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March 1st, 2015

Why is This Season So Special for UK Fans?

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I got a call this afternoon from a reporter for the Wall Street Journal hoping to ask me some questions about a story he is doing on the Cats. This has become a fairly regular thing over the past few weeks as more and more of the national media descend on Lexington try and cover what has become one of the two or three biggest stories in all of sports. Because of my somewhat self-centric view of the world (ex-girlfriends of mine are all currently nodding in agreement), I tend to judge just how much buzz is out there based on how many times such questions are asked of me, and on that scale, we are entering into unprecedented times. While most ask me about the team or the fanbase, this particular reporter had a very specific question. He asked me, “Is this season the most special ever for UK fans and if so, why?” I thought it about for a second and said that this is quite possibly the most special season for UK fans in my lifetime, and the only one that was close was probably the 1992 “Unforgettables” team. He asked why that was the case and I gave the best answer that I could (I was slightly distracted by NASCAR), but when I hung up, I wanted to explore the subject a bit further. After some reflection, I am more confident than I was before. This season is different and for most fans, has a “special” feel that I haven’t sensed at any point in my UK fandom previously. I think there are a number of reasons why:

1. The HISTORICAL GREATNESS

The most important answer is also the most obvious. Fans love this team because it is one of, if not the, best ever in the history of the program. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see and feel greatness while you are going through it. The 2012 Kentucky team will go down as one of the 2-3 best in school history and possibly the best nationwide in the past decade, but during the season it didn’t necessarily always feel like that. The team took some time to get going (because they were so young), lost a heartbreaker to Indiana, had point guard issues (remember the geniuses saying bench Teague and let Doron Lamb play point?) and didn’t feel like a true juggernaut until February. This team has been a freight train from moment one. Since the day the Harrison Twins decided to return, we have all expected greatness and watching that expectation become reality has been amazingly rewarding. How often in life does something highly anticipated actually come to fruition? Rarely in my experiences, but this time it has met, and even exceeded, our high hopes. It isn’t hyperbole to say that this is one of the best overall defenses in college basketball history. Their Kenpom numbers are the best since the statistic was created and the team’s length has caused difficulties in scoring that we simply have not seen before. The wins this team has produced over Kansas, UCLA, Arkansas, etc are blowouts against ranked teams/historic programs of a scale that simply are unheard of. In order for a team to be loved, it must have many positive characteristics beyond the performance on the basketball court. But make no mistake…what is most important is winning and when a team kicks ass on a historic level like this one…well that’s quite a start.

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Even Phil Jackson had to see this group in person

2. The Team’s Unbelievable UNSELFISHNESS

I always knew this team would be good, but even I have to admit that I never thought it would do it in this way. When John Calipari created the now-famous “Platoon” system, I was a skeptic…not of the idea, as I thought it was brilliant. But I was skeptical of whether he could stick with it during the difficult times of the season. And while Calipari has definitely deviated from utilizing the platoons rigidly, the general overall theme of it still rings true. This team plays nine guys, close to equal minutes, and does so with no complaints and to the benefit of all involved. When the Harrison Twins and Willie came back, they couldn’t have thought their minutes would go down…but they have and they have accepted it nonetheless. How could Karl Towns have imagined himself anything but a 30 minute-plus player or Trey Lyles a secondary option, or Devin Booker coming off the bench? The answer is they didn’t, yet the players have not accepted the role, they have flourished in it. What has been better than watching these guys cheer on their fellow teammates during big moments from the bench, knowing that their individual accolades are muted because of the system? I never thought there would be a team mutiny this season because of having too much talent, but I also never believed Calipari could juggle this many players with virtually no negative ramifications at any point? Even when the outside clutter has clouded the views of others (like with the Andrew/Ulis debate of early January), Calipari remained focused and what we have now is a team full of talent, that plays together, sacrifices for the team and passes at a level we haven’t seen at this school since 2003 (still the best passing team of my lifetime). It is truly remarkable and part of what makes each game so entertaining.

