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December 28th, 2014

The Joy of Beating Louisville

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Picture by Getty Images

I don’t enjoy the Kentucky-Louisville game. In fact, in recent years I think it has been fair to say that it comes upon me with a heavy sense of dread. For me, when Kentucky plays Louisville there is simply too much at stake. When I made the fateful decision nine years ago to move to Louisville, a number of things immediately changed. The team that I once considered our greatest rival (Tennessee), the team that I thought had a fanbase that held us in the greatest contempt (Indiana) and the team that I wanted to see lose more than any other (Duke) all went out the window, and those three “traits of hate” combined to form around one school, the Louisville Cardinals. For if you live in the city of Louisville, or find yourself in a circumstance in life where you must deal with their fans on a consistent basis, the UK/UL rivalry can become a bit overwhelming. As with Auburn/Alabama football (the only rivalry in the same league), obsession over this game and this series in the city of Louisville is a 365 day, all-encompassing affair that dominates the entirety of sports conversation no matter the setting or forum (this is especially true if you happen to host a daily sports radio talk show in said city as well). It so drives the yearly city chatter, that when the day of the game finally arrives and the two teams actually hit the court, it can almost seem like too much is at stake. All this talk, all this hype, all this anticipation…and in two hours it is over. It is slightly overwhelming.

Thus while I get virtually no joy out of the actual game itself, when it is over and Kentucky comes out on top, the sense of relief/elation after a win is exhilarating. At no time during the regular season series between the schools was this more true than yesterday. While the stakes were not quite the same as the 2012 Final Four or the 2014 Sweet 16 (when the two teams probably should be separated from having to play each other by state, or if necessary federal, law), for Kentucky fans it may have been the most “at risk” game of the regular season series in a generation. Kentucky is a team on a crash course with history. The question is not “if” this team is great…we know it is…the question is only how great and if it can have a historic regular season. No Big 5 Conference team since 1976 Indiana has ever gone undefeated in the regular season and only four (Larry Bird’s Indiana State, the UNLV juggernaut, Jameer Nelson’s St. Joseph’s team and Wichita State last year) have done it period that timeframe. And this Kentucky team’s most difficult obstacle on the path to that accomplishment was its in-state rival. To lose that game, in those circumstances, would be particularly brutal, especially because of the satisfaction it would give to the fan base of #L1C4. As is often the case for the favorite in this rivalry, the pain of a loss would have exceeded the joy of a win, and much of BBN felt the weight of that expectation.

But once the clock struck 4:20 on Saturday, more than just Darnell Dodson were thrilled, as the Cats got a victory that now turns the hype machine up another notch in the march towards history. The game wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it gave us two memories that will be a part of this rivalry forever. Tyler Ulis first gathered our attention with the stream of blood running down his face, but then followed it with 14 critical points and a domination of the game in the second half. Louisville then gave us a tremendous gift with the Chris Jones’s Flop for the Ages, that made him the internet’s whipping boy of the day. Both of these will join the Cedric Jenkins tip, Rex flying through the air, DA’s dunks, Patrick Sparks’s shuffle, Boogie’s elbow, Aaron’s three and many more images as moments that will be a part of our UK-UL memory bank. Kentucky legends are made in this series and what we saw Tyler Ulis do, after taking a shot to the eye that wouldn’t seem to fully heal (his bandage grew larger each timeout and he ended with three stitches after the game), will forever make him a household name in the Bluegrass state. His two threes were the moments that extended the lead and gave the separation that Kentucky needed to hold on to its victory. The Jones flop was a golden gift for the internet age and spawned countless bad jokes (of which I participated), gifs and re-enactments that will be with us for years to come, especially as the UL fan base falls farther and farther out of love with him. These moments, combined with the sight of a withered Pitino, sad Jennifer Lawrence, staring Willie and swaggy Calipari guarantee that UK’s second victory in three tries versus the Cards in the Yum Center will always be remembered fondly.

What happens next still remains to be seen. Conference play has no obvious challenger, but I do agree with many of the pundits that Kentucky will have a couple of road games in the SEC that will be closer than people predict and could lead to at least one defeat. Florida, LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia are not a murderer’s row of difficulty but at least one will come on a ridiculously hot shooting night and may require UK to play “crunch time” minutes at least once before postseason play begins. The ride through the SEC will be beset with contrived media controversies (the Calipari haters are already aggressively promoting an unnecessary Andrew vs Ulis debate), uninspiring halves (a Buffalo or Columbia home clunker will surely arise) and unparalleled hype from media ready to ride the “Undefeated” train to its final moment. Kentucky will almost certainly finish the journey as the overwhelming favorite to win the 9th Championship and could potentially be in a “Greatest of All Time” debate. With only the Match Game-esque “HOW GREAT ARE THEY” question remaining, it should actually be one of the more fun trips through the SEC conference schedule in UK history.

