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The opportunity was there, and Mark Stoops knew it.

South Carolina was coming to town for a night game. Fans were buzzing over Kentucky's first Southeastern Conference win in almost three year. A blackout had already been announced.

All the Wildcats had to do was capitalize on the moment.

"We had it teed up pretty well," Stoops said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "We had the enthusiasm. The stadium was packed. We had a night game against a traditionally very good SEC team at home, and you want to deliver. You want to play well. You want to get a victory."

Though that was far easier said than done, UK pulled it off. The Cats twice overcame 14-point deficits, completing the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history with a 45-38 win.

From two record Spring Game crowds to improving ticket sales to the two highest-rated recruiting classes in school history, Stoops had already generated plenty of excitement around the program. That excitement, however, was mostly about the future.

Saturday was all about the here and now.

"Everybody may see what you're doing and understand that there is progress being made," Stoops said. "I never shied away from that. You heard me talk about it before the season and everything, that I will be judged on wins and losses. It's a bottom-line business."

The bottom line looks a lot better after that win over South Carolina, which only figures to help the staff's already impressive work on the trail.

"I think there is a lot of people believing in what we are doing and how we go about recruiting players," Stoops said. "We help the players once they get here, they see that. But it's important for them to see progress on the field."

The progress now shows in UK's 4-1, including 2-1 in conference play. The Cats have already matched their win total from the previous two seasons combined, inspiring talk of bowl games and even SEC East title contention after the signature win of the Stoops era.

Stoops isn't engaging in any of that talk. He's too focused on the task immediately at hand.

"One week," Stoops said. "We need victories, you know? That's the bottom line. We can't worry about that. We will worry about ourselves and getting better."

Stoops, you see, was as happy as anybody on Saturday night, even extending his postgame press conference by two questions to bask in glory of the win for a few extra moments. But once he woke up the next morning, that was over and done with. His thoughts had moved on to a Saturday matchup with ULM.

"You know me, I talk about it and it's true: We're back to this week," Stoops said. "You know what I mean? It's a one-week season for me. We gotta go play well this week, and it starts over. Win or lose, it starts over for us on Sunday. That's the way we approach it and that's the way our team needs to approach it."

His players aren't as practiced in the art of moving on from a big win as he is, but they'll have plenty of help from Stoops.

"We'll stay with the plan we do, but the message will be different," Stoops said. "Again you've heard me say it before, they're going to hear enough good things from a lot of people and they're excited, I'm good with that. But they're going to hear about some of the negative, too, because we knew it was going to be a big environment."

Playing in the best environment Commonwealth Stadium has seen in years, the Cats were far from flawless even though they scored the upset. And in its own way, that's a good thing too.

"We stressed all week about taking care of the details in technique, not being too caught up in it where it hurts, and that showed," Stoops said. "They're going to hear about that and see that. That's the good news: There is a lot to correct from. There is still a lot more in this team. We can be a lot better and we're going to continue to work extremely hard to improve."

It's time, in other words, to capitalize on another opportunity.

UK deep at guard with West's return

Zach West hadn't been on the field in weeks, but he didn't look it against South Carolina.

After battling a neck injury, West was back as the starter at left guard on Saturday and he didn't miss a beat in playing a game Stoops said was his best.

With West and Cole Mosier now healthy and joining Ramsey Meyers and Nick Haynes, UK has depth at guard that should prove valuable going forward.

"What's nice now is we have four guys inside now," Stoops said. "We had two, but we had some injuries. Now we're getting back and getting healthy, so now we're going to rotate all four guys."

Now that West and Mosier are back, attention shifts to Alex Montgomery and Jeff Badet. Stoops said the two wide receivers are not yet 100 percent, though they continue to rehab and run.

Four freshmen back from suspension


After sitting on Saturday due to an on-campus incident, Dorian Baker, Stanley "Boom" Williams, Drew Barker and Tymere Dubose will be available to play this weekend.

"The players will be reinstated, yes, and they'll be back in the fold this week," Stoops said. "They will be back at practice and play in the game."