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Eight different players have led the team in scoring

3. The PERSONALITIES

I am a sucker for the big personality. There is a reason I loved Demarcus Cousins and will still go to bat defending him any day…he was full of life and energy and I gravitate towards players of that ilk. This team doesn’t have a lot of huge personalities…Willie Cauley-Stein is probably the closest and he is more eccentric than strong in his personality archetype. But while this team may not be full of guys who could host their own talk show, it might be the highest quality group of young men that Kentucky has seen in my lifetime. Nearly every year, there is always at least one guy that kind of makes your eyes roll and who is at least a bit of a troublemaker. Not in this group. What you see is what you get and what you are seeing is the nicest collection of UK players that I have ever come across. They are uniformly polite, considerate and the type of guys that if they came home to date your daughter, you would be proud of her choices. As Jay Bilas said on College Gameday Saturday, there have been no arrest, suspensions or even fits of bad behavior. In fact, the biggest controversy of the season was when Karl Towns (who is almost too nice to be a real human being) did one chin-up on the rim during a game at LSU. A reporter doing a story recently on Calipari called and asked me, “Matt off the record now…these guys can’t be as nice as they seem. There has to be something I am missing, right?” I told him, the answer is no. They are as likeable as you think they are, and there are no secret dark clouds. This is a team of guys you can root for with no reservations or Bobby Petrino-esque “hold the nose while you win” qualms. They don’t just win, they do it with people you would actually like in real life.

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This sign at the game worked. She said yes.

4. Confounding the CRITICS

Let’s face it…Kentucky is the most criticized program and Calipari is the most criticized coach in the country. Part of that is the attention given to Calipari, the most controversial (and best) coach in college basketball today. Because he wins and wins at a huge level, and does so without buying into much of the old-school college mythology (or sucking up to what passes for the college basketball writer “intelligentsia”), he will always be a target for criticism. Put him then at Kentucky, a place that for a myriad of social reasons will never be the favorite of most of the media, and you will have a massive target. However this year, the chattering class of Cal haters has almost nothing they can say. After Pat Forde embarrassed himself with his infamous “Calipari you made your own bed” article last year (seriously read it again a year later…it is hilarious in its awfulness), most held their fire early in the year, waiting to see how this would all work out. Virtually all of them (a) began by criticizing the platoon system, (b) said there was NO WAY the Cats could go 40-0, (c) took shots at Andrew Harrison as a stand-in for Calipari and (d) criticized the SEC for being weak and providing no real test for the Cats, but yet none of these attacks truly hit their target. Why is that? Well Kentucky is too damn good. To say anything except this team is playing at a ridiculous level and doing it with kids that are playing the right way, is even a stretch for Calipari’s most indignant hater. They have to accept what is painfully obvious to everyone…Kentucky is great, with good kids, playing as a cohesive unit and a coach that is at the top of his game. Throw in the players dismissed at Duke/Louisville, the turmoil at Florida, the NCAA problems at Kansas and what do you have…Kentucky on top and oding it the right way. That has to hurt and it makes UK fans even more gleeful in watching the nattering nabobs of negativism squirm.

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John Short gets the shirt with the saying he made famous

5. HISTORY

No fanbase in America cares about college basketball more than Kentucky. The ratings showcase that no matter the game, no matter the team, the state of Kentucky cares more about the sports and watches it more often than any other set of fans in the nation. And that love of all things college basketball extends into its history. Along with Kansas, no place in America cares more about college basketball’s past than Kentucky. No program has been consistently good longer than the Cats and no decade has seen a drop in relevance from the Big Blue. From Rupp to Hall to Pitino to Tubby to Calipari, Kentucky has always been in the college basketball conversation, no matter the players. And thus when we have a team here that is special, that transcends just the normal “great” year into something higher, we not only know about it, we can appreciate it. 29 wins in a row, the best start in the history of the program, means much more to us than just a number. We can remember the teams that didn’t get there, the 54 group that chose not to play in the postseason while undefeated, the 96 group that was clipped by Cal’s UMASS team, the 2010 court storm at South Carolina, the Watford shot in Bloomington and many others. We have seen truly great teams not get to where this one currently stands and that makes us all the more appreciative of what we are witnessing. A school that has seen Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, can appreciate how Willie Cauley-Stein combines their shot blocking with an unparalleled 7-footer’s ability to guard the perimeter. We know shooting and thus when Devin Booker gets hot, we can be correctly in awe. UK has had its share of large wins, but a 41-7 half against a traditional power like UCLA…well we know that’s special. Its one thing to be a witness to greatness, but it is another to do it at a place where 100 years of basketball at its top level have been played. To go undefeated here, where so many greats have come before them…we know what that means. And to look at this group and watch it take place…how can one not be as excited as at any point in the program’s history?

It seems almost heretical to say…but the interest in Kentucky basketball may be higher now that any point in history. In part because of changes in media coverage and information available due to technology, fans know more about this Kentucky team than possibly any group ever. They obsess over ever game and the tv ratings in Kentucky are higher than they have been in decades. With all of this interest and energy in the fan base, this could end up being the most special season in UK history. While we don’t know the final result, it has been a ride unlike any other, starting in the Bahamas in August heading next to a cold night in Athens this Tuesday. The final ending of this ride is unknown, but the uniqueness of this trip is not. We will never have another year like this one and the UK fan base more than any other, can appreciate just how wonderful it has been.