But before we head down that road with the start of “Camp Cal” on Monday, take a minute to savor what just happened. This may have been the best non-conference season that Kentucky basketball has ever played. The Cats beat historic powers by historic margins, defeating Kansas, UCLA and North Carolina by a combined 87 points. They took down the #4,5 and 6 ranked teams convincingly, leaving no doubt in any of the games, which was the better team. They won games by nearly unprecedented margins, finishing only one in single digits. And they played defense on a historically great pace, crushing school and national records in the process. And oh yeah…they beat our biggest rival for the 7th time in the last 8 tries, on their home floor, playing their preferred style, at the tail end of their best run in their program’s history and they did it with room to spare. Even if the game itself arrived with a slight sense of dread, it ended with yet another example of the conclusion that has been reinforced every day since John Calipari arrived in Lexington. For as long as he is roaming the sidelines, Kentucky is college basketball, its biggest star, its most visible program, its proverbial elephant in the room and this year at least, its undoubtedly best team. This group clearly has the heart AND the hype.

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(Photo by Jamie Rhodes…USA Today Sports


Chris Jones May Have Had ANOTHER Flop Early in the Game

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We all by now have seen Chris Jones’s immortal flop. But it looks as if he may have been planning such an action from the outset, as it wasn’t his only foray into the world of acting. Above, Jones had what looks to be ANOTHER flop, this time with a phantom Andrew Harrison elbow. This one isn’t as clear, and the camera comes on the play slightly late, so it isn’t 100% certain that there was zero contact. But at best, it was greatly exaggerated and considering what came later, I vote flop #2 for Senor Jones.


KSR’s Top Ten Plays of 2014: #6

Top 10 Plays of 2014

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, but unfortunately it’s without Kentucky football.  Just because the Cats aren’t Bowling, doesn’t mean they didn’t dramatically improve during Mark Stoops’ second season.  Here’s the best of the best. #10 #9 #8 #7

Kentucky Gets Tricky in the Wildcat

Jojo Kemp was carrying Kentucky in the ‘Wildcat’ against South Carolina, but halfway through the 3rd quarter the Gamecocks were finding ways to create stalemates.  Just when they thought they had it figured out, Ryan Timmons got loose on a double-reverse flea-flicker.

One of many highlights from the most exciting game of the Mark Stoops’ era.


Kentucky Shoe Recap: December

 

Over the course of the basketball year, I will be on the lookout for the best shoes worn by Kentucky players. At seasons end, we will crown a Kentucky kicks-on-court champion. Now, who wore the best kicks in the month of December?

If you missed by November recap, you can check it out here

Tyler Ulis

Air Jordan 11 “Legend Blue” Chet White/ukathletics.com

Air Jordan 11 “Cool Grey” Elliot Hayes/ukathletics.com

Devin Booker

Air Jordan 11 “Legend Blue” Chet White/ukathletics.com

Air Jordan 11 “Playoffs” Chet White/ukathletics.com

Air Jordan 13 “He Got Game” Britney Howard/ukathletics.com

Alex Poythress

Air Jordan 10 Custom “Prism” Chet While/ukathletics.com

Willie Cauley-Stein

Air Jordan 13 “He Got Game” Britney Howard/ukathletics.com

Trey Lyles

Air Jordan 12 “Taxi” Britney Howard/ukathletics.com

@Perk_21KSR

 


In case you thought Damien Harris was going to Michigan…

Today the All-American running back from Berea, Ky. told ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren that when he decides on January 9th, it will be between Kentucky, Alabama and Ohio State.  The interview confirms the long-perceived belief that it’s between Stoops, Meyer and Saban.

Before he makes his announcement, you can watch him do work in the Under Armour All-American Game, Friday January 2 on ESPN2 at 4:00 pm.


Someone recreated the Chris Jones flop in play-doh

Well done.


Avery Williamson Sets a Titan Rookie Record

Don McPeak/USA Today Sports

Don McPeak/USA Today Sports

Avery Williamson hasn’t missed a beat since arriving in the NFL, doing what he does best for the Tennessee Titans: get tackles.  In a losing effort against the Colts, Avery’s 4 tackles were enough to set the Titans rookie record for tackles in a season with 104, surpassing Alterraun Verner.

