Eric Gordon. He played 26 minutes as the Hornets ended the Denver Nuggets' 15-game winning streak, scoring a career-high 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Anthony Davis, meanwhile, battled foul trouble and posted 14 points and six rebounds in the 110-86 win.
Men's basketball - Kentucky fell 59-57 at Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT, after advancing to postseason -play for the 22nd-consecutive year. - Freshman Archie Goodwin led the team in scoring with 18 points, while junior Jarrod Polson logged 10. - Goodwin went 8-of-8 at the free throw line, which was the second-most made free throws in an NIT game in UK history.
Women's basketball - DeNesha Stallworth scored 18 points and Jennifer O'Neill added nine of her 12 points in the second half to lead the second-seeded Wildcats to a 61-41 win over 15th-seeded Navy on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA women's tournament. - After trailing by a point at halftime, UK outscored Navy 35-16 in the second half to move onto the second round of the NCAA women's tournament. - The 20-point win is the largest margin of victory for Kentucky in a NCAA Tournament game. - The 41 points surrendered by UK is the lowest total for an NCAA Tournament game in school history.
Gymnastics - The No. 19 Kentucky gymnastics team placed eighth with a 194.6 team score at the SEC Championship. - Kentucky finishes the regular season with a school-record regional qualifying score of 196.06. - The Wildcats now await their NCAA regional fate, which will be revealed on the NCAA Gymnastics Championship Selection Show on Monday, March 25 at 3 p.m. - UK tied its season-high floor score with a 49.125, a total which also tied for highest at session I. - Kayla Hartley's floor routine turned plenty of heads as she produced a career-high tying score of 9.9.
Softball - The No. 21 Kentucky softball team got back to its winning ways over the weekend with a three-game sweep of Mississippi State at home. The series win was the second of the season for UK, who is now 5-4 in Southeastern Conference play heading into its bye weekend. UK also earned a 7-1 midweek win over WKU on Tuesday. - The Wildcat offense was the difference in the weekend series, scoring 15 runs on 24 hits with two doubles and seven home runs against a MSU pitching staff that entered the weekend ranked 22nd nationally in earned-run average. Senior Alice O'Brien paced the Wildcats with a .500 average with one double, two home runs - one a walkoff, 10th-inning home run - and three RBI. Freshman Nikki Sagermann also hit .500 in the series with a home run and two runs scored. The other four home runs came from sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner, junior outfielder Emily Jolly and two from freshman Maisie Steed. - In Tuesday's 7-1 victory over Western Kentucky, Nikki Sagermann was the offensive star in the game for Kentucky, going 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, including her first collegiate home run. - True freshman pitcher Kelsey Nunley was impressive in the series, going 2-0 and not allowing a run the entire weekend. Nunley pitched nine innings in relief Friday night to get the win before throwing a complete-game shutout in game two Saturday. Junior pitcher Lauren Cumbess went 1-0 on the weekend with a 2.62 ERA after earning a no-decision Friday night and a win in game one Saturday, allowing two runs on five hits over seven innings.
Baseball - The eighth-ranked Kentucky baseball team completed a four-game week with a series win over No. 14 Mississippi State, spurred by a doubleheader sweep on Saturday. - Kentucky won its second consecutive series to open league play, also claiming the conference lidlifter at Florida last weekend. - Freshman outfielder Kyle Barrett hit .385 (5-for-13) with a pair of doubles and RBI, drawing two walks and stealing a base, starting all four games of the week. He contributed to UK's walk-off win in the rubber match vs. the Bulldogs, starting the bottom of the ninth inning with a double and scoring the game-winning and series-clinching win. - Jerad Grundy worked eight strong innings to lead UK to a series-evening win over No. 14 Mississippi State, in the front end of a doubleheader on Saturday. The senior worked into the ninth inning of UK's 3-2 win, allowing five singles and a solo homer, with two runs scoring - On the mound, UK has a 2.55 ERA, walking just 55 and striking out 176 in 205 innings.