Former Cats Shine in Sunday’s NBA Games

Russ Isabella/USA Today

Russ Isabella/USA Today

This post might start to get redundant with the plethora of former Cats in the NBA. But, it was another big day for some of Big Blue Nation’s favorite sons.

Enes Kanter is proving the trade from Utah to Oklahoma City was a good thing for him personally. He put together another double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds against the Lakers. The big man also pitched in five assists showing his unique skill set. In his four games with the Thunder he’s averaging 15.8 points and nine rebounds a game.

Terrence Jones made his presence known in what was the game of the day between the Rockets and Cavaliers. Jones played a team-high 44 minutes and registered 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He also pitched in seven rebounds and the Rockets were +15 with him on the court.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked like the MKG from Kentucky with a double-double in the Hornets 98-83 victory over the Magic. The New Jersey native had 11 points and 13 rebounds and what I imagine was a smile on his face the entire time.

Nerlens Noel became the third former Kentucky player to get a double-double on Sunday, which is just two players less than Louisville has currently playing in the NBA. Noel had 10 points and 12 rebounds including an impressive 6-for-6 from the free throw line. Noel, like Kidd-Gilchrist and Jones, led his team in minutes played as well.

 


UK Hoops Take Down #2 South Carolina, 67-56.

(H/T @UKHoopCats on Instagram)

(H/T @UKHoopCats on Instagram)

In what was arguably the most important game of the season for the UK Hoops team so far, Kentucky defeated South Carolina today in Memorial Coliseum, 67-56. Not only did today’s game close the regular season and give the seniors a night to remember but it was the first time in program history that the Cats have brought down a #2 ranked team. This victory had not only be sweet for the seniors, but also for Janee Thompson, who had her season-ending injury earlier in the year against the Gamecocks.

In the first half, Kentucky jumped out to an early two point lead with a tip-in by senior Azia Bishop. From there, both Kentucky and South Carolina went on almost five minute scoring droughts. Kentucky’s drought ended on a layup by Bria Goss, giving the Cats a four point lead over the Gamecocks. After back-to-back plays by South Carolina after the 11:44 media timeout, they took the lead and extended it to six before a three pointer by Kyvin Goodin-Rogers swang the momentum in Kentucky’s favor. After a jumper by Makayla Epps and a layup by Azia Bishop in the closing seconds of the half, Kentucky went into halftime with the five point lead, 27-22. From there, the Cats never looked back.

Makayla Epps shot a slick jumper and a pair of free throws in the opening two minutes of the second half to bring the Cats’ lead to seven. South Carolina didn’t score a field goal in the first 8 minutes of the half, giving Kentucky the opportunity to extend that lead to seventeen before USC’s A’ja Wilson tipped one in for the Gamecocks, but Jen O’Neill and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers had the answers. At 12:17, Jen O’Neill shot a jumper and twenty seconds later, Goodin-Rogers made another three pointer to hammer the proverbial nail into South Carolina’s coffin. The Gamecocks didn’t want to give up and managed to go on a little run to cut UK’s lead to seven. But after back-to-back layups by Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper in the final two minutes, Kentucky took the eleven point victory, 67-56.

Kentucky had three players end the game in double digit scoring: Jenn O’Neill with 15 points (8 rebounds, 3 assists), Makayla Epps with 14, and Azia Bishop, who ended one rebound shy of a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.  Neither team was really stellar from the field; Kentucky only went 19-60 (31.7%) and 2 for 13 from three point range. South Carolina didn’t do much better; 20-62 from the field (32.2%) and 27.3 from the three point line.

“It was a great victory for us. I’m proud of our team and I’m especially proud of the seniors,” Matthew Mitchell said after the game. “Sometimes life doesn’t work out where people get what they deserve, and this game was going to be hard to win (…), but I’m so proud of (the seniors) and what they’ve done. This is just icing on the cake, to get the victory. Their memory of senior day will be something to remember.”

Not only was this win important for the four Kentucky seniors, but it also gives the Cats tremendous momentum going into the SEC Tournament. Kentucky is the sixth seed in the tournament and will play the winner of the Vanderbilt/ Alabama game on Thursday night at 9:30. The Cats’ bracket has the third seeded Mississippi State and the second seeded Tennessee in it as well.  Kentucky’s game on Thursday will be broadcasted on the SEC Network.

If your curious, here is the full bracket (click to enlarge):

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Go Cats.

 

@JC_KSR


Who’s Up Next for Rupp’s Rafters? I Say Tayshaun!

