Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 10:
Men's basketball: Julius Randle
Recorded a double-double in both of UK's victories.
Scored 45 points in two games, more than any other UK freshman in his first two games under John Calipari. The previous high was John Wall in 2009-10 who totaled 40 in his first two outings.
Is the first Wildcat to have consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound games since Patrick Patterson in Dec. 2008.
Sunk 10 or more free throws in both contests, the 11 made vs. UNC Asheville ranks the as the second-most in a single game under Calipari.
His 23-point, 16-rebound effort was just two points and one rebound shy of matching UK first-game records in both statistical categories. Terrence Jones had 25 points in his collegiate debut, while Sam Bowie hauled in 17 rebounds.
His three assists against Northern Kentucky was a team-high.
Volleyball: Anni Thomasson
Freshman Anni Thomasson simply had a match for the ages in a five-set victory over LSU on Sunday. Thomasson set a 25-point rally scoring era and Craig Skinner tenure record with a 30-kill performance in the win. She totaled the 30 hammers on an impressive .373 hitting percentage. She countered it with a career-high 22 digs to provide a defensive spark as well. No UK player under Skinner has ever turned a 30-20 trick, and she is the first conference player to do so since Kayla Fitterer of Alabama achieved the feat in 2010. The last UK player to record 30 kills in a match was a senior, Sarah Spinner, with 36 in 2004. Thomasson was also perfect in the serve-receive line with 29 total attempts and zero errors. She received the final serve from LSU and won the match for UK with her 30th kill down the line. She opened the weekend with a12-kill performance against South Carolina. In all, Thomasson has now reached the double-figure kill plateau in four-straight conference matches. For the weekend, she averaged a blistering 5.25 kills per set on a .341 hitting percentage. She also contributed 3.12 digs per stanza a squad-high 5.56 points.
UK will face Michigan State on Tuesday in Chicago in a matchup of the nation's two top-ranked teams. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
In spite of its ranking, John Calipari insists his team is at a disadvantage playing a game like this so early in the season.
For the first time in five years, the nation's two top-ranked teams will meet. The lights will be bright for Tuesday's matchup between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State and it's a stage for which Coach Cal is not sure his team is ready.
But as much as Coach Cal might like to have a little more time to prepare his young team for such a tough opponent, he knows there are positives that come with playing in the Champions Classic so early.
"The thing in a game like this for this team: Questions are answered," Calipari said.
The one question about UK that needs no answering is whether the Wildcats are talented. With potential lottery picks up and down the Kentucky roster, that's clear and was made even clearer in UK's two exhibition wins.
On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Chicago's United Center, more open-ended debates will be settled.
"So then the question's about how we play together, how hard we play, how we deal with adversity, how we deal with prosperity," Calipari said. "Questions will be answered tomorrow. You're playing against a well-coached team -- Tommy (Izzo) does a great job -- and a veteran team."
Calipari counts six freshmen and two sophomores among his eight-man rotation, while five upperclassmen played 10 minutes or more in Michigan State's dominant 98-56 season-opening win over McNeese State.
Leading the way are senior guard Keith Appling and classmate Adreian Payne, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound center. Gary Harris is just a sophomore, but the preseason Big 10 Player of the Year posted 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Spartans' opener.
"They're a terrific 3-point shooting team," Calipari said. "They've got big people. Their front line is as big as ours. You got to guard them. They run their stuff. They run their little back screens and they run their curl cuts and they get the ball from one side (to the other). Their pick-and-rolls are really effective, and their guards shoot it. So you can't go under pick-and-rolls. They'll come up shooting. We got a challenge on our hands."
It's a challenge the Wildcats are eager to take on.
They've heard all about the dynamic of youth vs. experience, including from their own coach, and are ready to prove it's just talk.
"I'm not buying into it," said Julius Randle, the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Week. "We're playing the same game. Two great coaches. We have guys on our team with experience too and I'm not buying into the lack of experience. At the end of the day, it's going to be a war."
In preparation for that battle, Calipari isn't asking his team to memorize Michigan State's playbook and personnel. In fact, he only gave the Cats about 10 minutes of video of the Spartans to watch on their team-issued tablets.
"I'm concerned about us," Calipari said. "I've watched enough tape."
Keeping it simple, he believes, is the best way he knows to position his team to pull off a victory in the early season's marquee game.
"Whatever we have in, which isn't much, just do well with what we have," Calipari said. "And let's worry about us, knowing that you're gonna have to guard. You have to run back, first, and then you have to guard them."