Men's tennis - No. 31 Anthony Rossi picked up one of the biggest wins of his career on Sunday as he collected a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 7 KU Singh as UK fell 4-2 to Georgia. The win for Rossi was his 98th-career win and he now is just two wins shy of becoming the 15th player in UK tennis history to eclipse the 100-win mark. - UK returns to action on Friday as the Wildcats take on No. 29 Alabama at 2:00 p.m. ET at the Hilary J. Boone Varsity Tennis Center. The weekend will continue on Sunday as Kentucky faces off against Auburn.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team went 0-2 over the weekend, falling to Ole Miss 4-3 on Friday before defeating Mississippi State 7-0 on Sunday. - Freshman Nadia Ravita won two singles matches in the No. 1 singles slot, improving her record to 15-2. - Sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Kirsten Lewis both went 2-0 in singles over the weekend.
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team competed in their third tournament of the spring, finishing eighth in the 14-team field at the 2013 LSU Tiger Golf Classic. - Senior Ashleigh Albrecht recorded her second top-10 finish of the year, placing tied for seventh at 9-overpar. She was 7-over after the first round before firing team-lows and back-to-back rounds of 1-over-par to climb the leaderboard - Kentucky returns to the links April 5-7 at the Rebel Intercollegiate in Oxford, Miss.
Swimming and diving - Sophomores Christa Cabot and Christina Bechtel each made their NCAA Championships debut over the weekend in Indianapolis, Ind. Cabot competed in all three diving events while Bechtel swam in the 100-butterfly. - Bechtel was unable to qualify for the finals in the 100-butterfly, but finished in 25th overall with a preliminary time of 53.06, her best prelim time of her career. - Cabot's best finish came in the 3-meter springboard where she finished in 18th place with a six-dive score of 307.60.
Monday, March 25 Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)
Tuesday, March 26 Women's basketball vs. Dayton - 7:00 p.m. (Queens, N.Y.) Softball at Western Kentucky - 8:00 p.m. Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C)
Wednesday, March 27 Baseball hosts Marshall - 3:00 p.m. Softball at Lipscomb - 7:00 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Thursday, March 28 Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
Friday, March 29 Men's tennis hosts Alabama - 2:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Alabama - 4:00 p.m. Softball hosts Tennessee - 5:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Georgia - 6:30 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas) Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio) Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Saturday, March 30 Baseball hosts Georgia - 2:00 p.m. Track and field at Texas Relays (Austin, Texas) Swimming and diving at Men's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Oliver Nikoloff Invite (Cincinnati, Ohio) Track and field at Stanford Invitational (Palo Alto, Calif.)
There's no denying the hit that Kentucky's interior defense took when Nerlens Noel was lost for the season to a knee injury, but there was an impact on the offensive end, too.
For the season, UK averaged 37 points "in the paint" per game and the Wildcats were 13-0 in games in which they scored at least 40. But over the final five games, UK averaged a little more than 30 points in the paint. And during that same stretch, Kentucky had trouble hitting the perimeter shots, too, making fewer than 25 percent of its 3-point attempts.
Here are some other interesting statistical notes from this past season:
The Robert Morris loss marked just the second time in Calipari's four years that Kentucky lost a game in which it hit better than 50 percent of its field-goal attempts;
The Cats were just 2-9 in games in which they failed to crack the 70-point barrier;
Calipari's teams, historically, have won games in which they didn't shoot well but this year's squad was only 1-6 in games with when its shooting percentage was 40 percent or worse (the victory over Florida was the exception);
UK has won 50 of the last 51 games in which it led or was tied at halftime. This year's team was 19-1, with the lone blemish coming at Alabama, when the Cats let a nine-point lead slip away.
Bracket postmortem with Lunardi
ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had a good year, correctly forecasting every at-large team that made the NCAA Tournament field.
One of the many factors he has to consider in projecting what the selection committee will do involves analyzing a team's RPI. But Lunardi says he'd like to see the committee incorporate more of the metrics measuring things like offensive and defensive efficiency.
"I would include more of them than the RPI. I think they all measure different things and the things measured are things of value, if taken correctly. You have to spot the outliers," Lunardi said on "The Leach Report" radio show.
If Lunardi had the proverbial magic wand and could change something about the selection process, what would it be?