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For Cats fans, any Game Day in Rupp Arena is a special, even spiritual, experience.  Some contests — rivalry games, tough conference matchups — can be especially exceptional: the crowd is unusually animated; the cathedral’s congregation united in one voice.

And then, there are the truly otherworldly experiences.  When the play just seems preposterous; when the fan volume overwhelms and uplifts; when the stranger sitting next to you feels like family, everyone captured by the magic of the moment.

December 8, 2001 may have topped them all.

The day was particularly special to me:  My dad, who had been battling cancer, felt strong enough to join me for the first time that season.  Like so many other fathers and sons, Kentucky basketball was an unshakable bond between us: Even through the awkward teen years, when I was too embarrassed to hug or say “I love you,” we always had the Cats in common — Goose and Macy and Bowie and Dirk and Sky and on and on.  In 2001, by now in my thirties, I still was a little chagrined that he wore his baby-blue V-neck cashmere sweater — the hue was far too close to University of North Carolina Blue, that game’s opponents.

Apparently, though, the sweater was a lucky charm.  Two minutes into regulation, the unranked visitors had scored the game’s first four points.  But then, sophomore guard Gerald Fitch found senior Tayshaun Prince at the top of the key, and the lanky but graceful forward stroked his signature southpaw three-point shot.  The Tar Heels scored another basket, and Prince topped it with another three from just beyond the center of the arc.  Two more UNC twos were answered with two more Tayshaun threes, this time from closer to the right corner.

And then…Fitch stole the ball in the Carolina front court, handed it to Prince, who ambled down the court. And then — suddenly — his foot grazing the “U” of the center-court logo — he threw up a forty-plus foot jumper…

Nothing but net.

Words simply fail. Watch the whole series yourself:

It turned out to be the last game my dad would attend — a fitting fashion to retire his baby-blue sweater.

But for Tayshaun, it was merely the capstone of a spectacular four-year career in blue and white — a record of triumph that places Prince among the greatest of Wildcat greats.  That’s why I hope that the next time we see the long-limbed lefty strolling toward center court in Lexington, it will be to witness his jersey being retired in Rupp Arena’s rafters.

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For a team with THE GREATEST TRADITION IN THE HISTORY OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL, it’s perhaps the most special tradition of all.

Last week, during halftime of the Auburn blowout, superstar guard Tony Delk entered the pantheon of Kentucky basketball majesty, as the drapes were raised on a larger-than-life replica of his 00 jersey, just caddy corner in the nosebleeds of Rupp to the 1996 championship banner he helped to bring to Lexington.  In the century-plus history of the elite of elite college hoops programs, Delk is only the 38th player so honored, with three coaches (Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, and Rick Pitino) and two street-clothed icons (broadcaster Cawood Ledford and equipment manager Bill Keightley) rounding out the remarkable array.

The ritual was born early in the Rupp era, when the legendary coach presented his 1940 captain, Mickey Rouse, with his uniform at the team’s annual banquet.  Nine years later, Rupp retired the jerseys of the “Fabulous Five” — Alex Groza, Cliff Barker, Ralph Beard, Kenny Rollins and Wah Wah Jones — who won two national championships and Olympic Gold in 1948.  Two other team groupings later received a similar honor: seven members of the undefeated 1954 squad (Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey, Lou Tsioropoulous, Bill Evans, Gayle Rose, Jerry Bird and Phil Grawemeyer); and, lest we forget, the Unforgettables (Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods), who helped restore a scandal-plagued program on the road back to glory.

But for the remainder of the honorees, the jersey symbolizes individual achievement, both on and off the Cat court. For decades, this highly subjective selection was approached on an ad hoc basis, with the head coach often dictating the rules and standards.

That all changed when Mitch Barnhart was named UK’s Athletic Director. According to Tony Neely, UK’s Assistant Athletic Director, Barnhart was committed to standardizing and formalizing the way the school’s athletic heroes were honored.

Accordingly, in 2005, the UK Athletics Hall of Fame was inaugurated, and its charter class included 88 athletes from baseball, football and men’s and women’s basketball who had previously seen their jerseys retired.  By 2006, a Hall of Fame Committee was established — consisting of alumni, campus reps, coaches, administrators, the media, and previous Hall of Famers — and was charged with selecting for induction six athletes each year from the school’s 22 sports teams.  As with many such honorific institutions, the standards are amorphously subjective: The only objective requirement is that the athlete must have left UK at least five years previously.

These newer classes of Hall of Famers provide the pool for jersey retirement candidates.  As Neely explains, a new subcommittee was established in 2014, consisting of eight members, to specifically select the elite athletes who will have their uniforms memorialized.  To qualify, an athlete must have been inducted into the Hall of Fame at least five years prior, and must qualify as “the best of the best.”  Subcommittee members can vote for up to ten people in the pool each year, and only those athletes who win at least seven out of the eight votes will witness their uni up in the bright lights.  Delk was the first men’s cager to qualify under the new Barnhart protocol.

