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March 27th, 2015

Friday’s News and Views

Aaron Harrison game-winner vs. Michigan

Crazy to think that shot was a year ago in the Elite Eight, but here we are today. Let’s hope for the same result, but hopefully a little less drama.

Big Blue Nation vs the Nation

That’s how it’s going to be tomorrow according to Notre Dame’s head coach Mike Brey. During today’s press conference Brey said that the Irish will be America’s team when they take on Kentucky. It shouldn’t be that shocking of a comment as there’s a clear line of people who want to see Kentucky go 40-0 and those hoping for a loss.

Karl-Anthony Towns Gets It

The kid might just be a freshman, but you could argue no one has embraced the culture at Kentucky more than Karl-Anthony Towns. He was quoted today at the press conference saying “I think that’s the biggest joy I have is the fact that I still get to play with my brothers. Like I said, we love each other tremendously and it’s one of those things, it’s not even the fact about playing another game, it’s an opportunity to play another game with my brothers.” He’s a special player and person.

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Little Guy with a Ton of Swag

Leave it to the one many people would least expect to be the ‘swaggy’ talker of the group, but it was Tyler Ulis who still had some harsh words for our friends from West Virginia. Ulis told Tyler Thompson today that Kentucky wanted to beat West Virginia by 50 because they felt disrespected. If this keeps making Ulis dish out assists and not turn the ball over, go for it young fella.

Diamond Stone Wants to be a Turtle

Five-star center Diamond Stone committed to Maryland tonight via Twitter.

 

He was once a Kentucky recruit, but chose Maryland over Wisconsin, UCONN and Oklahoma State. I guess Kentucky can’t have ALL the five-star recruits.

The Coaching Carousel is Going Round and Round

Big news today in the SEC as Tennessee fired Donnie Tyndall this morning. Tyndall, who just completed his first year in Knoxville was let go presumably for an investigation when he was the head coach at Southern Miss. Steve Lavin was also fired today from St. John’s. There are plenty of big name programs out there that should have some interesting hires this offseason.

Mark Cornelison/ AP

Mark Cornelison/ AP

Louisville Joins Kentucky in the Elite Eight

I think we all can admit it’s pretty impressive that Rick Pitino has Louisville in the Elite Eight again, with a 10-point win over North Carolina State tonight. This team has struggled all season scoring and obviously lost starting point guard Chris Jones. Might just have to start penciling in Kentucky teams in the Elite Eight all the time now.

Kentucky Opens as an 11-point Favorite

It shouldn’t shock anyone, but Kentucky will be favored by double digits tomorrow. If you’re in a certain city in the desert, the Wildcats opened giving 11 points to the Irish. Cats by more than 11.

Kentucky Fans at Notre Dame

We’ll be back at it tomorrow at 10 a.m. Until then here’s a picture of three goggles in front of Touchdown Jesus.

@uklefty22


Three Keys To Reaching the Final Four

For the fifth time in six years under John Calipari the Cats are back in the elite eight with a trip to the Final Four on the line. This time the Cats face Notre Dame, a team that upset Nerlens and Willie back in the 2012 when the two teams met last. What will the Cats need to do in order to avoid that same fate? Here are my three keys to beating the Irish and reaching the final four:

1. Wear Them Out.

Jerian Grant Is Averaging 39 minutes per game in March (VIA Fansided)

So far in the NCAA Tournament the Fighting Irish are playing basically their starting lineup for the entire game. Reserves Bonzie Colson and VJ Beachem have averaged 10 and 5 minutes respectively during these three games which equates to a whole bunch of minutes logged for the starting five over three games. Notre Dame star Jerian Grant has yet to go to the bench.

That gives the 8-deep Cats a chance to bring relentless defense and take the deep shooting Irish legs out from under them. Plus with Karl-Anthony Towns only playing 13 minutes against WVU  the big man should have fresh legs to dominate ND down low.

2. Crush Them On the Glass.

The big men should have a field day against the Leprechauns  (Credit: Getty Images / Gregory Shamus)

Notre Dame does a lot of things well. They score in bunches. They move the ball exceptionally. They shoot over 51% from the floor. But the one thing they don’t do well is rebound. The Irish rank 250th in the nation with 32.8 rebounds per contest and rely on 6’5 combo forward Pat Connaughton to shoulder much of that load. What is he going to do against 7 foot Willie Cauley-Stein?  Or even 6’9 Marcus Lee?

Notre Dame’s starting five goes 6’1, 6’5, 6’5, 6’5, and 6’10 and as I’ve mentioned they basically play the entire game. The Cats go 6’6, 6’6, 6’10, 7’0, and 6’11 with solid rebounders in Lee, Johnson, Booker, and Ulis coming off the bench. The Cats should dominate the glass and get plenty of opportunities for second chance points.