"I would pass this rule without discussion: To be tournament-eligible, you would have to at least .500 in your league, as a way of making the conference season and the conference tournaments a little more important. If you are 7-9 in your league and you count conference tournament games if you make the conference final and lose so you are 9-9 or 10-10, you are back to being tournament eligible. It would add a tremendous amount to those Thursday and Friday games between the teams that finished down on the standings and I think history shows it would open up one or two spots a year in the at-large pool for the Drexel's who win 29 games and get excluded," Lunardi said, referring to last year's Drexel example. "History shows that time after time, teams that have won a lot from high quality non-BCS leagues almost always perform better in the tournament than what I would call the middling majors from the bigger leagues. Twenty seven or 28 wins in those leagues is pretty good and we forget that winning begets winning."
Recruiting analyst Telep on point guards
With all of the talk about the point-guard position for Kentucky this season, it brought to mind a quote from veteran recruiting analyst Dave Telep of ESPN.com:
"When I go and watch a guy and people describe him to me when I watch a guard and they use the word "combo" a red flag goes up," Telep said on "The Leach Report" show. "To me, a point guard has to have complete command of the team and they generally can showcase that ability. It's not quantifiable but you can see it with your eyes and you ask the question, 'Does he have the respect of his teammates, does he have command of his team and is he an orchestrator of the offense?' "
UK's 2012-13 season ended with a 59-57 loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT. (Matt Adams, UK Athletics)
Right from the very beginning, it felt familiar.
Time after time during a season that went according to no one's plan, opponents took the fight right to the Wildcats, using physical play to unnerve an undisputedly talented Kentucky team. After it worked so many times during the regular season, why wouldn't Robert Morris try it in the first round of the NIT with a raucous home crowd?
"Last year, at the beginning of the year, every team played us this way," head coach John Calipari said. "And our guys said, 'It ain't happening.' And they fought back and that was negated. By the end of the year, you could not play us physical and tough and win a ballgame against us. We never accepted that that was an issue (this season)."
It was an issue once again on Tuesday night as the Cats (21-12) saw their season end in a 59-57 loss.
The particulars of the game need little rehashing. The Colonials (24-10) jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but UK battled back behind the inspired play of Jarrod Polson (10 points) and the determination of Archie Goodwin (18 points, seven rebounds). Kentucky would have completed a comeback win had Kyle Wiltjer's buzzer-beating 3-point attempt fallen, but that only would have delayed the inevitable. No matter how long they stayed alive, the Cats' run in the NIT was but a chance to improve heading into next season.
Outsiders will harp on the irresistible "national championship to Moon Township(, Pa.)"storyline to describe UK's change in postseason fortunes in less than a calendar year, but nothing about this season or this game alters Coach Cal's vision for the program.
"All I know is there were things that we did this year we will not do, we'll correct and we'll be fine," Calipari said. "This program's fine. The recruiting is in good shape. We're right where we need to be."
And so begins an intriguing offseason.
Calipari already has locked up his fifth straight top recruiting class. Five players have signed for 2013 and more are expected to come on board this spring. The process of determining who among players from the 2012-13 roster will join them will play itself out in the coming weeks.
"I told them we'll have individual meetings," Calipari said. "I'm not ready to do that yet. We'll have individual meetings and I told them the one this is expect me to be honest with them."
Coach Cal may not quite be ready to discuss stay-or-go decisions, but his players faced inevitable questions about the NBA in the immediate aftermath of the loss. Goodwin and Alex Poythress didn't hesitate to say they don't feel they ready for the next level and they expect to return. Willie Cauley-Stein sang a similar tune, but added that he needs first to evaluate his stock and talk to his family before making any proclamations.
Regardless of their final decisions, Poythress, Goodwin and Cauley-Stein showed maturity in fielding questions about their future. For top recruits - especially those choosing to play at UK - playing one season and going pro has come to be viewed as the norm, rather than the remarkable exception that it truly is. These Cats seem humble and self-aware enough to realize that there's no shame in developing at your own pace.
"You don't come to college expecting to be here one year," Poythress said. "You come to college, you just try to do the best you can. If you have the opportunity, then you can leave."
It's best for fans to anticipate all of UK's players with NBA pedigrees will still at least ponder the possibilities once the sting of a season-ending defeat wears off, but even Calipari is talking like a coach who expects some of his youngsters back for another season.
