It was a family reunion of sorts at the Nutter Training Facility on Wednesday, as Mark Stoops was joined on the practice field by brothers Mark and Mike.
Oklahoma -- where Bob and Mike serve as head coach and defensive coordinator respectively -- wrapped up spring practice earlier this month, so two of Mark's three older brothers took the opportunity to pay a visit to Lexington.
"We're going to go watch film and all that right now and everything," Mark Stoops said. "They came in last night and talked some football with us. It was good to have them."
Of course the Stoops brothers will spend some time catching up and enjoying themselves, but media watching the first half of practice on Wednesday saw firsthand that Mark Stoops will be calling on his brothers' expertise.
"That's what there here for," Mark Stoops said. "I mean, they're not here just for fun. You know, we've got to put them to work. ... We talk about ideas, ways to do things, different change ups, how they may play a certain formation or a certain adjustment. So it's good to have them here. I'm definitely going to utilize them while they're here to go watch some film of this practice and some previous spring practices and get some work done."
Bob Stoops even traded his normal crimson and cream for a UK pullover.
"They like to support us," Mark Stoops said. "He's proud to wear it. I'm sure he'll take that home with him."
Stoops reported the Wildcats had another "good, physical practice" with his brothers and John Calipari watching, including a period of solid work on short-yardage situations. UK continues to plug along through the final week of spring, battling through a number of injuries on both sides of the ball.
"It just happens," Stoops said. "That's the way it is. Some of them were through the winter with surgeries and some of them were dinged up in practice. The good news is, I think there's nothing major -- knock on wood -- nothing that's gonna keep guys out for the year. So we should be at 100 percent if we don't have anything new happen."
The latest injury is to sophomore wide receiver Jeff Badet, who broke his fibula on Monday. Stoops called the injury a clean break, meaning no surgery will be needed. Badet is expected to miss two-to-three months but heal in time for fall camp.
"He was alone," Stoops said. "It was a good play-action pass; he was wide-open. He kind of got underthrown and just a freaky accident."
Badet's injury is another short-term blow to UK's wide receiver depth, as is A.J. Legree's decision to transfer, which Stoops announced on Wednesday. As a result, Stoops is considering ways to minimize injury risk at Saturday's Spring Game while also still putting on a show for fans.
"It looks like I'm gonna split it up ones against everybody else," Stoops said. "So the only thing it'll change as far as the fans and things like that -- and most people do it -- you're gonna speed up the game somehow. We can't afford to take a whole boatload of reps. We're just thin. So we'll iron out all the details and tell you, but it'll be very similar to last year. Some type of abbreviated schedule."
It was never going to be a pitchers' duel on Tuesday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
With the nation's top offense in town and a brisk wind blowing out to left field, Kentucky would have to put up some crooked numbers to take down Tennessee Tech.
"You could tell in BP the wind was blowing out pretty good to all fields, really," Matt Reida said. "Both teams in BP, you could really tell it was going to be an offensive night. It was going to be a challenge for the pitchers."
It certainly was, as No. 17 UK (27-14) won a 15-13 slugfest.
"I am a guy that's in tune with which way the wind's blowing when we're playing," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "So, yes, I knew which way the wind was blowing and I knew we had a chance for this. I wouldn't have dreamed it would be quite like this."
Looking to sustain the momentum built last week in three road wins in four tries, UK turned to its offense to get the job done after facing a 7-1 deficit. Rather than fall into the trap of swinging for the fences, the Cats kept their disciplined approach and the runs followed.
"I thought we stayed very positive in the dugout," Henderson said. "I thought we stayed very patient in the box. A couple of times it got tight where we really needed a hit to get back into it and we got it."
UK chipped away with three in the bottom of the fourth, using three walks, two hits and a hit-by-pitch. The Cats would then pull to within one in the fifth with a two-run shot by JaVon Shelby. In the sixth, UK took its first lead with five runs an evening that featured 31 hits and 10 home runs.
"A great win by us," Henderson said. "Not a great game to watch, but a great win by our kids."
In the middle of everything was Reida.
The senior shortstop entered Tuesday night mired in an 0-for-11 slump, his batting average falling to .207 in the process. The lefty found his stroke early, doubling to left in the second inning, but it was his patience that got UK's rally started.
He walked to lead off the fourth and fifth innings, coming around to score both times. In a spot where pressing for extra bases would have understandable, Reida stayed within himself.
"They were throwing a lot of off speed to all of our guys," Reida said. "So it's tough to be patient, but we have such a good offense any type of lead for another team isn't a big concern for us, especially early."
If triggering the UK offense wasn't enough, Reida was rewarded in the sixth. With the bases loaded, Reida smoked his second double over the head over Tech centerfielder Jake Rowland to score the game-tying and go-ahead runs. An inning later, he added his first home run in 348 at-bats -- a stretch that dates back to his sophomore season -- on a solo shot.
"We always kind of give Matt a hard time about hitting home runs because he thinks he's a big power hitter," said a smiling A.J. Reed, the nation's leading home-run hitter. "So we were happy for him to get one. Finally he can back up a little bit of what he says."