When the jersey subcommittee meets in 2016, it will, for the first time, be able to consider the UK Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2010. (OK, math wizards — Neely tells me that there’s a one year lag before the five year clock starts ticking.) The 2010 HOFers include golfer Steve Flesch, rifle woman Nancy Napolski Johnson, track star Valerie McGovern Young, and hoopsters Mike Casey, Billy Ray Lickert, and…you guessed it…Tayshaun Prince.

I’ll let others debate the merits of the rest of the 2010’ers, or the value of retiring in 2015 the jerseys of hardcourt (and broadcasting) legends Mike Pratt and Larry Conley, who entered the Hall in earlier classes.

But well beyond that enchanted December day, Tayshaun Prince earned his spot among the arena ceiling’s crossbars. While he never won a cherished NCAA title — neither did most of the men whose jerseys we honor — the kid straight outta Compton was the premiere player in the Tubby Smith Era.  As a junior, he was named SEC player of the year, and twice earned consensus second-team all-American status. With 1775 points, he’s 8th on the all-time scoring list: Every one above him, with the exception of the not-yet-eligible Keith Bogans, hangs in the rafters.  Prince is, by all accounts, a prince of a man: a quiet leader, a generous supporter of children’s charities, and a prototypical ambassador of the Big Blue Nation.  After leaving, his career sparkled beyond anyone’s expectations:  winning an Olympic Gold Medal and an NBA Championship, and executing the most spectacular, gravity-defying blocked shot in NBA playoff history.

I can’t wait to stand up and cheer when Tayshaun Prince’s jersey is presented to him at the site of his most spectacular college moment.  And if you’re looking for me that day, I’ll be the guy in the hand-me-down, baby blue V-neck cashmere sweater — with the big smile and the watery eyes.


Dawn Staley Has a Temper Tantrum

At the end of tonight’s HUGE win for Matthew Mitchell and his UK Hoops team over #2 ranked South Carolina, Mitchell took a late timeout to take out his Seniors and give them an ovation. It is a common thing to do on Senior Day and should have been cause for no concern. But South Carolina coach Dawn Staley didn’t seem to agree and as you can see here, spent a few seconds with her hands in the air and then yelled “That’s Bullsh**” in the direction of Mitchell. Not her finest moment I would say.


Kentucky Hoops Upsets No. 2 South Carolina

Matthew Mitchell Dancing

Everyone, it’s time to celebrate!

The No. 13 Kentucky Hoops team upset No. 2 South Carolina 67-56 in Memorial Coliseum today. Jennifer O’Neil led the Wildcats with 15 points and eight rebounds while Makayla Epps pitched in 14 points and Azia Bishop had 11 points and nine boards. It was a huge win on Senior Night for the women’s basketball team as they move to 21-8, 10-6 in the SEC and handed the Gamecocks their first loss in the SEC this year.

JC Ausmus and Austin Monnett will have a recap of the upset shortly.


It’s Time to Understand the Talent of Andrew Harrison

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There’s arguably no one on Kentucky, the country that’s more scrutinized than Andrew Harrison. Whether it’s the national media, cough cough Jeff Goodman, going on rants about how the Wildcats need to play Tyler Ulis more than Harrison to be as good as possible or fans at Rupp Arena wanting more Ulis, Andrew Harrison takes the blame for the majority of times Kentucky struggles.

Well, John Clay says it’s time to understand who Andrew Harrison is and how he’s truly a John Calipari point guard. It’s not just the 18 point, three rebound, three assist performance he had against Arkansas in which Calipari said “his play was ridiculous.” Go back the last 10 games and look at the stat line Harrison is putting up. 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game. He’s doing all that while playing no more than 31 minutes in any of those contests. In two of the games, at LSU and at Mississippi State, he didn’t even commit a turnover.

So, instead of looking for Harrison to be the scapegoat, let’s all appreciate just how talented he is and how good of a season he’s putting together. Sure, Ulis might look smoother with the ball or make that extra-umph on a pass, but Harrison has been the leader of a team currently sitting at 29-0. He’s transformed his game this season, by cutting down on turnovers.

It’s truly a luxury to have two point guards with the talent of Harrison and Ulis, who have two completely different skill sets. Harrison though is turning the corner and looking like the Calipari point guards of the past. He’s getting to the rim and looking to attack on a more consistent basis. Maybe that’ll keep Goodman quiet for another week.