"What we're gonna have is unbelievable competition," Calipari said. "We may have three teams, so 15 guys that can play. And let's go. It's what we need, kind of like my first year when we had all those players. We're gonna be a little young, but with guys coming back we're still going to have some veteran guys."
Even with all the talk of next year, there was still plenty of reflection on what went wrong with the season that just ended. It was a group that came in with unfair expectations after last year's national championship, starting the season ranked No. 3 despite returning just one major contributor from a year ago.
But for all the praise that poured in from media and fans even before the first practice, it was the fact that the Cats at least partially bought into their own hype that did the real damage. After watching their predecessors steamroll their way to a title, the Cats couldn't help but think they would repeat the performance.
"Last year's team was just so good," said an introspective Poythress. "They made it look so easy and in reality it's not. There's so much hard work you gotta put in."
The 2012 Cats were driven from day one, but they didn't take their hard work to a national-championship level until after they had to navigate their way through a court-rushing mob following a loss at Indiana. It was that game that caused UK to zero in on its goals and morph into a tournament juggernaut.
The 2013 Cats found themselves in a similar situation after losing at Robert Morris. Hundreds of fans streamed onto the floor celebrating the biggest win in school history as UK's players stared with hands on heads.
The timing and circumstances, of course, were very different.
One was a December regular-season loss; the other was a season-ender. This year's Wildcats couldn't become a great team in the span of one season like in 2012, but they still might have a chance to do it on their own schedule.
"It should be driving us for a long time," Poythress said. "It's just going to stay in my mind, stay in the back of my head. It's going to be hard to get out, especially when you end your season like this."
"They not only didn't handle it, they completely botched it. They made it an easy choice for the committee. And it's a shame because the tournament is always better when Kentucky is involved."
That's the assessment of Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy of how Kentucky popped its own bubble last Friday night against Vanderbilt. He said it was not asking that much for the Wildcats to handle the Southeastern Conference's 10th-seeded team and if they couldn't do it, they have nothing to complain about (John Calipari said as much himself on Monday).
So what went wrong? DeCourcy says Kentucky came up short of what it needed to get from the point-guard position.
"John thought he could work with him (Ryan Harrow) but I don't think it worked," DeCourcy said on "The Leach Report" radio show Monday. "They didn't get the kind of play out of the point guard position that they needed. And it's not about being Derrick Rose. Sometimes, it's just about being Anthony Epps - being a good, solid leader, defender, don't make mistakes, make sure everybody is in the right place, doing the right things. But you have to somewhere on the positive side of the ledger and I don't think Ryan was on the positive side at the most crucial times. I think that was the biggest problem with this team. Obviously, the (Nerlens) Noel injury was an issue (too)."
DeCourcy said Kentucky needed Marquis Teague to return for a second season.
"Marquis would have fixed almost everything that's wrong with this team. And so would Doron Lamb," he said, noting that agrees with the argument made by CBS analyst Charles Barkley about too many players leaving the college game too soon. "His point is if you're going and you're in the second round, then you blew it. Guys should never leave school to be second-round picks."
Kentucky figures to be a major contender for the title next season, but what about this year's NCAA Tournament? I asked DeCourcy to give his take on this mythical contest: identify the national champion from the fewest number of contenders.
"You could go seven or six (deep). It depends on how much you trust Florida. They have unbelievable metrics. They're only team in the country that's top five in the country in offensive and defensive efficiency. Why that doesn't translate into more tough wins, I don't know but it doesn't," DeCourcy said, adding that his "six" are the top four seeds in the tournament plus Michigan State and Duke.
DeCourcy says there are two key criteria in honing in on the true title contenders.
"Do you have multiple pros, preferably some that would be lottery-level and do you have top-20 (numbers) in offensive and defensive efficiency. No champion over the last 10 years has been outside the top 20 by the end of the tournament," he explained.
As for significant upset prospects in the first round, DeCourcy cited two games that will be played in Rupp Arena: Bucknell against six seed Butler and Davison against three-seed Marquette.
Looking at Robert Morris
To me, a football analogy works best in discussing Kentucky's NIT matchup.
Think of it as one of the second-tier bowl games where the key is often what the favorite's mindset is. Do they really want to be there or are they ready for the season to end because they didn't achieve their goals?
One thing's for sure: Robert Morris will bring its "A" game.
