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Posts from Monday, Oct. 19

Senior linebacker Micah Johnson was named SEC Player of the Week after recording a season-high 14 tackles against Auburn.

Senior linebacker Micah Johnson was named SEC Player of the Week after recording a season-high 14 tackles against Auburn.

Win validates belief in team

Posted at 7:33 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

It’s amazing how much sweeter things taste after a victory.

The grass seems a little more green, the sky a little more blue. Foods taste stronger and sounds resonate a little louder.

“You know, all last week it was gray, cold and wet and an amazing thing happened Sunday morning,” head coach Brooks said. “The sun was out, vibrant colors on the trees and it is amazing what a win will do for you.”

The reality of last week’s gloomy weather report aside, it’s no coincidence that things always seem a little brighter when your team is on the winning side of the tracks. The plan ride home is always easier, players laugh a little more, and even the always upbeat and jovial Brooks has a little extra bounce in his step when the Cats are winning.

But none of that seemed possible after the Cats took a three-game nosedive heading into the Auburn game. Without starting quarterback Mike Hartline and star cornerback Trevard Lindley, UK marched into a hostile environment at Jordan-Hare Stadium with a freshman quarterback and little perceived chance.

Despite what Brooks and the players were telling everyone, questions began to arise about how good this football team was and whether it could make that next step in the Southeastern Conference.

Teetering at 2-3 and with few positives to rest on, negativity was starting to creep in and around Lexington. A loss appeared inevitable to a team Kentucky hadn’t beaten since 1966 at a place the program had won at just once in school history.

So then how was it possible for the Cats able to march into Jordan-Hare Stadium and snatch a four-quarter victory away from a team that was 5-1?

“Just keeping everything in house,” senior linebacker Micah Johnson said. “If you get focused on what’s being said outside of the locker room and outside of Nutter, it can get frustrating and it can tear your team down.”

Johnson said they shut out what the opinions of people that didn’t understand how good this UK football team is capable of becoming. The reality is Kentucky had played back-to-back-to-back ranked opponents, including the current Bowl Championship Series leaders in Alabama and Florida.

Despite what popular opinion was trying to tell them, there was a belief among the players and coaches that Kentucky was a good football team. Linebackers coach Chuck Smith reminded them how close they were during a meeting last week.

 

 

“Coach Smith said, ‘We’re a good team and we’ve got good players and if we keep working hard and keep grinding, good things will happen because we have good players,’ ” Johnson said. “We finally got some breaks.”

Had it not been for a couple of self-inflicted wounds that changed the momentum in UK’s three losses, they could have actually been sitting in even better position.

Still, it was important for the Cats to get a win just for something good to happen. It helped alleviate the pressure and the strain on the psyche of the team.

“(We needed it) bad, bad, bad,” Johnson said. “I think everybody on the team knew it.  For individuals on the team, for this Kentucky team as a program and for the fans, everybody needed it. It was huge. I think for the fans that kept by our side and knew we would get a win, we appreciate it and we love it. We’re going to continue work hard.”

With a conference win finally under their belts and some momentum on their side, the Cats can now refocus on some of the program-changing goals they set when the season started.

“We’re midseason right now. That game and that win came at a critical point, and we all understand that,” Johnson said. “That was our sixth game of the season, so at that point we could have either been 2-4 or 3-3. Three-and-three makes it a lot easier do what we want to do.”

And that is to continue to break those long and haunting streaks and make the next jump in the SEC.

“The fact that we can go on the road and break one of the infamous streaks in Kentucky football history speaks to the fact that this is still a good football team,” Brooks said. “How close we are to being better than that, or how close we are from being better than that I will leave to you guys to judge.”

 

Five keys to UK baseball

The return of James Paxton should give UK one of the best starting rotations in the country.


Posted at 5:18 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Kendall Rogers of Rivals.com has a nice feature on UK baseball as it starts practice for the fall season.

Rogers writes on the five fall keys for UK in the second year of Gary Henderson’s rein. The five keys:

1.) Learn lessons from last season

2.) Weekend starters must lead the way

3.) Build a deeper and better bullpen

4.) Meet expectations at the plate

5.) Find more power production

 

I think Rogers has a valid point with anyone of the five keys, but I’m going to circle my biggest factor as No. 3, building a deeper and better bullpen.

 

A couple of reasons why:

 

First off, I think UK’s starting rotation is going to be loaded. I don’t think people realize just how big the return of James Paxton is. The hard-throwing lefty had a 5.86 ERA for the Cats as a junior a season ago, but a chunk of that came from a few bad starts he had while he battled a nagging knee injury. If Paxton can return to his early season form from last year – when scouts were drooling behind home plate at his raw potential – he’ll give the Cats arguably the best one-two starting punch in the Southeastern Conference along with highly touted sophomore Alex Meyer.

 

Two of Rogers’ factors involve the offense, which was by all means a work in progress last season. After saying goodbye to All-American Sawyer Carroll and All-SEC player Collin Cowgill, Henderson knew his team was going to be forced into playing small ball in 2009. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. The important thing last year was getting a bevy of young talented bats some experience at the plate. With a year under their belts, guys like Chad Wright, Chris Bisson and Braden Kapteyn are only going to get better.

 

That’s why, I believe, the key will be with the 2010 bullpen. With an established starting rotation, the question for Henderson now becomes: Who will get the ball in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings? While UK had its inconsistencies in innings one through six last year, it was largely the bullpen that cost the Cats in critical conference games. The Cats were ravaged by injuries and inexperience, forcing many young and unproven arms into the equation. A pitching dominated recruiting class should ease the burden on the bullpen, but it’s important for players like Kaptyen, Logan Darnell and Mike Kaczmarek to make the next step in their development. The return of sidewinder Nick Kennedy, who was lost for just about all of 2009 with an injury, will also be a huge boost.

 

Volleyball moves up to No. 7

Stephanie Klefot was named SEC Freshman Player of the Week for her performances against Mississippi State and Alabama.


Posted at 4:53 p.m. EDT – Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

There’s not much more room to move up, but the Kentucky volleyball team continues to find a way.

After two more sweeps this weekend against Mississippi State and Alabama – the Cats’ 11th sweep of the year – UK moved up to No. 7 in the latest America Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll.

The Cats, who are 19-1 on the season, continue to dominate league play with an undefeated 9-0 record. UK leads a scorching LSU team – which UK swept earlier in the season – by one game in the loss department for the Southeastern Conference lead.

Florida, the preseason pick to win the league crown, dropped back to No. 10 in the AVCA poll and sits at 8-2 in the SEC.

In addition to the rankings, Kentucky freshman defensive specialist Stephanie Klefot was named SEC Freshman Player of the Week. It’s also the fourth consecutive week a UK player has earned a weekly honor from the conference office.

Keep an eye out for a volleyball feature later this week. This team is too hot not to write about.

 

Video: Blanton gets the ball in another big-game situation

Posted at 4:07 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Former UK standout pitcher will get the ball Monday night for the Philadelphia Phillies in game four of the National League Championship Series, which is set for 8:07 p.m. EDT at Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia on TBS.

Blanton, a UK letterwinner from 2000-02, is no stranger to the big stage. Last year in the playoffs, Blanton posted a 2-0 record and a 3.18 ERA in 17 innings, including 18 strikeouts.

"I feel like in the postseason every game is big," Blanton said. "If it's 2-1, you can keep it from coming back even, or if you're down 1-2, it's a big game to keep them more making the big step. So either way, it's a really big game."

But it was Blanton's bat that provided the heroics during last year's World Series, as he became the first pitcher since 1974 to hit a homer in the World Series. Blanton belted a 2-1 pitch from pitcher Edwin Jackson over the left-field fence for his first homer as a professional and first since his high school days in the Bluegrass.

In case you don't remember, this should refresh your memory:

 

 

Media tabs UK preseason SEC champion

Junior forward Patrick Patterson was tabbed the preseason SEC Player of the Year by the media.


Posted at 3:28 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

The media has spoken and they believe Kentucky will win the 2010 Southeastern Conference men's basketball championship.

The Cats, who will open up the John Calipari era with six highly touted recruits and two-time All-SEC selection Patrick Patterson, earned 20 first-place votes from a select panel of both SEC and national media members. The Cats topped Mississippi State and Tennessee, which reeled in three and two votes, respectively.

UK was the media's favorite to win the East with 148 total points (23 first-place votes) ahead of second-place Tennessee's 117 points (two first-place votes). Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia rounded out the top six.

Patterson, a preseason Wooden Award candidate, was the top choice for the SEC's Player of the Year award with 11 votes. Kentucky freshman phenom John Wall was second with six votes, followed by Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado (three votes), South Carolina's Devan Downey (three votes) and Tennessee's Tyler Smith (two votes).

Patterson was the only unanimous first-team selection. Wall was picked to the SEC second team.

 

Cal, Cats getting love from MTV thanks to Drake

Posted at 3:04 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Why have a musical artist like Drake make an appearance at Big Blue Madness?

This is why. MTV did a feature on the famous R&B artist after he served as a guest coach during the scrimmage at Friday night's Madness.

We've said it time and time again, but coach Cal just gets it.  

 

Newton likely QB starter; Fidler, Cobb impress Brooks

Junior Will Fidler likely won't start at quarterback Saturday, but head coach Rich Brooks was impressed with his performance against Auburn.


Posted at 2:22 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Fair or unfair, head coach Rich Brooks said true freshman Morgan Newton will probably make his second consecutive start at quarterback Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe.

The decision comes after junior Will Fidler replaced Newton midway through the second half of the Auburn game, leading UK to yet another fourth-quarter comeback, its 11th since 2006. Brooks said the decision to start Newton is probably "not fair" to Fidler, but said he thinks it's the right thing to do for his football team.

"It'll probably be Morgan Newton again," Brooks said. "Again, that's probably not fair to Will for what he did in the fourth quarter, but I kind of think if things aren't going well, it's better to bring an experienced hand off the bench than it is an inexperienced hand off the bench."

Brooks said Fidler would probably see time in the first half regardless of how Newton is playing, but he said they have to start throwing the ball better.

Last week, Brooks decided to start Newton ahead of Fidler early in the week - although he kept that secret to himself - because of an apparent recurring injury in Fidler's throwing arm. Fidler was able to play Saturday, but Brooks admitted it was probably the "ultimate slap in the face" to Fidler to start a true freshman over him.

As Fidler has done time and time again, he handled the situation like a veteran and did his job.

"I couldn't be prouder of Will Fidler if he was my own son," Brooks said. "He's been through a lot here. It hasn't gone his way, so to speak, but every day he comes out there and works and competes and does everything he can to make it right and to help this team."

Brooks called both this week's and last week's decision a tough one to make, but he said he made it because he thinks it's the right choice for the upcoming game and the future.

"He's handled all of that with absolute class," Brooks said of Fidler. "He's one of the toughest guys on our football team. He's never been afraid to pull the ball down. He's not one of those quarterbacks who is going to hook slide or look for the sideline. He's going to look to run you over. He's got a good arm. I'm very hopeful that this experience in the last two games will help him become a more consistent playmaker because he is just an outstanding young man."

Fidler was 4-of-9 for 36 yards in relief duty, including his first career rushing touchdown.

Newton started the game against Auburn, going 5-of-13 for 39 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

"I think Newton did remarkably well with his poise early in the game, when you'd think he might be a little bit more nervous taking a snap, doing the wrong thing in the wrong time. He handled himself from a poise standpoint pretty well," Brooks said.

Newton struggled with his accuracy and poise as the game wore on, but Brooks saw enough to make Newton the starter for Louisiana-Monroe.

Of course, Brooks noted that neither of their performances would have counted for as much had wide receiver/quarterback Randall Cobb not entered in the Wildcat package to spark the UK comeback.

Cobb, who carried the ball 12 times for a career-high 109 yards and one touchdown, primarily from the Wildcat, led UK's late-game charge with a 61-yard run and a 4-yard touchdown scamper.

"Randall is Randall," Brooks said. "The question is how much can you do that with Randall. He's again hobbled a little bit this week, so we have to be a little more careful, but he is a just a spectacular competitive playmaker. ... He's just a great football player."

Brooks said he's never had a player with Cobb's abilities.

"I've had a lot of undersized running backs. Locke would be one of them," Brooks said. "I've had some guys at Oregon that were spectacular in that way, too, but not with the same athletic skills that Randall possesses and the exuberance and the leadership capabilities and the personality and the All-American smile.

"You'd be glad to see your daughter bring him into your house. This guy is the whole package."

 

Locke doubtful for Louisiana Monroe

Junior Derrick Locke, who has rushed for a team-high 459 yards this season, is doubtful for Saturday's game.


Posted at 1:33 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Tailback Derrick Locke, UK's leading rusher this season, is doubtful for Saturday's game vs. Louisiana-Monroe with a medial collateral ligament sprain in his right knee (his non-surgically repaired knee), head coach Rich Brooks announced Monday.

Brooks said there was some pretty significant swelling in Locke's knee. He's hoping to get his star runner back on the field for Wednesday or Thursday, although he didn't sound optimistic about the chances of him playing.

If Locke can't go, senior Alfonso Smith, junior Moncell Allen and true freshman Donald Russell will get the majority of the carries.

Smith's thumb injury still has not healed and will remain in a splint, but Brooks said it should be much this Saturday than it has the last couple of weeks.

 

UK-Mississippi State at 7 on FSN

Posted at 1:11 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Don't plan on trick-or-treating on Halloween.

The Kentucky-Mississippi State game on Oct. 31 has been picked up by FOX Sports Net for a 7 p.m. EDT start time. It will be the third straight primetime game for the Cats.

This week's Louisiana-Monroe game at 7 p.m. will also be on FOX Sports Net.

 

Football notes

Posted at 10:58 a.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations

Just a few football notes before I head over to the football news conference:

  • Linebacker Micah Johnson was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week after charting a season-high 14 stops (one shy of his career high) against Auburn. In reality, the honor could have gone to a number of Cats in what Rich Brooks termed the closest 60-minute defensive effort UK has had all season. Both Danny Trevathan and Sam Maxwell recorded a career-high 10 tackles, and cornerback Paul Warford, who was playing through a quad injury, totaled six tackles and a career-high three pass breakups.
  • UK has made a pretty big leap in Jeff Sagarin's NCAA football ratings, jumping to No. 33 in the latest rankings. The Cats have played the nation's eighth-toughest schedule, according to Sagarin, and are rated the sixth-best team in the SEC.
  • Isn't it funny how quickly a win can change the perception of a program? Three days ago, everyone - and I mean everyone - had written this team off a six- or seven-win team at best. No one gave Kentucky a chance against Auburn and most considered this a bottom-of-the-barrel bowl team. Suddenly, things appear a heck of a lot rosier. With six games to go, the Cats have a very realistic chance of achieving things that this program has never done before. Now nine wins might be stretching things just a bit, but UK certainly has four very winnable games ahead with Georgia and Tennessee to end the season. The possibilities are there, and I'm not sure anyone saw those last week.
  • Kentucky did not commit a penalty in the win over Auburn, the first time the Cats had not drawn a flag in 18 years.

 

 

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