LSU game time set: Night game in Death Valley

The SEC announced television selections and kickoff times for games on Oct. 18. UK's game at LSU will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

It was just as competitive as Craig Skinner expected it would be.

In a matchup of top-25 teams, Kentucky and Texas A&M went toe to toe in the second and third sets. There were a combined eight deuce points in the two sets and the Wildcats had to fight off five set points in the third.

The heat, in other words, was on.

"There's a lot of pressure when you're down and trying to have to knot it up each time you have to side out," head coach Craig Skinner said. "It's about making plays."

UK was able to make them.

The No. 13 Cats (14-2, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) battled relentlessly and finished off a win over the No. 21 Aggies (11-4, 3-1 SEC) in a match that was much closer than the final 3-0 score line. In so doing, UK swept its first home weekend in SEC play to stretch its winning streak to eight.

Lauren O'Conner (17 kills) and Shelby Workman (15 kills) headlined the UK attack, while Anni Thomasson doubled her previous career best with six aces to lead a strong Wildcat service game.

"It was huge," Skinner said. "You saw their offense, how fast it is and how difficult it is to defend. We were able to get them out of system most of the night until the end of the third set. And then they just--kill after kill after kill. So were able to get them out of system to get the lead there at the end and then make a play for match point. Serving's a big deal when you play against offensive teams."

An even bigger deal was the focus UK showed on defense. The Aggies hit a solid .295 for the match, but none of their 54 kills came easily. The Cats repeatedly made hustle and kept balls alive that seemed destined for the floor. Really, that's become the hallmark of this UK team.

"I've said it from the beginning: This is a very competitive group individually and they are not satisfied with the ball dropping within their range and they go for it until it drops," Skinner said.

Mark Stoops


Neal Brown and D.J. Eliot


Dr. Everett McCorvey from the Kentucky School of Music led Commonwealth Stadium in the national anthem prior to Kentucky's 45-38 victory.
Morgan Bergren had 48 assists and six kills in UK's four-set win over Alabama on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Morgan Bergren had 48 assists and six kills in UK's four-set win over Alabama on Friday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Through two sets, UK was in control.

In a matchup of two teams that had won a combined 15 matches in a row, the Wildcats charged to a 2-0 lead over Alabama. Kentucky, however, hit a lull in the third set and the Crimson Tide took advantage.

After that, it was all about the Cats getting back to what had staked them to a lead to begin with.

"I think we just had to pick up our intensity and trust what we do and stay aggressive," setter Morgan Bergren said. "That's one thing we talked about in the locker room before the game, is just constant aggression on them. I think we lost that a little bit in the third game and finally got it back in the fourth game."

On the strength of that aggressiveness, No. 13 UK (13-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) got the win in its conference home opener. The Cats extended their winning streak to seven with the victory and ended a nine-game streak for the Tide (14-3, 2-1 SEC).

"I expected a match comparable to sets three and four the whole night," head coach Craig Skinner said. "We ran away with it in set two but I didn't think that was normal in a situation like that. Just physically we earned our points. Alabama didn't give them to us and that's probably the most pleasing thing so far tonight."

Most of the time, when the Cats did earn their points in a four-set win, Bergren was in the middle of it.

The junior assisted on 48 of UK's 98 points, adding six kills to boot. She was at her best when it mattered most, leading the Cats after Alabama appeared poised to force a decisive fifth set by taking a 19-15 lead in the fourth.

"She did a nice job," Skinner said. "She I think lost her way a little bit in set three and then really found her groove in set four. That's pretty important under pressure who you go to and who you find to get swings. She did a great job."

Bergren's favorite target on Friday night was Shelby Workman, who totaled 19 kills and hit .459. Lauren O'Conner added 15 kills and Anni Thomasson 10, statistics indicative of the way Bergren spreads the ball around.

"I'm comfortable setting anyone," Bergren said. "I feel like all of our attackers carry a strong presence and anyone is available to go to at any time. Tonight Shelby was really good for us and picked us up and used the block really well to her advantage."

Bergren is in her second season as UK's full-time starter at setter, but the offense she's running this season looks much different than it did in 2013. The Cats, as you'd expect, have had to adjust to life without All-Americans Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan.