"I don't think we've ever seen anything on the level of Kentucky (in the Sewall Center)," said RMU's Jim Duzyk, the media relations manager for the Colonials program. "It's going to be standing room-only and it's going to be crazy. It's something our guys are looking forward to and are going to cherish for the rest of their lives. I think they're going to be ready.
"The Northeast Conference is traditionally a guard's league. Our coaches go after guys that can put the ball in the basket. That's something we've hung out hat on for probably the last 10 years. All these guys have the ability to shoot the 3-pointer and that makes us more dangerous. Our guys are very unselfish and we're very balanced offensively."
Men's basketball - Kentucky earned the No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament and will take on Robert Morris in the opening round on Tuesday. - The invitation to the NIT marks the 22nd-consecutive season UK will take part in postseason play. The Wildcats are 13-6 overall in the NIT and have twice won the title (1946, 1976). - UK fell 64-48 in the SEC Tournament to Vanderbilt, despite a 12-point effort from freshman Archie Goodwin. - Senior Julius Mays is six points shy of scoring 1,000 for his collegiate career. He current has 994 total points, with 301 of those tallies coming in a UK uniform. Gymnastics - Kentucky reached a new program best 196.775 on Saturday at Penn State. - The Wildcats extended their school-record streak of scores more than 196 to four. - Alexis Gross claimed event honors with collegiate-high scores on both uneven bars and balance beam. Gross notched a 9.9 on bars, and received a 9.95 on balance beam. Her 9.95 was third-highest on the event in school history. She received a 9.9 from judge one and a 10.0 from judge two as both averaged a 9.95. - Kentucky also smashed the program-record beam score with a 49.475.
Softball - The No. 17 Kentucky softball team earned an impressive midweek win against No. 24 North Carolina, taking down the Tar Heels 18-0 behind the ninth no-hitter in school history from freshman pitcher Katie Henderson. Henderson went all five innings in the win, striking out four with only one walk. The no-hitter was the first for UK since Chanda Bell threw a no-hitter against LSU in 2012. - The UK offense set many school records in the win as the 18 runs scored and four homers tied the most runs scored in a game in school annals, while UK's 18 runs batted in was the most ever in a single game in school history. Sophomore catcher Griffin Joiner was the leader of the pack offensively in the win, posting a 4-for-4 night with career highs in home runs with two, runs scored with four and runs batted in with six. - The Wildcats could not keep up the momentum going over the weekend, falling in all three games to No. 13 LSU. The Wildcats dropped the first game 7-1 before dropping the next two games in LSU's last at bat.
Baseball - Kentucky posted its first series win in Gainesville in 14 years over the weekend and just the fifth in the history of the series that dates back to 1953. - The Wildcats fell in the opener after a three-error seventh inning in a 1-1 game and rebounded with an 11-5 win over the Gators on Saturday. In the rubber match, UK turned to Corey Littrell, who pitched UK to the series win in a 6-2 result at McKethan Stadium. - The Wildcats have hit .297 as a team, belting 31 doubles, five triples and 14 homers, scoring 149 runs and stealing 29 bases. On the mound, UK has a 2.45 team ERA, allowing 164 hits in 169 innings, walking 41 and striking out 138.
Men's tennis - No. 10 Kentucky completed the Mississippi swing this weekend, coming out of the weekend 2-0 with a 4-1 win over No. 4 Ole Miss and a 4-2 win over No. 13 Mississippi State. - Kentucky now sits at 16-4 overall and stands tied atop the SEC standings with a 4-1 in-conference record. - No. 31 Anthony Rossi picked up the clinching match on Sunday over No. 18 Romain Bogearts 7-6 (3), 6-3 of MSU. Rossi's doubles partner, Grant Roberts went 4-0 on the weekend as well. In Friday's 4-1 win at Ole Miss, freshman Kevin Lai clinched the match as he moved to 9-0 on the year, picking up his first-career SEC win.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team went 1-1 over the weekend, falling to Ole Miss 4-3 on Friday before defeating Mississippi State 7-0 on Sunday. - Freshman Nadia Ravita won two singles matches in the No. 1 singles slot, improving her record to 15-2. - Sophomore Stephanie Fox and freshman Kirsten Lewis both went 2-0 in singles over the weekend.