Avery has done everything they’ve asked for him in Tennessee, slimming down to help him stretch his pass coverage across the field.  With fellow former Cat Wesley Woodyard as his mentor, Avery has set a stable foundation for a long future in the NFL.

One of the best people I’ve had the pleasure to cover during my time with KSR, it’s great to see hard work by good people come to fruition on the field.  And hey, he’s just getting started bro.


No. 12 Kentucky Escapes Tennessee State

Photo Britney Howard | UK Athletics

Photo Britney Howard | UK Athletics

Kentucky the Cats returned from their holiday break today a little sluggish against the Tigers of Tennessee State, but No. 12 UK hung on to defeat TSU 87-75. With multiple starters out with injury, freshman post-player Alexis Jennings had a career day, finishing with 27 points and eight rebounds. it was her fourth-straight double-digit scoring effort, and she seems to have rounded the corner just in time for conference play to begin.

“That was a tough, tough game. I knew it was a possibility of it going to be tough today due to our roster dealing with injury and illness. Not the best game we’ve played this year but with the difficult circumstances I was proud of our players to find a way to win,” said Coach Mitchell.

Tennessee State had gotten pounded earlier this season by NC State and Tennessee, but the Cats were unable to get the distance they wanted against the Tigers. TSU battled on the boards toe-to-toe with Kentucky, and while UK forced 29 turnovers, the visiting team was able to nullify the quick pace with tough play from Lawrence and Hudson who finished with 19 and 16 apiece.

“I thought this was a great basketball setting. I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of my team I thought we played extremely hard. We matched them on the boards, had too many turnovers. We played them even the whole second half, I was very proud of that,” said TSU Coach Inman.

Senior guards Bria Goss and Jennifer O’Neill were both sidelined today with injuries. Goss is in the midst of sitting out 4-6 with a broken left thumb while O’Neill tweaked her leg in practice and sat out with a strained patellar tendon.

Today’s game marked the final game of the non-conference portion of the season and the last game of what has been a successful 2014 for the women’s basketball program at UK. The Cats start SEC play this Friday on the road against Alabama at 3:00. Until then…

@WilderTreadKSR


KSR’s Top Ten Plays of 2014: #7

Top 10 Plays of 2014

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, but unfortunately it’s without Kentucky football.  Just because the Cats aren’t Bowling, doesn’t mean they didn’t dramatically improve during Mark Stoops’ second season.  Here’s the best of the best. #10 #9 #8

‘Juice’ Gets Loose Against the Gators

The Cats were in the middle of a knock down, drag-em-out fight in Florida for two and a half quarters.  The defense held strong against running back Matt Jones, keeping the Cats within reach at 6-3.  Things were starting to look grim.  The Cats desperately needed a big play on offense.  This is what they got:

But he quite wasn’t done.  The true freshman from Winter Garden, Fl. was wide open for a second, less dramatic score.

Garrett ‘Juice’ Johnson finished his homecoming with 6 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns, showing the BBN flashes of greatness for the future.


Four underrated story-lines from UK/UL

 

(USAToday.com)

1. We survived Willie Cauley-Stein foul trouble

When you have 2 platoons filled with McDonald’s All-Americans, you almost feel as if your team is immune to foul trouble. And in most instances, I would say yes. But there is one player who is superior defensively to the rest…

When Willie Cauley-Stein reached in for a silly foul early in the second half, it looked as if Kentucky might have to play a big chunk of the 2nd half without its best all-around defender. At that moment, the game was still very much in limbo. Louisville was keeping Kentucky in check offensively, and it felt like the kind of game where you didn’t want to be on the wrong end of a “big run” because points were just so hard to come by on either end. Willie is so diverse defensively, and Louisville had plenty of big bodies down low to capitalize on his absence.

When Willie came back into the game, he quickly picked up his 4th foul. Once again, in a tight contest it was looking as if Kentucky might have to manage without its best defender. But…

 

2. We survived Willie Cauley-Stein’s foul trouble in large part due to Marcus Lee 

One of the big reasons Kentucky was able to handle Willie’s foul trouble was because of some good situational defending by Marcus Lee. Lee did nothing flashy in the game, and might have been an afterthought to most when thinking about all of yesterdays’ performances. Lee came in and played solid minutes defensively against Louisville’s All-American Montrezl Harrell. Even though Lee was vastly outweighed and muscled by Harrell, he held his own. Lee accounted for Kentucky’s only 3 blocked shots of the game.