"Early on I think I was a little bit hesitant running the middle and they've proven day in and day out in practice that they're up and they're ready and they're ready to go expecting the ball," Bergren said.

With Bergren looking more comfortable by the match, UK is playing its best volleyball of the season early in SEC play.

"I think you really start to understand how important good setting is," Skinner said. "We're averaging more kills per set than we have in three years. A lot of that has to do with your setter and good decision-making and getting one-on-ones. She's very good at what she does."

Entering a tough test against No. 21 Texas A&M at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Bergren sees one more area a confident UK team needs to address.

"Right now everything feels good," Bergren said. "Every now and then we hit that little lull in either game two or game three and that's something we have to improve on and not get too comfortable and relaxed and let the other teams come back on us. Other than that, I don't think we have any doubts going into any of the matches."


Video: A sit-down with Patrick Towles

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Kentucky Wildcats TV continues to produce some great stuff as UK's Saturday matchup with South Carolina approaches. This time, Patrick Towles sits down to talk about his journey from third stringer a year ago to having a breakout season as the starter in 2014.

And by the way, one of the best players in UK history and current Green Bay Packer star Randall Cobb will be in attendance to watch Towles and the Cats in action this weekend.

Video: UK football blackout

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On the heels of a "really good" Wednesday, UK continued its new game-week habit of holding a lighter practice on Thursday.

With a matchup with South Carolina just two days away, the Wildcats had another productive day.

"Guys were sharp, so looking forward to Saturday," Stoops said. "Guys are locked in and ready to go, so we're anticipating a big day."

A big day and a big blackout crowd.

UK will play its first home night game of the season on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. With the buzz surrounding the Wildcats and their 3-1 start, the biggest crowd in the Stoops era is expected.

"I'm excited," Stoops said. "I'm looking forward to the atmosphere Saturday, absolutely. Like I've said many times, we appreciate the support we've been getting. We're trying to do our part and build a program that everybody's proud of and we're looking forward to getting some of that home-field advantage, absolutely."

It's Stoops' hope that Cats can use that home-field advantage to avoid the slow start that befell them last season against the Gamecocks. UK fell behind 21-0 in the game before rallying and nearly pulling off the upset in a 35-28 road loss.

"As I said earlier in the week, last year -- we really didn't fare so well last year down there," Stoops said. "They started extremely fast. We have to do a better job at home of trying to withstand that. I think everybody would like to have a fast start, so we've got to be ready to go, that's for sure."

As big as the game may be, Stoops isn't thinking much about the talk of UK making waves in the Southeastern Conference East division race with a win.

"It's truly one game," Stoops said. "It's another game, it's the next game. If you take care of your business then we can have that conversation as we move forward. But we're a long way from there. We're still taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. Like I said, I think we're excited and guys are ready to play and really had a pretty good week of practice. So we're just worried about our preparation and how we go out and execute and how we go play."

On the injury front, Stoops expects Zach West and Cole Mosier to be available for the game after missing last week. However, wide receivers Jeff Badet and Alex Montgomery will not play.

Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: He mentioned coaching numerous times in his postgame press conference, including his opening statement: "OK. You know, there's not a read more
  • Brian: Funny that Stoops said they got outplayed but forgot to mention that he and his staff were also out coached... read more
  • William Bagshaw: The Kentucky Madness was a failure for the fans that was not on court. This was useless to put on read more
  • justin: Poythress is a straight beast. read more
  • John Lee: On the article, it says "early in the fourth quarter," but it should be 'first' instead..because we only trailed early read more
  • Hugh Jones: We'll be in Memorial and Rupp for all your games. Love you gals! Go Cats! read more
  • Ryan: This is intense, I've never seen a live blog like this, keep up the good work! read more
  • Ryan: Watching this guy is really inspiring. Makes me have faith that guys like him are running the show on the read more
  • Tom Roosa: I just have 1 question, do you think that this team has the chance to have a great year? They read more
  • steve crum: Glad to see Coach Stoops get rewarded for all the time and hard work he puts in to our read more