Track and field - Kentucky opened the outdoor season with seven event titles by either individual competitors or relay teams. - Andrew Evans won the discus behind a new personal record mark of 59.27m/194'05". - Kayla Parker won the 100-meter hurdles with a PR 13.51 performance. - Both the men's and women's teams won the 4x100-meter relays. - Keffri Neal won the 1,500 meters with a personal-record time of 3:51.60. Teammate Adam Kahleifeh also posted a PR time of 3:51.94 to finish in second-position. - Raymond Dykstra showed off his 2012 All-America credentials in the javelin with a meet-winning performance of 67.84m/222'07"
Men's golf - The Kentucky men's golf team wrapped up the week with two top-10 finishes, placing tied for fifth at the Tiger Invitational and tied for sixth at the Schenkel Invitational. - Junior Stephen Powers recorded his second straight top-10 finish at the Tiger Invite with a 6-over-par, 222, placing tied for sixth overall. Junior Ben Stow also was in the top-20, finishing tied for 14th at 8-over. - Stow continued his torrid play at the Schenkel Invite, posting his first career top-10 finish, placing tied for ninth at 1-under-par. The Salisbury, England native charted a career-low score of 215.
Women's golf - The UK women's golf team competed in their second tournament of the spring, finishing tied for ninth in the 18-team field at the Insperity Lady Jaguar Intercollegiate. - Senior Betsie Johnson was the low scorer for the Wildcats, recording her first top-20 finish of the year, placing tied for 19th at 9-over-par.
Swimming and diving - Greg Ferrucci, John Fox and Christa Cabot each earned berths to the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships with their performances at the Zone C Diving Championships in West Lafayette, Ind., this past weekend. - Ferrucci won both the 3-meter (888.05) and 1-meter (825.75) springboard events to advance to his third straight NCAA Championships, and broke the program record on the 3-meter for a six-dive score with a 434.85. Fox earned fourth place on the 3-meter (761.95) to advance to his first NCAA Championships. - Cabot earned her spot on the first day of competition on the 3-meter board, scoring 623.10 to earn a fourth place finish. It will be the sophomore's first career appearance at the NCAA Championships.
Tuesday, March 19 Softball hosts Western Kentucky - 6:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Western Kentucky - 6:30 p.m. Men's basketball at Robert Morris - 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 20 Softball hosts Iowa - 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 21 Swimming and diving at Women's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Florida State Relays (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Friday, March 22 Track and field at Alabama Relays - 12:00 p.m. (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Men's tennis hosts Tennessee - 2:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Tennessee - 5:00 p.m. Softball hosts Mississippi State - 6:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Mississippi State - 6:30 p.m. Women's golf at LSU Golf Classic (Baton Rouge, La.) Swimming and diving at Women's NCAA Championships (Indianapolis, Ind.) Track and field at Florida State Relays (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Saturday, March 23 Baseball hosts Mississippi State - 12:00 p.m. Softball hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m. Track and field at Alabama Relays - 3:00 p.m. Tuscaloosa, Ala.) Gymnastics at SEC Championships (North Little Rock, Ark.) Track and field at Florida State Relays (Tallahassee, Fla.) Women's golf at LSU Golf Classic (Baton Rouge, La.) Swimming and diving at Women's NCAA Championships (Statesboro, Ga.)
Sunday, March 24 Women's tennis at Georgia - 1:00 p.m. Softball hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m. Baseball hosts Mississippi State - 1:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Georgia - 1:00 p.m. Men's basketball at SEC Finals - 3:30 p.m. (Nashville) Men's golf at Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate (Awendaw, S.C.) Women's golf at LSU Golf Classic (Baton, Rouge, La.)
UK will open NIT play at Robert Morris on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. (Josh McCoy, UK Athletics)
The disappointment over missing out on the NCAA Tournament still lingers for the Kentucky Wildcats. Talking to Julius Mays and Jon Hood on a rainy Lexington Monday that seemed to match the mood of UK fans, that much is clear.
The good news is they don't just have to sit around and sulk. Named the top overall seed in the NIT, the Cats will be taking the floor barely 48 hours removed from not hearing their names called on the Selection Show.