3. Stem the Tide

As I mentioned, the fighting Irish like to score in bunches. In the ACC Championship game the Tarheels had taken a 64-56 lead with 9:21 to go when ND decided to turn it on. A three here, a steal there, and a 15-0 run buried the Tarheels in just over three minutes making it 64-71. The Irish never trailed again.

Last night they used two surges, including one 38-18 run, to keep Wichita State at bay. Kentucky will need to avoid the floodgates collapsing and match ND blow for blow as they attempt to make in runs in the game. Basketball is often an game of momentum. The Cats will need to control the tides to cruise to another easy win.

 

What do you think the Cats will need to focus on in order to reach a second straight final four?

 

 


Friday Spring Football Notes

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–  After a sloppy start to the week, the team got it together today.  He was not happy at all Wednesday, but today’s practice was much more productive, especially the offensive efficiency.  Stoops admits at times it’s tough to take off his defensive coordinator hat, but today he had to just sit back and applaud the offense, “If we don’t make plays down the field we ain’t going to win football games.”

–  Part of the reason the offense looked better was the return of Blake Bone.  After a minor injury sidelined him Wednesday, today he was back, and his presence was much needed, “he makes a difference.”  His P.I.C. is on the rise too.  Dorian Baker had offseason knee surgery, but told us on Twitter earlier this week that he’s back to running, and should begin routes in two weeks.

–  Mike Edwards has great instincts.  After redshirting last season and arriving to campus late, Edwards finally has five practices under his belt, giving Stoops a chance to see his intangibles in action.  “We put guys in position but ultimately sometimes you gotta to have instincts, you gotta to make plays and I see a nice comfort zone with him,” Stoops said.

–  Replacing Bud and Za’Darius won’t be easy.  But neither was replacing Avery Williamson, but as D.J. Eliot reminded us today, Josh Forrest did a pretty damn good job of rising to the occasion.  Forrest led the team in tackles with 110.  Eliot also said that it’s going to take a group effort in order to continually make big plays (like Bud’s Pick 6, For the Win).

“We’re working with Jason Hatcher and Denzil Ware.  We’ve got some guys coming in the Fall that will be playing those positions so we’ll just have to have somebody step up and fill those roles. On top of that, you’re going to have to make up for the plays those guys made, not necessarily with their position but as a defense. So we may have to make more plays at inside linebacker, may have to make more plays in the secondary, might have to make more plays at defensive tackle but somebody has to step up.”

–  Blake McClain is working the nickel and strong safety.  They’re trying to get the two-year nickelback (not the terrible band) starter on the field as much as possible.  By moving him around some, it gives Kendall Randolph extra opportunities to make big plays.

–  Matt Elam is down to 360, but still wants to lose more.  He came to campus near 400 pounds.  He’s lost plenty, down into the 365-360 range but wants that to be closer to 345-350 by the end of Spring practice.  With the release of the media guide, I’ll have complete updates of all the weight gained/lost over the offseason later.


Devin Booker is Kentucky’s Second X-Factor

 

Photo by Nam Y. Huh, AP

Photo by Nam Y. Huh, AP

John Calipari has called Trey Lyles the X-factor for Kentucky ever since he fully regained his health in late February. But this Kentucky team is like Noah’s Ark — there are at least two of everything — and there are two X-factors. If Trey Lyles is the X-factor of the White Platoon, then Devin Booker is the X-factor of the Blue Platoon. When both are on, the Cats are unbeatable.

Both players have gone through slumps. Lyles, who was sidelined for three straight games with an undisclosed illness, didn’t get going again until his fifth game back in action, an 18-point performance against Mississippi State which was followed with another 18 points versus Arkansas.

Booker, we hope, just came out of a slump of his own Thursday night against West Virginia. In Booker’s previous seven games, he had scored in double figures just once. He had combined for just 11 points in his last three games. In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Booker was 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

In Thursday’s rout, both Lyles and Booker were on top of their games. The result? A 39-point win over the Mountaineers, tied for the largest win ever in the Sweet 16.

Lyles sparked the Cats early, scoring nine points in a 30-9 run to start the game. He finished with a team-high 14 points and also grabbed seven rebounds. Booker snapped his skid from behind the ark with two 3’s and a total of 12 points.

When either is playing at their best, it can be demoralizing for opponents. Kentucky’s guards and big men are overwhelming strengths, but who has a small forward who can match up with Lyles? When Booker comes off the bench and is nailing 3’s, forget about it. When these two are on, you can bet on a long day for the opposition.