If Kentucky’s Killing College Hoops It’s a Lovely Death

Chet White | UKAthletics.com

Chet White | UKAthletics.com

By now everyone has read the absurd Rolling Stone article saying Kentucky basketball is killing college basketball. Yes, you read that correct. We’re killing college basketball and not in a good way either. However, Mike DeCourcy says otherwise.

It’s hard to say anything different than what DeCourcy said, but he put it brilliantly. If Kentucky basketball is killing college basketball, it’s dying a lovely death. Instead of making Kentucky the villain, which is something easy to do, why won’t the national audience start respecting how great this team is? While most of us are jaded because of ties to the team, whether you’re a life-long fan, a student or alumni, this team is something special.

It’s a great article by DeCourcy, so give it a read. For those that happen to read the article, start embracing this team even if you’re just a casual fan (do we have those?). Whether this team wins the title or not, it’s a historically-great team that deserves that respect.

 


Senior Day Live Diary! UK Hoops vs. South Carolina

(H/T UK Athletics)

(H/T UK Athletics)

It’s senior day here in Memorial Coliseum! The Cats look to end their regular season with a win over second ranked South Carolina, who they lost to earlier this season in Columbia, 68-60.
You may remember that the last time these two teams met is when Janee Thompson went down with her season-ending injury. Matthew Mitchell was ejected from that game as well.
The Cats ended their three game losing skid Thursday against Jimmy Dykes’ Arkansas team, 56-51, holding the Hogs to a season-low 26.8 shooting percentage. Azia Bishop led the Cats in scoring Thursday night with 12, followed by 11 points each from Bria Goss and Jen O’Neill.
The Gamecocks are playing for their second straight out-right SEC regular season title and a perfect in-conference season. South Carolina defeated #11 Mississippi State Thursday 69-50; Tiffany Mitchell led the team with 16 points while A’ja Wilson tallied seven rebounds.
Kentucky just now became a lock for the sixth seed in the SEC tournament with a win for LSU over Texas A&M. The Cats will play the winner of the 11 vs. 14 seed game Thursday night at approximately 9:30 pm. More details will come about that game later on.
Memorial Coliseum is officially sold out this afternoon, so if you don’t already have tickets you’ll want to tune into ESPN2, or you can always hear Neil Price call the action on the UK Sports Network. Tip is set for 5 pm. Austin and I will be here throughout the game bringing you our thoughts on all the action.

 

Final: Austin: Kentucky held on to a ten-point lead with just under four minutes remaining, despite missing their last eleven shots at the time. A Makayla Epps layup, followed by a no-look pass from Bria Goss to Linnae Harper, extended Kentucky’s lead to fourteen with just over a minute left in the game, putting a dagger in the hearts of the Gamecocks. Memorial was as loud as ever tonight during this historic win, with fans on their feet for the final three or four minutes. Matthew Mitchell brings the seniors off for the last time with seven seconds left, and shared an emotional moment with them in front of the fans at midcourt afterwards. Kentucky hands no. 2 South Carolina their first conference loss of the season, 67-56.

 

Second Half 4:47: Austin: After trailing by more than 20, the Gamecocks hit back-to-back three pointers to cut the lead to 11 at the seven-minute mark. Kentucky hitting one of their last ten, combined with South Carolina hitting seven of their last nine is a large part of the reason USC was able to go on the 10-0 run. Although she’s only 2-8 from the floor, Epps has made 8-9 free throws, second on the team with 12 points. After a strong first half, Azia Bishop has disappeared for most of the second, mostly due to foul trouble, failing to score until hitting a pair of free throws with just over five minutes left. Bishop, Jennings, and O’Neill all have four fouls apiece. USC star Tiffany Mitchell has fouled out with eight points and four rebounds. UK leads 57-47.

 

Second Half 10:13: J.C.: Coming out of the 15:38 media timeout, Alexis Jennings extended the Wildcats’ lead to twelve which started a little run for the Cats. After a turnover by Tiffany Mitchell, Linnae Harper layed it in at 13:30 giving Kentucky a fifteen point lead over the Gamecocks. Right now, South Carolina is doing absolutely nothing offensively. At the 12:48 mark they had made no field goals so far in the half, giving the Cats to lead by at-most seventeen points. At the 11:56 mark, Alyssa Rice fell to the floor in what appeared was a leg cramp and was helped off by Coach Mitchell and members of the staff; she returned a few minutes later. Azia Bishop, who has played so well tonight with 9 points and 8 rebounds is currently on the bench with 3 fouls. Jen O’Neill is also in foul trouble with 4. Kentucky is absolutely dominating the #2 team in the nation. If you aren’t watching… get yourself in front of a TV now! Kentucky leads, 50-34.

 

Second Half: 15:38: Austin: Freshman Alexis Jennings returned to start the second half in place of Jelléah Sidney. Makayla Epps has come out of the locker room aggressive. After posting up for a turnaround jumper in the lane, she was then able to come up with a steal on the other end of the floor, leading to her drawing a shooting foul, where she sank both free throws. The foul situation for both teams will be something to keep an eye on: Jennifer O’Neill has three, and four other Wildcats have two, while South Carolina’s backup point guard, Bianca Cuevas has four. USC’s Tiffany Mitchell leads the SEC in scoring, but has been held to just six points on 2-6 shooting so far tonight. Kentucky extends their lead to 10, 35-25.

 

HALF TIME: J.C.: South Carolina tied the game 20-20 with a little over three minutes to go in the half. With that said with a little over four minutes left, the Gamecocks had only made one of their last five field goals. After a media timeout at 2:43, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers went 1-2 at the free throw line to give Kentucky a momentary one point lead. Azia Bishop is playing really well today. She is on her way to a double-double and currently leads UK in scoring and rebounds with 9 and 7 respectively. Makayla Epps gave Kentucky the three point lead and got Memorial on their feet with only 26 seconds left, and on the next play Jen O’Neill stole it out from under USC’s Asia Dozier’s nose to give Azia Bishop the opportunity to give Kentucky the five point lead going into the half. Both teams are shooting 29% from the field. Once again, Cats lead 27-22.

 

First Half: 4:00: Austin: Coach Mitchell has continued to focus on Azia Bishop when Kentucky has the ball, allowing her to decide whether to drive or hand off to one of the guards after receiving the ball around the free-throw line. Unfortunately she’s only been able to hit one of her six field goals so far, but that’s not including the two times she’s been sent to the charity stripe, where she’s hit 3-4. Jelléah Sidney and Alexis Jennings will likely spend the remainder of the half on the bench, both with two fouls. A three pointer by Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, followed by a Linnae Harper layup on the next possession gave UK the lead again, only the second lead change of the game. Kentucky’s defense has been strong this afternoon, forcing eight turnovers, compared to their three. Cats lead 20-18.

 

First Half 9:30: J.C.: Memorial is absolutely rocking today, but neither of these teams have been able to buy a bucket in the last five minutes of play. After the first media timeout, South Carolina went on a six minute scoring drought while Kentucky went four minutes without a point themselves. The drought was ended by a steal and run away layup by Bria Goss at the 12 minute mark, giving Kentucky a 4 point lead over the Gamecocks. But, coming out of a time-out, South Carolina finally ended their own scoring drought with a tipin by A’ja Wilson, cutting the Cats’ lead to two. They took the lead on their next possession with a three pointer by Tiffany Mitchell. Again, South Carolina scored on the next possession when Bianca Cuevas drained a three pointer to extend the lead, 11-7.

 

First Half 15:52: Austin: Makayla Epps joined the four seniors on the floor to start the game. We haven’t seen senior Jennifer O’Neill start in a while, as Matthew Mitchell usually likes to use her as an offensive spark off the bench. Kentucky looks to be emphasizing the inside with Azia Bishop taking four shots in the first two and a half minutes. Bishop also has 5 rebounds (2 offensive) and an assist so far. South Carolina has not been outrebounded yet this season, but the Wildcats have five more than the Gamecocks already. Kentucky leads at the first media timeout, 5-3.

 

Five Minutes Until Tip: J.C.: We just finished up the Senior Day ceremony here in Memorial. It’s always neat to watch the players’ reaction when My Old Kentucky Home is played and today was no exception. We can’t even begin to tell you guys what these four seniors have meant to this program. This senior class composed of Azia Bishop, Jen O’Neill, Bria Goss, and Jelleah Sidney have won an SEC Championship, been to the Elite Eight, and Sweet Sixteen. Another tidbit of information is that Matthew Mitchell came out with the players for their pre-game warmups; it’s the first time I have ever seen him do that. I think he really wants to win this game for the seniors. What is usually a casual shoot-around 20 minutes before the game looked like a legit practice. This team looks ready to rumble. Tip is coming up shortly. Follow along with Austin and I on twitter while you wait (@armonnett & @JC_KSR).


Jay Bilas Says UK Does Things “The Right Way”

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Jay Bilas has been one of the biggest proponents of John Calipari and the UK Wildcats, going all the way back to the Bahamas. I have said for some time that I believe he is the best college basketball analyst in the game and his insights, if taken seriously by those in charge, would make him a perfect College Basketball “Commissioner.” Until then, we can use his insight from College Gameday this week on topics such as Kentucky basketball, which he says should be praised off the court as well as on:

Kentucky doesn’t really fit the stereotype, either. We say “the scourge of the one and dones” and “the one and done is ruining college basketball.” You’ve got all these players going to Kentucky, they have sacrificed their minutes, they have sacrificed scoring, and they are winning. They play together, they play hard and they share the ball. How many guys at Kentucky have been suspended? None. How many have been arrested? None. They are doing it the right way. You don’t like it, that’s your business. But I’ll tell you what, those are really good kids that have done a great job. And if they’d done it somewhere else, everybody would be praising the sacrifice and what great kids and all that stuff.

Hear, Hear!!!! Tell em Jay


Doug Gottlieb Says Willie is Player of the Year

Love him or hate him Doug Gottlieb has high praise for our Willie Cauley-Stein. He goes as far as saying his vote for National Player of the Year would be for Cauley-Stein. Gottlieb is incredibly spot on with his analysis of Cauley-Stein because it’s near impossible for a team to come up with a game plan that benefits them on the offensive side of the ball.

Teams like to run high pick-and-rolls, thanks to the influx of NBA-type play at the collegiate level and that just means WCS will switch on a guard. Name another 7-foot center who a team is comfortable with on that switch? A hint for the correct answer is nobody.

The POY will likely go to Jahlil Okafor or Frank Kaminsky, but Gottlieb brings up an interesting topic when it comes to voting. Both Kaminsky and Okafor aren’t strong defenders, but make up for it on the offensive side of the ball. However, their teams aren’t having historical seasons on that end like Kentucky is defensively. If Cauley-Stein would have played 32 minutes a game or more would he be more in the discussion?


Trey Lyles raised some eyebrows during win over Arkansas

(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images North America)

(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images North America)

When freshman forward Trey Lyles missed three games earlier in the season due to strept throat, it was clear that the Cats were missing something from their play. John Calipari hinted at it, it wasn’t a huge secret, but in Saturday’s big win over Arkansas, the world beyond Big Blue Nation was clued in to just how important Lyles can be.

He’s a difference maker, a game changer, a player that helps a very talented Kentucky team be even better. Cal said it best after the game.

If you’re a team or coach trying to figure out how to stop the Cats, that’s a scary thought. What’s even scarier? Lyles is finally back to feeling 100% after recovering from his illness.

“The couple of games before (last week), I was still trying to get my wind back. Now, I’m 100 percent, back to feeling how I regularly feel — and that’s a good feeling to have.”

Lyles tied his career high with 18 points on 15 of 22 shooting against the Hogs, including the game’s opening two points on a dunk that got the crowd even more fired up than they already were. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9PH3Ccgfhc Look out everyone, Cal has yet another dangerous weapon as the tournament approaches. Of course, there’s a downside to all this.

The likelihood of Lyles leaving isn’t a big surprise, but there’s always hope a player might stick around.


The LA Times profiled Willie Cauley-Stein

Photo © Noah K. Murray

Photo © Noah K. Murray

Willie Cauley-Stein is being projected as a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. While all the huge dunks have certainly helped to get him on the public’s radar, it’s his defense that’s getting attentions from NBA scouts.

Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times profiled Cauley-Stein, discussing both his potential appeal to NBA teams, and his journey from Spearville, Kansas to being a part of what could end up being one of the greatest college basketball teams of all-time.

He’s not polished on offense like presumed top picks Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns but NBA front-office types compare him favorably to defensive stopper Tyson Chandler.

Or as one said, he’s “a 7-foot Dennis Rodman,” only touching the surface of a 21-year-old whose confidence has come slowly, part of a complex makeup traced to his younger years.

Bresnahan also discusses Cauley-Stein’s friendship with  current Nebraska basketball player Shavon Shields, son of former NFL linesman Will Shields. The Kentucky big man played AAU ball with the younger Shields, and lived with the Shields family when he transferred to Olathe Northwest High, near Kansas City.

There’s plenty more to the story, and you can read the entire article here.

 


Update: YAHTZEE! Receiver Dakota Holtzclaw has committed to Kentucky

(via Hudl.com)

(via Hudl.com)

Update:

According to Justin Rowland of RIVALS, the Cats received a commitment from Dakota Holtzclaw following his visit yesterday.

We know there was an offer thanks to Twitter…

…and we know Dakota had fun at the basketball game.

Nothing official yet, and no YAHTZEE from Coach Morrow since Thursday, but the initial signals seem positive.

For now, enjoy some of the tall receiver’s highlights.


Sights and sounds from Rupp Arena ahead of Kentucky’s latest win

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be underneath the big blue tifo that gets rolled out before tip-off at Rupp Arena, this video will give you a look.