"I think just to have the opportunity to keep playing with each other will be a lot of fun," guard Julius Mays said. "I know I'm looking forward to it. Obviously it's not the tournament I want to be in, but just to get the chance to keep playing is the most important thing."
As UK prepares for Tuesday's game at Robert Morris (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), Jon Hood is echoing Mays' sentiments. The Cats might not be playing for the trophy they really want and defending last year's national championship, but it's called "playing" basketball for a reason, isn't it?
"Playing basketball's fun. Writing columns is fun for you," Hood said in response to a writer for a local newspaper. "Playing basketball is fun for me. So that's what I'm looking forward to."
John Calipari won't be playing, but he's taking a similar approach.
During a season in which he's tried everything he could come up with to inspire his team to reach its potential, the NIT gives the Cats a little extra time to click.
"We've got issues, let's deal with them," Calipari said. "Let's use them to get better. We've got more time to practice with our team. We've got a bunch of young players. We're going to use the time to get better."
Given how young the Cats (21-11) are, any improvement they make right now figures to pay dividends next season, but it's not as if they are eschewing any thoughts of winning right now. Robert Morris (23-10) is a deep, experienced team that is 12-3 on its home court this season and won the Northeastern Conference regular-season title. Six of the Colonials' top seven scorers and their bench accounts for 37.6 of the team's minutes played on the season - 40th in the nation.
"Robert Morris is really good, (won 23) games, really efficient and they turn you over a lot," Hood said. "They're tough, Pittsburgh guys that are just gonna fight you. We just have to get over that. We have to understand that that's coming and accept it play through it."
Coach Cal likened Robert Morris to Arkansas because of the physical pressure the Colonials apply to the ball. UK lost by 13 points at Arkansas less than three weeks ago while Robert Morris fell by just five in a hard-fought game on the Razorbacks' home floor back in December.
On the season, Robert Morris steals the ball on 13.5 percent its opponents' possessions, the ninth-highest rate in the nation. That starts with point guard Velton Jones, who averages 1.8 steals a game to go with 5.2 assists and 10.9 points.
"Their point guard, he'll grab guys," Calipari said, who will be returning to his hometown of Moon Township, PA., for the game. "I've seen him on tape just go grab a guy. But it's because he has the ability to physically dominate a game that he can do that and no one messes with him."
The Colonials have the added - and unique - advantage of playing on their home floor, the Sewall Center, which seats just 3,056. ("That's smaller than my high school gym," said Hood.)
Some fans were disappointed to learn the higher-seeded Cats wouldn't be hosting in the NIT until the second round due to staffing issues with the NCAA Tournament being played in Rupp Arena this week. Coach Cal, however, was not.
Still just days removed when UK delivered a disappointing performance in a game against Vanderbilt in which it could have locked up a berth in the Big Dance, Calipari believes the Cats must prove they want to keep playing. His players agree.
"We don't want fans to go buy tickets and might have a few guys that don't really want to be there and we show it and lay another egg on the first game, so I do think we do have to prove ourselves that we want to play and I do think we have something to prove, so I hope guys are ready to play," Mays said.
The only reasonable course of action for the Cats is to focus on the task at hand, regardless of the fact that they'd rather be playing in another tournament. Very few teams get to end their seasons with a win and UK wants to be one of them for the second season in a row.
"It means that you went out on the right note, you went out on a good note and you always want to do that," Hood said of potentially winning the NIT. "You always want to end your season with a win and there's two teams that do that. And we want to be the second team. It stinks were not in the NCAA and can't do it there, but life goes on."
UK's first-round road game in the NIT has been a source of disagreement since the Wildcats learned they would be traveling to Robert Morris for a game on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Some have been unwilling to accept that the NCAA Tournament games being hosted in Rupp Arena this week as well as other sports in action created an untenable staffing situation for a potential game in Memorial Coliseum this week.
Don't count John Calipari among that group.
On Monday morning, Coach Cal did as he often does and tweeted his thoughts on the topic of the day.
When I heard we couldn't host the first round of the NIT, I decided to accept the bid knowing we could host in the second round.
Calipari brings up an interesting point about his team needing to prove itself before fans invest more money in coming to watch the Cats play. If UK takes care of business, the Big Blue Nation will stall have two more chances to fill Rupp Arena.