Against this Michigan State team, transition play will likely be of particular importance. While the Spartans generated much of their offense in the half-court through big man Derrick Nicks last year, they now look to run at every juncture and scored 40 fast-break points in their opener.
"They fly up and down the court," Calipari said. "And the guys that are out ahead can make plays."
With such a stern test ahead, Coach Cal sees two possible outcomes for his team.
"We win or we learn," Calipari said. "That's what this game will be. We win or we learn. What I think is we don't play hard enough."
The Cats, on the other hand, don't see why they can't do both, viewing their coach's talk about the early-season matchup being "unfair" as a challenge to his young team.
"I think we can win and I think we can learn about how good we can be," Randle said.
That also happens to be Calipari's ideal outcome.
"My hope is we play great, that you watch us and say, 'Man, (after) 30 practices, for them to play that way, wow," Calipari said. " 'They played hard, they played as a unit. Eh, they break down but they scrambled; they didn't stop playing, they had a great presence, great spirit about 'em.' And then we move on."
He's also prepared for the alternative, but the Cats will go back to work just the same.
"If that's a loss -- I'd like it to be a win, but if it's a loss and I get that from this team -- it's the building point that we go from," Calipari said.
Julius Randle had 23 points and 16 rebounds in UK's 93-63 win over NKU on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The question was completely fair.
Two dominant regular-season games in, Julius Randle was asked whether he could have imagined a better start to his collegiate career.
After posting a second straight double-double in a 93-63 win over Northern Kentucky on Sunday, Randle smiled and took a moment to decide how to answer.
"If you say so," Randle said.
For anyone not wearing his No. 30 jersey or his coach's loafers, the answer would surely be a resounding no. To say anything else after he posted 22 points and 14 rebounds against the Norse to follow a 23-point, 16-rebound effort in the season opener would be crazy, right?
Could he have expected something more than scoring the most points through two games of any UK freshman under John Calipari, breaking John Wall's previous record of 40? Could he have thought he could do better becoming the first freshman since Michael Beasley six years ago to 20-point, 10-rebound games in each of his first two games?
To get this straight, Randle is averaging 22.5 points and 15.0 rebounds through two games. He's shooting 60 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line. He also offers the following appraisal of his performance to date.
"I'm still missing a lot of opportunities," Randle said. "A lot of balls I should come up with. I think I missed like four free throws today (he shot 10 for 14), so I'm still leaving a lot out there. I've just gotta learn from it and improve."
Randle has always had a reputation for demanding the best of himself, but his pursuit of perfection has been cranked up a notch since he put on Kentucky blue. That surely has something to do with Calipari.
"He should be averaging 20 rebounds a game right now I would say," Coach Cal said.
At one point during the first half when Randle was on the bench for a breather, Alex Poythress grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back in, causing Calipari to turn and say something to his star freshman.
"He was just challenging me saying that's gotta be me on the offensive glass like that," Randle said. "I've gotta accept the challenge and keep going."
It's both a sign of how well Poythress is playing -- he had nine points and seven rebounds in just 20 minutes -- and of how good Calipari believes Randle can be that he would issue such a challenge. If Randle is able to do what Coach Cal believes he can, the college basketball world better watch out because he's pretty good already.
"He's playing very well," said Andrew Harrison, who scored 13 points. "I knew how good he was. He's a hard worker too. There's nothing he can be but good."
Harrison has never experienced playing college basketball without Randle, but Willie Cauley-Stein has. The perspective of playing his freshman year with no presence like the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Calipari-described "alpha beast" alongside him in the post makes Cauley-Stein realize how fortunate UK is to have Randle.
"It's fun," said the 7-foot sophomore who had seven points and 11 rebounds on Sunday. "If all else fails, you can just throw him the ball and he's going to make something happen. He's a great teammate to have on your team because you know he's always going to make a play. He's pretty good."
The only time on Sunday NKU was able to slow Randle was when he took an inadvertent poke to the eye during the first half. The play sent him to the bench less than three minutes into the game, but not for long.
"I couldn't see for a little bit, but I'm good now," Randle said.
Always asking for more, Calipari even used Randle's brief exit as a teachable moment.
"He stops out there," Calipari said, referencing Randle's unwillingness to leave the game regardless how tired he may be, "and he finally took himself out for the first time this season. He took himself out. The only way he came out was the guy almost poked his eye out, so had he to come out. You can't play at the pace we play and stay in there for 15 minutes. You just can't do it."