Marcus Lee is likely never going to be a guy this season that Kentucky has to count on for significant points or minutes. Lee’s biggest contributions might come in moments such as yesterday’s game when someone gets in foul trouble and Kentucky needs a few key minutes of solid defense, or a couple of important rebounds.

 

3. Karl Anthony Towns finally mixed it up in a physical game

The biggest knock on Towns so far this season has been that he hasn’t necessarily met the challenge head on when playing against physical teams in the post. In some of Kentucky’s biggest games this season, Towns has been unable to assert himself offensively in the post. Towns has been a monster on the glass, and has been a better shot blocker than anyone expected. When Kentucky was struggling for any hint of daylight down low against Louisville yesterday, Towns provided a few “big boy” plays where he outmuscled the Cards and grabbed a rebound, or put up a contested shot (or got fouled). While some of Kentucky’s other big men were fumbling the ball when receiving entry passes, Towns came up with the biggest and most effective offensive plays in the post for Kentucky yesterday. Just like Willie made himself some money against Texas a few weeks ago, Karl Anthony Towns showed his chops against future NBA talent (Montrezl Harrell) in front of a national audience and likely earned himself some money as well.

 

4. Andrew will be okay

Everyone wants to make a lot out of yesterday’s game regarding Andrew Harrison. I even caught myself stewing as I watched him slumping on the bench time and time again while his team was making a nice run on the court. As much as we want to live in the moment and fully jump on the Tyler Ulis train (and trust me, it’s a damn good train to be on), we can’t overlook the season Andrew has had so far. Tyler Ulis may very well be the best point guard Kentucky has now and the best point guard Kentucky has moving forward. But Andrew Harrison isn’t going to stop being a factor on this team. John Calipari won’t let it happen. You could see it in his post-game comments. He spent more time talking about Andrew than he did gushing over Ulis. Cal is good at this kind of stuff. He knows when his guys are down and he sees a very down Andrew Harrison right now. Cal will go to work over the next 10 days to get Andrew’s head right because whether you want to believe it or not…. Kentucky will need Andrew Harrison AND Tyler Ulis at various points in this long season. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise. That match up yesterday was not made for Andrew Harrison. At all.

 

 

 


NBA Scouts break down the Kentucky/Louisville game

When two of the top 5 teams in the country square off against one another, there’s no doubt that NBA eyes will be closely watching. Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog gained a little insight after the game by gathering information and thoughts from a few NBA scouts who were in attendance or watching from afar. Here are a few of the highlights:

 

“Tyler Ulis was the best player on the floor.”

 

“Trey Lyles was solid. He made open jump shots and rebound well at both the 3 and 4 positions.”

 

“Willie Cauley-Stein was just OK.Was not nearly the presence he has been lately on the defensive end.”

 

“Chris Jones cannot shoot and takes too many shots.” 

 

And flops too much.

 

To read the whole article, click here. [ NBA Scout Breaks Down Kentucky’s win over Louisville ] 


According to Sagarin, UK will be favored to win the rest of its games by double digits

 

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Many labeled yesterday’s contest as the toughest remaining game on Kentucky’s schedule. Looking forward, it’s easy to see why. According to Sagarin ratings, Kentucky will be favored to win the rest of its games by at least 10 points. Here are the five lowest projected spreads:

1.) March 3rd at Georgia -10.5
2.) January 24th at South Carolina -10.7
3.) February 7th at Florida -11.2
4.) February 10th at LSU -12.0
5.) January 10th at Texas AM -13.5

The scary part: Sagarin projected the spread for yesterday’s game to be two points (well below the closing line) – so the computer may actually under-value UK. These facts seem to support the notion of Kentucky going undefeated pretty handily. However, keep in mind that a 10 point spread still means that the underdog is expected to win 10-15% of the time. While each opponent will have a low chance of beating Kentucky, the product of these probabilities still makes an undefeated season unlikely. Still, the Cats have a better chance than any team in recent memory – so let’s keep hoping.


Gary Parrish: Rare recruiting miss by Calipari might be reason Cats win title

(247Sports.com)

 

The star of yesterday’s marquee win of the season over #4 ranked Louisville, in a tough road environment to boot, was freshmen point guard Tyler Ulis. The 5-9 guard who led to many rumbles during his recruitment about whether or not he was a “typical Calipari point guard” put on a show in front of a raucous Yum Center crowd. While his counterpart, veteran point guard Andrew Harrison, struggled to carry the undefeated Cats yesterday, Ulis stepped up in a big way. Despite looking nothing like the usually very tall and physical point guards of Calipari’s past, Ulis was everything Kentucky needed and more yesterday.