Aaron’s finger looks fine in this video

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 5.07.04 PM

The media wasn’t allowed to watch today’s practice, but our best friends at KyWildcatsTV were kind enough to share some footage. In this short clip, Aaron Harrison’s finger looks just fine. Watch Aaron get buckets from his favorite spot on the court:


Willie says he’s on a mission, and “it’s sensational”

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Willie Cauley-Stein was understandably a popular guy this afternoon, and his breakout room was by far the most packed of all five UK starters. Willie made it worth it with this great quote about his journey over three years at Kentucky:

I feel like I’m on a mission. I said that day, after we lost (to Robert morris), I have never won a championship before. I’ve never won anything, any crazy awards, and I’m coming back to fill that spot in my heart, that emptiness. And crazy enough, it’s happening. Never thought it would happen like this, but it’s really happening. It’s crazy to think that two years ago, I was just talking. And now I’m living it, and it’s sensational.

And that’s why Willie’s the media darling.

(H/t Eric Crawford)


Mike Brey called Notre Dame “America’s team”

americas-team

Mike Brey stood in front of a room full of people with bald spots and notepads and said the Fighting Irish will have the entire country behind them tomorrow against Kentucky.

We are America’s team tomorrow,” Brey told reporters. “There’s no question about it. Got some great texts. And we love it, we certainly will take all that support. We’ve got a monumental challenge on our hands.”

Brey said playing in the ACC, the best conference in America, prepared his team for the Wildcats.

“We’re the most efficient offensive team in the country. They’re the best defensive team in the country. I think it’s exciting to see how this thing plays out over 40 minutes.”

I know one nation that will be rooting against Brey’s team: the Big Blue Nation.

Let’s go Cats.


KentuckyOne Health Anywhere Care’s Quotes From Elite Eight Media Day

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I bounced around Quaker Oats-Quicken Loans Arena this afternoon, popping in and out of the locker room, breakout interview rooms and the main press conference. Here’s a little of what I heard during my adventures…

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Rick Osentoski-USA Today

 

“Well, if I have to deal with their expectations, I would be under the desk in a fetal position.”

When asked if this season has raised Big Blue Nation’s expectations to even higher levels, John Calipari said he has to ignore what the fans want in order to keep his sanity.

“Well, if I have to deal with their expectations, I would be under the desk in a fetal position.” Cal said today. “So I don’t worry. The expectations we have for ourselves on this team is within us. The only thing that I can be concerned with is us being at our best and us having each individual player being coached as though they’re a starter being the best version of themselves, understanding what that looks like.”

Cal said the staff has a lot of footage of each player when they’re at their best and they show it to them over and over, hoping it registers that this is how they should play every night. If Kentucky loses when they’re playing their best, Cal will “deal with it.”

“He’s got a little Kobe in him.”

Andrew Harrison compared his brother to Kobe Bryant when describing that “it” factor Aaron has in the clutch. “It’s something inside him,” Andrew said of Aaron’s confidence when the game is on the line, recalling last year’s magical tournament run. “He’s got a little Kobe in him.”

Andrew said Aaron has been hitting big shots their whole lives.

“Allowing Brian and Sam and EJ to get in, it brings joy to us, for real.”

This was Willie Cauley-Stein’s way of saying, “We had a lot of fun beating the hell out of West Virginia last night.”

“We didn’t play last night, but we played this morning.”

This is about Super Smash Bros., of course. Dominique Hawkins said it was too late to play Nintendo when they got back to the hotel, but they played first thing this morning.

“Just a normal day in the NCAA Tournament. That’s all we’ve been doing is basketball practice and Smash Brothers.”

Is that normal, though?

“That’s a tough question, I never got that one before.”

And for my favorite response of the day, Andrew Harrison said, “That’s a tough question, I never got that one before,” when asked about playing with his brother. If you listened to the KSR pregame show yesterday, you probably heard me go off about how tired I am of the same questions over and over and over. The “What’s it like playing with your brother?” question is the most abused and I couldn’t believe someone asked it again today. I thought about doing it as a joke, but someone did it for real and Andrew’s response was brilliant.

“It’s fun playing with him,” Andrew added.

Still plenty more to come…


Trey Lyles can’t stop photobombing

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Trey Lyles photobombs on the court, he photobombs in the locker room, he photobombs in the airport.

Would you like your Lyles photobomb on a jumbotron?

Would you like it while you read Kubla Khan?

Trey’s photobomb streak continued today while the five starters headed back down to the court from the breakout rooms:

I hope Shawn Marion appreciates this.


Karl Towns says he’s playing just for the chance to play with his brothers a few more times

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You can forgive Karl Towns for being a little down today. Karl had one of his worst games as a Cat yesterday, scoring one point in only thirteen minutes, largely because of foul trouble. Karl being Karl, he was extremely polite today and mustered up a few jokes and smiles, but there’s no denying that he’s down right now.

In his press conference, John Calipari said that Karl’s father, Karl Sr., texted him last night to make sure Cal stays on Karl amid his struggles.

“He’s a great kid. I’ve been harder on him than anybody on this team, but I told him at the beginning of the year, it would be that way because he had a long way to go, but I saw his upside being the best big guy in the country, and I’m not settling for anything else,,” Cal said. “When he gets off point, I’m right there, but after the game I get a text from his dad: Stay on him, don’t let up, Coach. Not: Get him more shots, play him more minutes.”

Karl even sounded a little prematurely nostalgic this afternoon, telling reporters that for him right now, it’s not about the run, or being undefeated, it’s about playing with his brothers.

“We came into the postseason, and we didn’t know we were going to be perfect. We never ever expected that. We came in to every game just worrying about that game and with the mindset that we’re sticking to the game plan,” Karl said. “Now it’s funny that we have a chance at perfection to achieve the goal of winning the national title. Of course, it’s a lot of fun, especially when you have great brothers like I have. That’s what makes it fun. It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey you take.”

(If for some absurd reason, this basketball thing doesn’t work out for Karl, he would have a great career writing inspirational posters.)

I remember Cal saying of his 2012 team that in the end, they played just for the opportunity to play with their brothers one more game. I asked Karl about that, and he finally cracked a smile.

I think that’s the biggest joy I have is the fact that I still get to play with my brothers. Like I said, we love each other tremendously and it’s one of those things, it’s not even the fact about playing another game, it’s an opportunity to play another game with my brothers. Getting to go back out there and lace up our shoes again, hopefully for at least a few more times.”

Three more times, at least.


Win a grand from KSR and Draft Kings tonight

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As always, first timers will receive free entry to the contest.

Click here to draft your team before tonight’s action.


Matthew Mitchell’s daughter gave him a black eye

IG: ukcoachmitchell

IG: ukcoachmitchell

Today in ‘well, that’s random': Matthew Mitchell’s daughter gave him a black eye. You may have noticed Mitchell’s black eye during the Dayton game on Sunday, and this morning, he took to Instagram to clear up some rumors.

“BBN, there have been a lot of questions about my black eye this week, so I thought I would clear things up. Saylor Rose did catch me inadvertently, but after going to the monitor for an intensive video review process, she will face no further disciplinary actions. #HardHeaded #JennasDaughter”

Who knew Saylor was such a bruiser?


Andrew Harrison called that crazy circus shot

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

We may need to add fortune teller to the growing list of Andrew Harrison’s skills. Last week, Andrew predicted the Cincinnati/Purdue game would go to overtime, and it did. According to his teammates last night, Andrew also predicted he’d made a crazy circus shot in the game, and he did.

“It was crazy,” Dakari said. “He said he called it, but that was crazy stuff.”

“Actually in the first half, when he stole it and went up, he said he should’ve put it behind his back,” Aaron Harrison told Jon Hale. “So he just did it right there. It was pretty cool.”

“I practice it all the time,” Andrew quipped.

“That was smooth, I’ve never seen anything like that before, especially on a stage like this,” Karl said. “That just shows you how loose we are.”

 

The shot just gets more and more ridiculous each time you watch it:

Hey Andrew, how are you feeling about tomorrow’s game?


Kentucky dominates the ratings again

© Rick Osentoski

© Rick Osentoski

Kentucky has been a ratings monster this season and last night was no exception. According to Matt Norlander, last night’s games earned a 9.1 overnight rating, the highest ever for a Thursday Sweet 16 slate.

Cats.


Aaron popped his own finger back into place

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When Aaron Harrison ran off the court in pain during the second half, it looked like something was seriously wrong. Harrison was doubled over, holding his left hand and sprinting back to the locker room.

The picture of Andrew’s dislocated finger circulated quickly on Twitter, and just as I was getting control over my dry heaves, Aaron was back on the bench. Because he’s a stone cold killer, he popped his finger back into place himself.

“I had no choice,” Aaron said. “I just felt like I needed to get it back, so I pulled it. Chris put a towel over it and I just pulled it out myself and it went back in.”

Thankfully, the injury was to Aaron’s left hand–his non-shooting hand–and minutes later, he checked back into the game. “I just told him I can still shoot Coach, I’m good,” Aaron said of his conversation with Cal on the bench. “I went back out there so I could get back in the game.”

I’m the same way when I get a paper cut.