If Randle weren't the way he is, he might view Calipari's coaching as nitpicking. Instead, he understands his coach is only trying to make him better.
With that in mind, Randle is going to strive to meet those high standards even though he knows Coach Cal will only raise the bar if he reaches them.
"I'll try to (get 20 rebounds)," Randle said. "But if I get 20, he's going to ask for 25. I'm just out there trying my best and trying to get better."
Alex Poythress posted his second-career double-double in UK's season-opening 89-57 win over UNC Asheville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
On the eve of a season opener against UNC Asheville, John Calipari was asked whether James Young would play after sustaining a minor ankle sprain in Kentucky's final exhibition.
Calipari told the curious reporter he didn't know yet (Young would indeed play) and did what he often does, going off on a seemingly unrelated tangent. The topic, in this case, was Alex Poythress.
"Alex has been really good," Calipari said. "He's narrowed his game and he's trying to play harder and he's not caving in and stopping."
Fans got a taste of what Calipari was talking about as Poythress scored 10 points in that final exhibition to bounce back from a disappointing performance against Transylvania. But even so, "narrowing his game" seemed like one of those signature Coach Cal phrases whose meaning wouldn't become clear until later.
In this case, it took less than 24 hours for Poythress to put on display exactly what his coach was talking about.
Honing on his strengths, avoiding his weaknesses and bringing the kind of consistent energy that often escaped him as a freshman, Poythress tallied his second-career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
"I thought he was terrific," Calipari said of Poythress.
After the 89-57 win, Calipari tweaked his original word choice about Poythress's second-year evolution slightly to "defining his game" and gave a bit more insight into what that means.
"I'm not a playmaker, that's not how I'm going to play, and I'm going to go after every ball and dunk every ball, and he's playing to his strengths, trying to be the best version of him," Calipari said.
Playing on a team that lacked depth and the star power of Julius Randle -- who had 23 points and 15 rebounds in his collegiate debut -- Poythress felt pressure to produce in all facets. When the Wildcats weren't playing well, it was easy to fall in the trap of trying to force plays.
Now surrounded by the likes of Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison and an improved Willie Cauley-Stein, Poythress feels no need to do anything outside his wheelhouse.
"It's easy because we're really deep this year," Poythress said. "We've got a lot of guys this year, so it's easy to find your role within the game."
Though it may be easier for the Wildcats to identify their roles, getting on the floor to actually fulfill them is much more of a challenge. Last season, Calipari couldn't afford not to have Poythress on the floor. Now, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and Jon Hood are waiting in the wings if he's not playing the way his coach demands.
"You've just gotta be ready whenever you get your opportunity," Poythress said. "You never know when it's gonna be. It might be quick, it might late. You've just gotta come out and be ready, give off great energy and compete out there."
For just the third time in his career, Poythress came off the bench on Friday night. Within two minutes, it was clear he had come ready to play. Poythress corralled a miss by Johnson, missed a shot of his own inside, rebounded again and finally scored on a layup.
Marcus Lee -- who thrived in a reserve role himself by scoring 17 points in 15 minutes -- said that kind of energy is contagious.
"It's kind of like catching fire, where everybody is just getting pumped and everybody is always ready," Lee said. "So when Alex is going in and getting all of those rebounds, he's got the whole bench excited. We knew it was going to be a great game just by him getting all of those rebounds all of a sudden which I absolutely loved."
Poythress continued his assault on the glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds and scoring eight of his 10 points directly off of them in just 21 minutes.
"I'm just trying to play to my game really," Poythress said. "That's attacking the rim, getting rebounds, everything like that."
Poythress doesn't mind his new reserve role and actually says he benefits from starting on the bench. A 4.0 student, Poythress did what he's used to doing for the 2:19 he waited to check in.
"You know how the game's being played, how the refs are calling fouls," Poythress said. "You can analyze the game better and when you get in you'll know what to do."
Poythress gave UK a significant boost off the bench against UNC Asheville, but his presence could prove even more crucial as the season wears on.
The new emphasis on eliminating physical play was easily observed on Friday, as officials whistled the two teams for a combined 52 fouls. The Cats coped with some minor foul issues in the game, but there will come a time when multiple starters are shackled to the bench due to fouls.
Calipari didn't build his roster thinking about the way games would be officiated this season, but having the depth to be able to bring a projected first-round pick like Poythress off the bench is a major asset.
"I'm happy that we're deep because it is going to play a part, no question about it," Calipari said.