Gary Parrish took a moment following yesterday’s win though to think back to a rare miss on the recruiting trail for John Calipari. There’s a sentence you don’t often see. Usually when Calipari really wants a guy, he gets him. Calipari wanted Emmanuel Mudiay, a more prototypical point guard to fit his usual mold. Instead, Mudiay picked SMU before eventually going overseas.

When Calipari was asked about whether he would have recruited Tyler Ulis or not if he hadn’t missed on  Mudiay, he said “Sure.” 

Parrish dug a little deeper and asked some other folks in the recruiting circuit whether or not they believe Ulis would be at Kentucky if Mudiay had wound up a Cat as well.

“No,” answered Evan Daniels, Scout.com’s director of basketball recruiting. “Ulis would not be at Kentucky if Mudiay had committed to Kentucky instead of SMU.”

 

 

[ To read the entire article by Parrish, click here.  ]

 

 


Sunday Morning Links

(articles.philly.com)

 

Good morning, Big Blue Nation. I don’t know about you, but I woke up still basking in the glory of yesterday’s win over the Dirty Birds down the road at Louisville. Kentucky owns Louisville. More specifically, John Calipari owns Rick Pitino. The names on the back of the uniforms may change from year to year, either due to being drafted in the NBA or being kicked off the team… but the end result is almost always the same. Cats > Cards and that’s all there is to it. Take a few minutes this morning to settle in with a ton of great articles following yesterday’s battle of top-5 teams in the country. Go Cats. Go Krogering.

 

Often times in a team’s first true road trip, you expect the veterans to carry the load. You expect freshmen to play like, well, freshmen. John Calipari said after the game “I like my freshmen.” And rightfully so. As Mark Story of the Herald Leader put it, Kentucky’s freshmen came to the rescue in the toughest of environments yesterday. 

 

Myron Medcalf (who can maybe only be trusted so much considering he didn’t put Tyler Ulis or Andrew Harrison on his Top-10 point guard list) of ESPN wrote a column in which he described Kentucky as America’s most hated (and loved) team. In his words, “The train is rolling. So get on or stay off.” Medcalf no longer believes that the talk of chasing history is simply just talk. He says not only could the Wildcats run the table, but they might “smash the table.”

 

—- Many feel as if Kentucky’s running down of history can only culminate in an undefeated season. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News sees it differently though. DeCourcy believes that undefeated or not, Kentucky will challenge history. 

 

—- You know a Kentucky team is really, really good when Pat Forde can’t help but jump on the train. With the final non-conference challenge met by Kentucky yesterday, Forde fully believes that Kentucky should enter the March  Madness sweepstakes riding an undefeated streak. Forde proclaims, “Next stop, 34-0.”

 

—- Tyler Ulis put on such a show yesterday in front of a national audience that many are now clamoring for the pint-sized point guard to take on a larger role for the Cats moving forward. Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal is among those chattering for such a move. The situation is very tender though with a sophomore point guard in Andrew Harrison on the team as well. Sullivan describes the situation caused by Ulis’ performance yesterday by saying, “Tyler Ulis gives Kentucky its best chance and its most awkward issue.”

 

 


Pick Five, ONLY Five, For Forty Minutes

chris jones flops mattstonephotog

S/o to the C-J’s Matt Stone for the picture of the day.  When Coach K shows his Dukies the proper flopping form, Jones’ performance will be Exhibit 1. 

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but Kentucky outlasted the Cards in a physical, sometimes stagnant, defensive slug-fest.  There were plenty of moments that revealed weaknesses in Kentucky’s team, even though Louisville only led once throughout the entire game.

Entering conference play, we’ve seen half a season of basketball from all nine platooners.  Today C-J columnist Tim Sullivan posed the question: if you had to pick 5 players to play 40 minutes for a national title, who would they be?  Luckily, this is simply a fun hypothetical scenario, but it does help you value Kentucky’s priorities.

Willie Cauley-Stein and the Big KAT, Karl Towns, are  shoe-ins, but would you rather play big with Trey, or small-ball with shooter, Devin Booker?

All options are enticing, but Tyler Ulis’ defense and ability to create offense (for him and others) make him impossible to keep off the court.  I’d pair Ulis alongside Willie, Karl, and the Harrison Twins.  We rarely see this lineup, but I have a feeling that in 40 minutes the Twins won’t have a problem finding their rhythm.

Who would you choose in this hypothetical?