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Posts from Monday, Sept. 28

Thanks to BriAnne Sauer's stellar defensive performance over the weekend, UK climbed to No. 15 in the latest AVCA poll.

Thanks to BriAnne Sauer's stellar defensive performance over the weekend, UK climbed to No. 15 in the latest AVCA poll.

Cats climb rankings as they prepare for Florida showdown

Posted at 3:49 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

The UK volleyball team continued to climb the rankings this week, checking in at No. 15 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 poll. It's the highest ranking in the Craig Skinner era and highest ranking since the 1993 team finished the season 12th in the polls.

UK has also been ranked 16 straight weeks dating back to last season.

The Cats, now 13-1 on the season, are fresh off a weekend sweep of Ole Miss and Arkansas, moving the team to 3-0 in conference play. In three Southeastern Conference matches, the Cats have yet to surrender a single game.

The scorching-hot conference start sets up Friday's highly anticipated match at No. 5 Florida (10-1, 4-0 SEC), pitting the league's two preseason conference favorites against one another.

 Of course, Florida is and will always be the hands-on favorite to win the league until someone dethrones the Gators. Florida has captured the league championship an astonishing 18 years in a row.

Kentucky nearly snapped the streak last season after splitting the season series with the Gators, but a late-season slip-up to Tennessee cost the Cats a historic conference crown.

Asked Monday at the football luncheon if his team's start and road win at LSU gave his squad more confidence heading into the Friday showdown, Skinner said it had no bearing.

"When a team has controlled the conference for 20 years the way they have and play in the gym that they play in, in the O'Connell Center, it's just different and you have to be ready to go," Skinner said. "But I do like our team. They have played well on the road the last couple of years. We have great leadership, great upperclassmen, so I love taking this team on the road."

With three-fourths of the conference schedule still to be played, Friday's game certainly won't determine the SEC championship. However, given the two teams rarely lose, it will definitely give one of them an important early advantage.

"You have to go down on the road and produce and play against great players who play at awfully high levels," Skinner said. "You hope you have experience from the past, but we've got to get ready this week for that environment on Friday."

Check back Friday for a full feature story on the big game.

Sauer Defensive POW: UK senior libero BriAnne Sauer was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week after averaging 6.00 digs per set in UK's two wins this weekend.

Sauer becomes Kentucky's first defensive player to win a weekly honor this season. The Louisville native tallied 36 digs on the weekend, including a 20-scoop performance against Arkansas.


Star Alabama linebacker out with injury

Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower will be out for Saturday's game.

Posted at 3:03 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks called Alabama the best defense in the conference Monday, but fortunately for him and his team, it'll be missing a key component.

Starting inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower suffered season-ending ligament damage in the Tide's 35-7 win over Arkansas Monday, knocking out one of the key players on one of the nation's best defensive teams in the country.

Hightower recorded 16 tackles through four games, including four stops for a loss. The sophomore linebacker was one of just two true freshmen to be a regular starter for the Tide last season, recording 64 tackles in 14 games.

Even without Hightower, Alabama will still bring one of the nation's fiercest defenses into Commonwealth Stadium. Led by All-America linebacker Rolando McClain, the Tide ranks second in the nation in total defense, giving up just over 200 yards a game.

"They're extremely physical," UK head coach Rich Brooks said of Alabama's defense. "They have very similar team speed as Florida on defense, which is scary. They appear to be a more physical group. (They are) bigger, thicker, maybe not quite as tall, but stronger, more physical. Their linebackers, they don't come up and play a block and then shed it, they just run through it."


UK-South Carolina on FS South at 12:30

Posted at 2:36 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

The Kentucky-South Carolina football game on Oct. 10 has been slated for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff. Fox Sports South has picked up the television rights for the game.


Brooks: First-quarter potholes must be patched

UK is quickly becoming notorious for getting off to slow starts.

Posted at 2:15 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Kentucky gave whole new meaning to the phrases early game jitters and starting slow on Saturday.

Not that anyone needed to be reminded of the UK-Florida game, but the Cats were walloped in the head in the first quarter of Saturday's game. Before nine minutes had even ticked off the clock, UK was drowning in a 17-0 deficit. By first quarter's end, the Cats were down 31-0 and the rout was officially on.

What was the problem, though? Was it intimidation, a lack of focus, unpreparedness on the coaches' part, penalties (more on that in Wednesday's story) or early game jitters? The answer to that probably lies somewhere in between.

The truth of the matter is UK has been a slow-starting team for some time now. As was first pointed out by Brett Dawson of the Courier-Journal, the Wildcats have been outscored 139-44 in the past 16 first quarters dating back to last year's season opener.

"The first three or four or five years I was here, everybody wondered why we couldn't play well in the fourth quarter and finish games," Brooks said Monday. "Some of those years we started pretty good, but we fizzled and couldn't get anything going in the second half, ran out of gas, out-conditioned, out-talented - we couldn't finish games. We're finishing games a lot better (now), but we're starting games a lot poorer. Statistics don't lie."

The stats point to a glaring problem - or opportunity - depending on how one looks at it.

On one hand, UK's coaching staff has done a tremendous job after the first quarter of making adjustments. The Cats have outscored opponents 330-208 after the first frame over the last 16 games, including 70-30 this season.

On the other hand, imagine if UK were to get off to a semi-decent start. If they make those adjustments quicker and are ready to play from the opening kickoff, how many more games might UK have won over the last 16 contests?

"It doesn't take a math genius to figure out that if we're playing the first quarter even, we'd have a pretty good record over those 16 games," Brooks said.

Of course, in two of those games - against Florida, mind you - UK was outscored 59-0. Still, it's a significant setback.

"We do have to start better," Brooks said. "We're going to change some things in the pre-game warm-up. I'm old-fashioned, but I do try to change things when I see something isn't working."

Brooks said they'll shorten the UK warm-ups for this week's game, but add some tempo and pace to the pre-game drills and instruction.

"Something isn't working. Now I just hope we don't go out and have a great first quarter and can't play the second, third and fourth," Brooks said. "We have to play better in the first quarter."


Weekly Monday injury report

Posted at 1:08 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Let's briefly run through the football injury report that head coach Rich Brooks released Monday:

  • Offensive tackle Justin Jeffries' Achilles strain continues to bother him and he's listed as questionable to start the week. He will not practice Tuesday.
  • Free safety Taiedo Smith (bruised foot) should be able to practice Tuesday.
  • Running back Moncell Allen (MCL) is hopeful for Tuesday.
  • Offensive lineman Christian Johnson (ribs) may not be able to practice until at least Wednesday.
  • Cornerback Paul Warford (concussion) is doubtful for Tuesday.
  • Linebacker A.J. Nance (hamstring) will be limited throughout the early part of the week.
  • Linebacker Will Johnson (MCL sprain) is questionable and probably won't practice Tuesday.