The homer gave UK a 12-8 lead, but by no means was it safe. Tennessee Tech scored four in the top of the eighth to tie it on two-run blasts by Zach Stephens and Dylan Bosheers.
The Cats would answer in the bottom of the inning as Micheal Thomas hit a two-run homer. Later, Reida would add an important insurance run on a single to finish off his 4-for-4, four-RBI night before Kyle Cody closed it out with his fifth save.
"It's funny; baseball's a crazy game," Reida said. "Two days ago I feel lost and today everything coming off my bat's dropping.
"It's just a back-and-forth game. You try to stay positive and keep grinding away and the game will reward you."
UK began the final week of spring on Monday, holding its 12th practice.
With just five days before the Blue/White Scrimmage on April 26, head coach Mark Stoops continues to like his team's direction.
"I think we're improving, competing," Stoops said. "Had a good third-down period today. So overall, we're still grinding it out, getting better and better each day. I like where we're going."
The only exception is on the injury front.
"Just getting some guys nicked up, and that's starting to bother me," Stoops said. "Nothing major -- I don't think anything major. Just guys that are going to be nicked up and maybe miss this last part of spring practice here."
That's frustrating to Stoops for a couple reasons, first because the improving Wildcats can use all the work they can get.
"We just need it," Stoops said. "You know, we have the spring, we have time to get guys back, but you're trying to find that good balance where you're getting good work in and competing as hard as we can, with staying healthy just so we can have good practices."
Stoops also has the fans in mind when he considers the Cats' bumps and bruises because of the upcoming Spring Game.
"A lot of it's for the fans," Stoops said. "And you want to get out there and put a good product on the field and have some fun. But we need to see where we're at."
UK's already thin receiving corps has been hit hard, the latest blow coming as sophomore Jeff Badet twisted an ankle on Monday. The Cats have been without Javess Blue and Alexander Montgomery throughout the spring, while Ryan Timmons, Thaddeus Snodgrass and Joey Herrick are contending with minor injuries.
"We're banged up a little bit at wideout," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Well, we're thin. Our numbers aren't where they should be. We've got to get -- we need more scholarship wideouts, we need more walk-on wideouts. We've got help coming. ... I think we're probably a year away from getting this thing, from a numbers standpoint, where it needs to be. We were grossly thin getting here, then we had some injuries this spring that definitely haven't helped."
The depth at receiver has added a wrinkle to the ongoing competition at quarterback between Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker. Brown has had to adjust on the fly to get them the work they need.
"That's why we were out here doing some extra work with me and (graduate assistant) Tyler (Sargent) catching the ball," Brown said. "Just because we don't have enough -- the quarterbacks aren't getting enough work right now, so we've got to build it in pre-practice and post-practice stuff to make sure they're getting enough reps of the stuff we're going to run." Brown on Monday practice
Before a break over Easter weekend, UK took the field for the 11th time this spring.
After stringing together a number of good practices, UK's offense took a small step back. Even so -- and particularly with the defense continuing to shine -- it was a productive Friday.
"Good energy from the defense, again, we need the offense to continue to progress," Stoops said. "Today was not our sharpest day, but we got a lot of good work in and looking forward to wrapping it up here next week and getting some good practices in next week to finish off spring."
With a handful of drops and some missed opportunities on first down during UK's team period, the offense found itself behind the chains too often. Some of the blame for that goes to the offense, but the defense also deserves credit.
"Defense made some good plays," Stoops said. "I think it's a combination, and we'll go watch the film. But it's not always, and that's what I told the defense, we had good energy and they're playing good, but it's not always because we're playing stellar. Maybe the offense is not executing like they can. It's a little combination of both."
D.J. Eliot, only considering his defense, was pleased.
"I wouldn't say spectacular, but we did some good things today," Eliot said. "We had good energy in the team period. Guys were flying around in that period, and that's good. We didn't execute early and just picked it up throughout practice."
The defense was again without Nate Willis. Stoops announced on Friday the senior cornerback will undergo surgery to address a sports hernia, which will force him to miss the next three-to-four months.
"It's always hard when you have an injury and you got to be out, because you miss all those reps," Eliot said. "That frustration sets in, but you always got to look at things on a positive note. He knows that he'll be back in time for the season, so he just has got to get the mental reps until then, and then when he comes back, he's just got to be clicking on all cylinders."
In Willis's place, Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller and J.D. Harmon have gotten the majority of the work at corner.
"So we're just kind of rotating them, and different days different guys do different things good and bad," Eliot said. "It's a long ways away, so it's tough to tell who's gonna be our guys."
Stoops hopes to make progress toward decisions at corner, as well as a number of other positions, over the final week of spring. He cited running back, defensive line and wide receiver, but quarterback is of course the position drawing the most attention.
Sorting out remaining contenders Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker is among Stoops' foremost priorities heading into next Saturday's Blue/White Spring Game.
"If we can figure it out in the last week, we will," Stoops said. "If not, we'll continue to work through it. We have time until our first game, but I like the progress we've made overall. We need to pick it up again next week and finish off this spring. Just overall improvement, continue to build depth." Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot