Part two in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats. Cats hope →
Archives by date
You are browsing the site archives by date.
We’ve just about analyzed this thing to death… At this point, we’ve all had a chance to go through the gauntlet of emotions following last night’s disappointing loss to South Carolina. To call the loss disappointing in fact, might be a bit of an understatement. For many fans, that game was the last straw. It’s hard to ignore the anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, etc. that is whirling around the Big Blue Nation right now. Things have certainly been worse (Billy Clyde set the bar pretty high), but this weekend marked somewhat of a low-point in the Calipari era, and leaves major holes and question marks when looking at this Kentucky team heading into March.
The question now becomes how does this team move forward? Is it getting a little too late for major changes? Is this team simply going to be what it is?… A young and inconsistent team? Time had been getting short on this team for a while now, and the clock has just about run out to hope for drastic changes. Kentucky has 2 regular season games left. Alabama comes to town for Senior Night on Tuesday. I am no longer going to categorize that as a winnable game for Kentucky. On paper should Kentucky win? Yes. But after a home loss against a decent but not great Arkansas team last week, it’s hard to pen anything as highly likely. Then Kentucky hits the road for its toughest road game of the SEC regular season, traveling to Florida to play a veteran/top-5 team on senior night. Kentucky hasn’t been expected to win that game, so perhaps a game in which Kentucky can play loose– “with nothing to lose” might be a relief.
For what it’s worth, the Kentucky players are saying the right things. The team still talks like they believe. As we all know though, actions speak louder than words and between the final 2 regular season games and the SEC tournament– Kentucky needs more than encouraging soundbites. Aaron Harrison says this team is still capable of doing great things, and claimed that it would be a “great story” if they ended up turning this thing around.
As Matt outlined in his post earlier, I think the one thing that might help if nothing else with this team would be to “try something new.” All eyes will be on Kentucky in this final week of league play to see if there’s any chance for a last minute tweak or change that can set this team on any kind of momentum-turning run– even if only very, very small.
In the end, as frustrating as this recent stretch of games has been (Kentucky is essentially a Julius Randle last second shot away from being 0-4), Kentucky still has a good chance to lock up the #2 seed for the SEC tournament with a win on Senior Night. Kentucky could serve itself well to earn the first round bye in the SEC tournament and start play on Friday night. Kentucky will also have the chance to honor Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood, two Kentucky guys who have given a lot to this program both on and off the court in their own ways. Hood and Polson have by all accounts been incredible teammates over the past 4-5 years, while representing Kentucky with class. No matter how frustrated we’ve been, let’s remember that we are celebrating these two guys on Tuesday night and they deserve a great ovation from the crowd.
In order to help you round out the weekend by getting out one last wave of emotion (whether it’s tears, laughter, anger, etc.)… take a look at some of the most funny/ridiculous/amusing/whatever comments from the over 2,000 (you people are crazy, and love your Facebook) left on John Calipari’s Facebook message to the Big Blue Nation. I think my favorite part of it all is that Calipari admittedly has someone who runs these accounts for him. He never reads the comments. Don’t tell that to the 2,000 coaches who just gave him the game plan for Tuesday night though…
Some opposing fans were talking trash…and making words possessive that shouldn’t be…
Others tried to relate….
Miraculously, 4 people in a row managed to keep it positive…
… Some fans started off with catchy sentences that created strange visuals…
Some managed to make logical points in support of the current recruiting style…
Others did not…
Some resorted to (unintentional?) puns…
Many, I repeat MANY… leaned heavily on the Caps Lock
method of making a point key
That’s all for now folks. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday evening, and lay off of the caps lock until next time…
From “pay back mode” to “bounce back mode” to “full-blown crisis mode.” That sums up the week that was for the Kentucky men’s basketball team.
When it comes to trying to salvage this season, the first thing that needs to get fixed is the shooting. The combined 38 percent field goal shooting against LSU and Arkansas the worst two-game stretch since late November but the Cats hit a new low of 27 percent against South Carolina.
It’s hard to believe that a mere 12 days ago, this Kentucky team scored a blowout win at Ole Miss with an offensive performance that was devastating (1.17 points-per-possession, 62 percent shooting inside the 3-point line). At South Carolina, UK missed 27 of 35 two-point shots (23 percent). At one point, 20 minutes of basketball time elapsed during which the Wildcats had two field goals, one of them via a goaltending call on a shot that wasn’t going to go in the basket.
On the brink of getting blown out, the Wildcats staged a furious rally in which they finally started making shots. They desperately need to build on that performance. John Calipari and his staff must find a way to get these players’ offensive confidence back to where it has been for most of their lives. Kentucky spent most of this season ranked in or near the top 10 in the nation in offensive efficiency but has now slipped to 20th.
I was watching an interview with Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall yesterday and one thing he said struck a chord for this Kentucky team. He was talking about preaching to his team to “run hard” and how you don’t have to run any offense if you beat the opponent down the court and establish your position, the way, as he noted, as army that gains the “high ground” has an insurmountable edge. That was the way Kentucky played offense in that game at Ole Miss.
This ain’t coach Cal’s first rodeo, as the ol’ saying goes. The worst thing a coach can do now is panic, to over-practice or beat his team down. You can bet Calipari will be doing everything he can to get his players to feel good about themselves again and play the game with the passion and joy with which they’ve played it all their lives. About the only positive to take from the South Carolina is that the will to win is still there for this team, judging from the way they fought to try and escape with a win Saturday night.
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network
–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and @leachreport + via Facebook for “The Leach Report”
In a thrilling, down to the very last shot game, the University of Kentucky Hoops team beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 65-63. Tonight’s game marked the final of the regular season for the Hoops team, which the team celebrated by honoring their seniors and all their accomplishments. Tonight’s game was important for so many reasons, especially since this weekend we will be traveling to Duluth, GA, for the SEC Tournament, so let’s not be coy and just dive right in.
DeNesha Stallworth had another MASSIVE game tonight. She finished up her last regular season game with the Hoops having scored 18 points, and grabbing five rebounds. On the road versus Mississippi State, she had 16 points and 20 rebounds. I think it’s safe for us to go ahead and say that Stallworth is FINALLY back. Some will argue that she was back a few games ago. I agree, she was present, but she was lagging. She was out of shape a little, and looking rough coming off a very strenuous recovery. Moving forward into the tournament, the Cats are going to need Stallworth to continue to be that post threat that we love to feed.
So let’s chat about Jennifer O’Neill. Wilder took the time once to check the stats on the team’s victories with her playing at a high level, and how many losses we have when she plays like she did tonight. Now, I do not in any way want to put this loss on her, because it’s not her fault. But when you are 2-7 from the field and play for 20 minutes, something’s gotta change. O’Neill has had such a roller coaster season, and going forward into Duluth, were going to need her to be on her high points. There’s a really good chance that the Hoops will be playing Florida on Friday afternoon. This will be the perfect chance for redemption for the Cats, and O’Neill isn’t too shabby against the Gators. The junior scored 20 points the last time the Cats played in Gainesville, and 15 points when they came to Memorial make for an interesting call to action. I wanna see Jen O’Neill hit that SEC Dougie this weekend. Just sayin’.
The Slump: There Was One. In the middle of the first half, the Hoops were leading by 17 points. We thought this game was in the bag and ready for checkout, then all of a sudden, we found ourselves tied. Wait… What? While it would be easy for me to just write this off as a Kentucky slump in play or lack of concentration because of the senior day festivities, I’m gonna have to agree with what Coach Mitchell attributed the Commodore comeback to; the competitiveness of Vanderbilt, and ultimately of the SEC as a whole.
All season long we have talked about how the SEC beats up on each other and how all the teams are so great, and how tough Kentucky’s season has been because of their schedule. Now, we have numbers to prove it. Kentucky clinched the number 4 seed for the SEC tournament with a record of 10-6. South Carolina, the number 1 seed, has a 14-2 record, with losses to Tennessee and Texas A&M, both teams Kentucky beat this season. As far as the UK schedule, here’s some knowledge for ya. Out of the projected 1 and 2 seeds for the NCAA tournament, Kentucky has played *all of the number 2 seeds, and two of the number 1 seeds*. Is that a sick joke? This team is unreal. This conference is unreal.
We’ll be coming to you all this weekend from the SEC tournament starting Friday afternoon at 2:30. Not sure who we will be playing yet, but when we know, you will to. I’ll leave you with this awesome Mitchell quote to read over and over and cry to until you fall asleep. Until next time folks.
“At the end of the day, to be able to walk off that court with a victory on senior day, there’s not many better feelings than that.”
Kentucky is 1-2 in its last three games and could easily be 0-3. It’s been a tough 3 games for the team and for all of Big Blue Nation. We all thought Kentucky had turned the corner with the win over LSU and was poised for a deep run in March, but that hasn’t been the case; in fact, it has been the complete opposite. It seems like the wheels are falling off right in front of our eyes. How can Kentucky go from playing some of its best basketball of the season to playing its worst?
Over the past 3 games, Kentucky has shot the ball horrendously. In the LSU game, they went 28-67; against Arkansas they went 26-76 and against South Carolina, they were a dismal 14-52. Could the poor shooting factor in to a lack of their confidence? You simply can’t win games shooting so poorly from the field. If we can get 40 minutes of effort like they had in the last 5 minutes of the South Carolina game, this team could go to another level. Their defensive intensity seemed to build their confidence as they were able to hit shots down the stretch.
I’m not sure if Kentucky has time to pull it all together and make a deep tournament run, but I’m not giving up on this team. In the last 5 minutes of the South Carolina game, Kentucky put themselves in a position to win the game, something last year’s team wouldn’t have be able to do. Even though they played some of their worst basketball of the season, they showed me a glimpse of that will to win that they have been lacking. If you’re a true Kentucky fan, you will continue to support this team no matter the outcome. This team needs our support. I haven’t jumped ship on this team; I won’t. Like I said last night on twitter during the comeback, “My clothes are still dry.”
Saturday’s 72-67 loss to South Carolina was one of the more difficult UK games that I can ever remember watching. It wasn’t just that the team played poorly, although it surely did, with one of the worst shooting performances that I can ever remember. And it wasn’t just that it low to one of the worst teams in a BCS conference in America, a group that took a 18 point loss earlier in the year to Manhattan on this very same court. No it was more than that…what made Saturday so painful was watching a team that could do so much more, fall so short of where they should be.
Let’s be clear. We all are guilty of overhyping this team, myself included. From day one this group was considered to be one of the best recruiting classes ever assembled and it was the thought of EVERYONE that this team was going to be special. Yes, there were a select few that went to the extreme and expected 40-0 (although this group is very small and includes only Gregg Doyel, Ryan Lemond and the occasional excited fan). But what many more believed (as did I) is that this was a group ready to impose its will on college basketball. With all of the talent assembled on one team, it was assumed that Kentucky would be at or near the top all year and would be one of the premier 3-4 teams going into the tournament, likely the favorite to win #9 in Dallas. Anything less than a dominant season was not only not expected, it was rarely even considered. Even the most pessimistic of announcers (say Doug Gottlieb) put Kentucky only as low as #7, because in the end, everyone bought the hype.
Obviously we were all wrong. But there is nothing that can be done about that now. This team is what it is and the hype that was put on by media, both national and local, fans and the coach himself, cannot be undone. But what can change is the way this team plays for its final few games. The reality is that the expectations of this team have burdened and weighed down this team all year. Most have focused on those expectations from the preseason hype and that is part of the equation, but it isn’t all of it. There is a burden that comes from the fans who have expected these young men to be saviors (“Keep Calm the Twins are Coming.” There is a burden from the families and friends of these players who have been pointing these kids to a future where they play basketball for money since their early high school years. There is the burden from the NBA scouts and draft boards that have projected all of these players as the best in America and as they have struggled, have anticipated their fall in mock drafts. And there is a burden from the players themselves, who are seeing struggles that they have never before endured and questioning why it has happened while putting pressure on themselves to change immediately. All of those burdens have weighed on this team heavily and have sapped much of the joy out of the process.
But in addition to all of these forces, the high expectations and pressure from the coach and program have surely played a role as well. John Calipari has wanted this team to be special from day one. He could taste the potential this team had and he wanted it for them more than almost anything. His energy and enthusiasm (at one point saying he was “coaching like a 35 year old”) has been ubiquitous, as he has attempted to will this team to success during the difficult stretches. I have watched Calipari all five years here and I have never seen coach, cajole, yell, cheer and teach more during the course of a season than this one. He has hoped that by micro-managing the team from the start and during games, he can somehow make them reach their potential and hit the special level that he envisioned from day one. He wants it for THEM more than anything and he is trying harder and harder to make it happen, even as it seems to slip farther from his grasp.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, this strategy simply hasn’t worked. Rather than willing the team to victory, Kentucky has played like a group of youngsters with an overwhelming weight on their shoulders that they can’t shake. You can’t watch this team without becoming struck by the fact that the players are not only not having fun, they seem always waiting for impeding doom to strike. Why is this happening? Well I am not around the team enough to know for sure but it probably is a combination of the burden of expectation, the personal pressure the players place on themselves (especially the Harrison Twins) and the struggles the team has taken during moments of adversity. And while all of these are part of it, I also think John Calipari’s coaching style is currently playing a role in it as well. During games, when the players make a mistake they immediately look toward the bench to see how the coach will react. The coach’s reactions, occurring because of his intense desire to win and make his players reach their potential, instead may be making the players even more tense and more likely to make errors that will cause even more loud reactions. It is a vicious cycle not easily broken. Calipari being thrown out of a game for the first time four years is not a coincidence, it is a symptom of a tension that has been building for quite some time.
With eight minutes to go last night however, things changed a bit. After Calipari’s ejection, the game seemed certainly lost and the players switched their approach and began playing in a different manner. In fact, for those eight minutes, Kentucky looked like the team we saw this summer and fall in the workouts that had everyone so giddy about the Wildcats’ potential. They ran up and down the floor, played loose, made mistakes but then quickly recovered without lingering bad effects. After a turnover, a steal could be made. After a missed shot, a quick defensive stop. Each mistake wasn’t met with dread but was quickly discarded in their minds. And miraculously, shots began to go down, confidence increased and they very nearly made an epic comeback for the ages.
John Calipari has forgotten more about basketball this week than I will ever know. So it is ludicrous for me to suggest anything in terms of Xs and Os as it pertains to this UK team. I also think Calipari is the perfect person for this job and has done more for the University and the program in the last five years than I would have ever imagined. I want him to retire at this school and establish a run for the ages in Lexington. But from a psychological, instead of a basketball perspective, it seems to me that with this particular team maybe Calipari should adopt a different strategy this week. Turn down the intensity a bit, retreat from coaching like a 35 year old and instead let the players play without the worry of what their coach’s reaction will be. If the players make a mistake, let them play through it. If they do something mind-numbing, let them realize it without having it screamed at them. It is not that the intense approach doesn’t ever work (it does) but with this group at this time, dealing with the crazy expectations put upon them has made it not work now. So it is time to try something different.
A couple of years back, my time at KSTV ended and I was faced with a crossroads in my career. I had been let go at CBSSports.com a year before and my time at KSTV had been rocky at best. I looked in the mirror and said, why is this happening? I realized that I had to change how I approached things…the method of red-hot intensity and constant pressure to succeed had been crucial to building KSR, but it was also causing difficulties in the work environments that had been created. If I was going to reach my goals, I had to change my approach and alter how I treated people on a daily basis. By changing myself, spreading myself less thin and treating people better, I reach my full potential and get the best out of those around me. I did and the website, radio show and KSR as a whole flourished. What had worked before had to change and I needed to adapt.
Kentucky goes Saturday to Florida to play the #1 team in the nation in a game that no one expects them to win. There will be no pressure beyond that self-inflicted because there won’t be one person in the country assuming they can get the victory. So why not come out and do things completely differently? Let the players play free, attempt to have fun and tone down the intensity just a tad. IF they make a mistake, let them go and see what they can do without the red-hot pressure that this season has given them. No one will believe in them, but so what. As long as they do and have the freedom of the ability to fail, then who knows what will happen. It may not work…heck, it probably won’t work. But it might just allow the guys to have a little fun playing basketball for once and change the mindset of the team before the postseason.
Why not? At this point, what do we have to lose?
By Aaron Perkins on ©6:30 pm
Over the weekend, Kentucky competed in the South Eastern Conference Indoor Championships at Texas A&M’s Gillian Indoor Stadium. The Kentucky women finished fourth with 72 points; their best finish since 2008 and the men finished 5th with 69.33; their best finish since 1989. Both teams almost doubled their scores from last year’s championships, showing how good Coach Floreal has done this season. In addition to the great finishes, 5 Wildcats won gold medals, giving Kentucky 6 total medals at the championships.
Coach Floreal was very proud of his teams, “It takes a lot of talent, but more importantly hard work and commitment to succeed at the SEC-level. I told everybody on the team before the meet that each of them had to commit to being successful. Very many of them did that, and we took a big step in the right direction. Although we are pleased with our success we are still not satisfied with our current position in the SEC team ranking. We look forward to getting back to work for our toughest challenge yet.”
Here is a list of the notable performances over the weekend:
- Matt Hillenbrand- Mile and 3,000m
- Kendra Harrison- 60m Hurdles
- Keffri Neal- 800m
- Bradly Szypka- Shot Put
Matt Hillenbrand won the 3,000m with a time of 8:00.08, Adam Kahleifeh placed second with a time of 8:02.94
Ibn Short won the silver medal in the heptathlon, scoring 5344 points
Justin Kretchmer won bronze in the high jump with a distance of 2.06m/6’9”
Dezerea Bryant won the 60m dash with a time of 7.18 seconds
Kendra Harrison won the 60m hurdles with a time of 7.94 seconds, which ranks 7th all-time; Kayla Parker ran it in 8.16 seconds, good enough for bronze.
Dezerea Bryant won the 60m with a school record tying of 7.16 seconds and placed 2nd in the 200m
Keffri Neal won the 800m in 1:48.94
Bradley Szypka won the shot put with a distance of 19.47m/63’10.5
Allison Peare won a bronze medal in the mile with a time of 4:35.14
Charles Moushey placed fourth in the pole vault clearing a distance of 5.13m/16’10, setting a Kentucky freshman record
Go Cats! (Stats and info from ukathletics.com)
I’m finally back in Nashville after a devastating night in South Carolina, and during the seven-hour drive, my mother and I did what many in the Big Blue Nation did today: try to figure out what the heck is wrong with the Cats. During our therapy session, we tried to diagnose Kentucky’s problems, both fundamental and psychological. Here are just a few of our thoughts…
Was Calipari’s ejection intentional?
By far the biggest debate we had was whether or not Calipari tried to get thrown out of the game. Anyone with two eyes could see that Cal was on edge all night, almost becoming a caricature of himself, shirt untucked, hair mussed, face red and sweaty. A few months ago, Cal vowed to coach like he was 35 again, and last night, he didn’t just complain to the refs, he aggressively went after them call after call, coming out and daring them to throw him out of the game at times. My mother is convinced he did it on purpose to see how his players would react, and after the game, he told Tom Leach that his team played better without him on the floor, which was absolutely true. Without Cal screaming, stomping, and stalking the sidelines, the Cats were looser, banding together to try to win the game. Was that Cal’s plan all along? If not for the fact that Cal didn’t do the postgame press conference, I would buy it. If Cal had intentionally gotten the boot from the game, I would imagine he’d want to push the outcome on the media. Had Kentucky won, it would have been the ultimate “player-driven” story.
Boom or bust
I think it’s safe to say that the shine is off the “Calipari way,” and for the first time as Kentucky’s coach, Cal is receiving criticism from even the most reasonable Kentucky fans. Last night’s loss underlined that the Calipari way will go either one of two ways: boom or bust. 2012 showed that it can work; but with each stumble, loss, and “Cal-loquialism” about young players, it becomes clear that he captured lightning in a bottle with the national championship squad. More often than not, freshmen teams will play like freshmen, and at the fishbowl turned aquarium that is Kentucky, the burden is simply too much.
How could a team that played so well a week ago crumble against a bad South Carolina team? It’s all mental. If you watch this team during warm-ups, practice, and shoot-around, you are in awe of their talent. In Columbia, the crowd–Gamecocks and Wildcats alike–ooh’d and ahh’d watching the Cats dunk during warmups. There’s a big debate over how talented this group is. I maintain that they are extremely talented, but because of poor fundamentals and low basketball IQ, it hasn’t really translated to the college level. If not hampered by expectations and pressure, we could be watching a totally different team. Instead, we’re seeing a group that overthinks their every move. To me, that’s why the game against Florida is the perfect opportunity to mix it up. With no one expecting them to win and nothing to lose, why not throw something against the wall to see if it sticks?
My video from last night
Every team’s (winnable) Super Bowl
Major props to the UK fans who went to the game last night. From Saturday morning on, the Big Blue mist rolled in over Columbia from all across the South, including several busses carrying the Charlotte UK Alumni Association. The Flying Saucer was wall-to-wall blue and white several hours before tipoff, leaving the local residents who had come in for a drink and pretzel slightly bemused and awed by the showing. Because South Carolina fans couldn’t care less about basketball (the baseball game definitely took precedence), there may have been more blue and while in Colonial Life Arena than garnet and black. “Go Big Blue” chants rained down throughout the game, and in the last ten minutes of the game, kept the Cats going. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Even bad teams like South Carolina believe they can beat Kentucky, most of the time because the Cats beat themselves.
The game sucked, but this guy was awesome
It’s been a long weekend and I’m tired of being negative. So, I’ll leave you with another video of “Baseline Jesus,” the South Carolina legend who sat next to me throughout the game. I’ll talk more about him tomorrow, but for now, enjoy watching someone in their own little world:
The sad part is, I had a “greatest hits” Instagram video compilation of Baseline Jesus rolling on my phone, but had to abort it to take footage of the South Carolina fans storming the court. That’s the true tragedy.
Now, to disconnect for the night and enjoy the Oscars…
Last night Kentucky kicked off March in just about the worst possible way by falling to South Carolina on the road. This was supposed to be the time the team was firing on all cylinders not falling apart against an inferior opponent. However, we all saw what happened and now the only thing left is to pick up and move forward. UK could turn things around here late but that door is quickly closing. If they are going to then something has to happen in these next five games.
Alabama @ Kentucky
Outcome: Probable Win
Raise your hand if you thought the game against Alabama was going to be a must-win situation. Well, here we are with second place in the SEC on the line when the Tide rolls into Rupp Tuesday. UK should be able to handle ‘Bama with ease. However, as we’ve seen all year should win doesn’t account for much on the court. The boys need to get it done on senior day.
UK @ Florida
Outcome: Probable Loss
We couldn’t get this one done at home and nothing this season says we can steal one on the road against the number 1 team in the country. UK is sure to bring their best game to try and salvage what has been a disappointing year but it’s just hard to see how this team can pick up the W.
#2 Kentucky Vs #7 (LSU)?
Outcome: Possible Win
As I mentioned earlier; beat Alabama and lock up the two seed, lose and the SEC tournament is more cloudy than the Elkhorn Creek. If the tournament started today though number 2 UK would once again be facing off with the LSU Tigers. However, with 8 teams currently battling for spots 3-10 there is really no telling who Kentucky will be playing on Friday night. Personally I’d like to get one more shot at Arkansas and avenge the two losses from earlier this season. Most of the teams battling (Georgia, Texas A&M, Vandy) offer the Cats a chance for an easy win.
#2 Kentucky Vs #3 Tennessee
Georgia currently holds tight to the number 3 spot but with a remaining game at LSU I expect the dogs to drop one more. Tennessee has a much easier road and would hold the tie-breaker over UGA to slide into the three spot. Following the tough win in Rupp the Vols were the one team I didn’t want to see again this season and it’s looking like we could end up with another tussle in ATL. It’s hard to predict this outcome because we don’t know who will be the 3 seed or even if we win our first game. Another game with Tennessee would make for an all out war.
#8 Kentucky Vs #9 Memphis
During Cal’s five years at Kentucky this game has been teased time and again. This year the game may actually come to fruition. Memphis picked up a big win over the Cards last night and are currently a 8 seed according to Lunardi. With two more losses likely coming for the Cats you can expect them to continue sliding down the bracket. 1 seed Wichita St will likely hate landing the one seed after seeing they have to play the winner of this one.
How are you forecasting the Cats to fare the rest of March?
Last night’s loss once again has all the national pundits talking. Here’s a quick roundup of their thoughts on UK’s disappointing performance, and where it leaves the Cats with two games to go in the regular season.
It’s worth noting that once Cal was tossed, the Wildcats finally woke up, played some defense and appeared to run a semblance of an offense.
Don’t get me wrong, Kentucky is still dealing with the same issues we’ve talked about all season long. Poor point guard play, no leadership, an inability to get the ball to Randle where he can score, inconsistent perimeter shooting, poor defending, etc.
Saturday’s loss to South Carolina?
That looked like a coach losing his team. The irony isn’t lost on me, either.
On the day that Wichita State locks up their undefeated regular season, the team that was “supposed” to make a run at 40-0 lost to South Carolina.
Time 4 Cats players to realize how special that jersey they wear is-represents greatness! Cats need PRIDE/PASSION! http://t.co/VMDLBzRgk2
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) March 2, 2014
Its two best players, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were content to function as role players, do all the dirty work defensively and allow their teammates to take the most shots. That team also had a senior leader in Darius Miller and an energy guy in Kidd-Gilchrist who refused to let his teammates take plays off.
On the night of the 2012 national championship game, as Calipari talked openly about taking aim at a 40-0 season someday, such talk appeared ambitious but not entirely unrealistic given the trajectory of the program.
Looking back, however, that team set an impossibly high bar.
Calipari’s one-and-done model will surely produce more title-contending teams and it may even generate another national championship, but the past two seasons are reminders that as with any system, the special years are more exception than norm.
UK is the biggest disappointment in college hoops … for the second straight season. RT @EyeOnCBB: South Carolina 72, Kentucky 67. Final.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 2, 2014
Ryan Fagan The Sporting News
As for what the game means for the Wildcats, let’s not rush to any conclusions. They’re still safely in the NCAA Tournament. They’re still going to get a decent seed, though this does take them out of the running for a top-four seed; something in the 6-8 range seems more likely.
The question is, how does the team—and its coach—respond to this game. Calling it a debacle isn’t an overstatement. But it doesn’t have to be any more than just one bad loss. Up next is a home game against Alabama, then a contest at Florida to end the regular season.
USA Today “Can Kentucky Get It Together?”
Kentucky won’t be in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament like it did last season. Despite back-to-back losses last week, the Wildcats are a projected No. 6 seed in the NCAAs based on their full body of work. But this team clearly won’t be cutting down nets — in SEC play and in the Big Dance — if it continues to sputter.
One thing Kentucky’s résumé won’t show you is the common theme for this year’s squad: No sense of urgency.
Somehow, Hayley and I sit here for the final regular season home game of the season. It’s bean a whirlwind for both us and the Wildcats, but we’ve made it, and despite all the adversity, there is still plenty to play for here in the Bluegrass. This evening, the 12th ranked Cats (21-7, 9-6 SEC) square off against the Vanderbilt Commodores (18-10, 7-8 SEC) in Memorial Coliseum. The Dores are reeling of late, having fallen from the good graces of the top 25 after a big win against rival Tennessee earlier this season and have lost seven of their last nine games. Kentucky has had monumental success against Vandy in recent years, winning the last six match-ups, the last coming in the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals a year ago. Meanwhile, the Cats have been streaking a bit of late as they are winners of four of their last five games, and have impressed fans with their grit on the road recently. Today’s game is of importance for many reasons. Personnel-wise, it’s always important to get a win on Senior Day, especially to honor such a highly thought of class of people like this year. Basketball-wise, Kentucky travels to Duluth, Ga. this weekend to play in the SEC Tournament and begin their post-season. Momentum is of the utmost importance, and going in on a win is a huge advantage. It’s official: with Florida’s loss to Texas A&M today, the Wildcats are officially the 4-seed in the SEC and will receive a double-bye in the SEC Tournament. Great news for Kentucky.
#12 Kentucky Wildcats vs Vanderbilt Commodores
FINAL KENTUCKY 65 VANDERBILT 63 Wilder- After losing what was a 17 point lead in the first half, the Kentucky Wildcats fought off a tough Vanderbilt squad at home and sent their seniors off with a big regular season ending victory. Stallworth led the Cats with 18 points and UK survived some last second craziness as Vandy stole an inbounds pass and had a chance to tie the game as time expired. The Wildcats survive…on to the post season.
2nd Half 3:37: Wilder- The Wildcats have responded well to some adversity of late. They have amped up the defensive pressure and forced some Vanderbilt turnovers, something that the Cats were unable to do for the majority of today’s game. Stallworth leads UK with 16 points and Walker has six rebounds, but Kentucky will need some timely buckets if they want to hang on this afternoon. Wildcats lead 56-53.
2nd Half 6:46: Wilder- Not quite sure what the issue is for Kentucky right now. In my opinion, the Wildcats are much better than Vanderbilt, but that huge Commodore run to end the first half seemed to really take something out of UK’s confidence. Kentucky went down two after a Jasmine Lister old fashioned 3-point play, but the Cats responded with strong play from Stallworth down low and a Linnae Harper mid-range jumper put the home team back up. Cats lead 55-51.
2nd Half 12:06: Hayley- Mitchell is officially pissed. Can I blog the word pissed on here? If not, sorry, YOLO. This game is getting increasingly more and more physical, and UK is now losing. Jennifer O’Neill has not yet scored in this half, and like I said yesterday on KY Women Talk Sports (check it out if you haven’t already), when O’Neill is on, this team wins, but when she isn’t hitting her Hoops Dougie… we have problems. She’s gonna have to pick it up a little if the Hoops wanna stay in this game. UK47- Vandy 48
2nd Half 14:48: Hayley- Well folks, that last half went downhill quickly. In all honesty, Wilder and I kinda forgot there was a game to be played, which apparently the Cats did as also, and then we looked up and BLAM were only winning by one. Stallworth and Walker are both still on #MinogueDubDubWatch, with Stallworth leading the way, having scored 12 points and grabbing three rebounds. She unfortunately has three fouls though… eh. The Dores have now tied it up. We’re not happy. Kick it in to hyperdrive Cats. 44 all.
HALFTIME KENTUCKY 36 VANDERBILT 33 Wilder- With Stallworth and Walker both on the bench with two fouls, the wheels came off for Kentucky. What was once a 17 point lead for the Wildcats was whittled all the way down to one single point as Vanderbilt rallied, and the Cats got sloppy and lackadaisical. Kentucky will need to return to how they started the game against the Commodores if they want to enter the post-season with some momentum.
1st Half 3:57: Wilder- On top of watching today’s Kentucky game, Hayley and I are also score watching the other SEC teams. The official top four teams in the league who will receive a double-bye are South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Kentucky. I’m so ready for tournament time it’s unreal. Meanwhile, Kentucky has recently gone on a 17-4 run and is completely outclassing the struggling Commodores. All but two Wildcats have scored (I’m looking at you Pinkett and Sidney). All smiles here in Memorial. Wildcats lead 32-18.
1st Half 6:44: Hayley- Samarie Walker just grabbed some bench after getting her second foul. I really do not want to see her in foul trouble on her senior day! She should be out on this court with her team. Plus, playing against such a short team really gives our bigs time to shine in the paint. Stallworth is already up at 8 points and a rebound, which makes Wilder and I believe that she is FINALLY all the way rehabbed from her injury, and just in time for the post season. We already have all but three players with at least a bucket as well. So, as far as the SEC conference tournament is concerned, we are doing a full anti-AD and straight up GEEKING. Kentucky, which as Wilder mentioned, locked in the 4-seed for the tourney, is predicted (by Wilder and I) to be playing Florida. At 2:30PM. Meaning that we will be departing from Lexington at roughly 6AM. Meaning don’t talk to me until at least noon that day Wilder… SO EXCITED! Hoops 32, Dores 15
1st Half 11:24: Hayley- I have finally cleaned the mascara off my face, and just in time to be able to watch this team play with some of the highest levels of passion and competitiveness I have seen in Memorial this season. Every single play looks well thought out, and has text book execution. I know it’s still early in the game, but at this rate, I’m feeling like the margin of victory today will be wider than the Vanderbilt assistant coaches gaucho pant’s leg. We just landed on a Media timeout after a questionable call on Senior Samarie Walker. After a beautiful draw and dump to Walker from Janee Thompson, she apparently charged, taking away the basket and making the environment in Memorial heat up a bit. Hoops are leading the Dores 15-11.
1st Half 15:27: Wilder- Well, Kentucky used the emotions from the Senior Day festivities to their advantage to start tonight’s game as offensively, everyone is firing for the Wildcats. The post is definitely an area in which Kentucky should dominate today with a noticeable size difference, and Hayley and I are both putting Samarie Walker AND DeNesha Stallworth on #MinogueDoubDoubWatch. Kentucky leads 11-5.
BZzzzZzZzZ: Wilder- When asked why Kentucky has had so much success against Vanderbilt in recent years, Wildcat players all chimed in that Kentucky teams in the past have all done a very good job of preparing against the Dores and being ready to take Vandy out of everything they want to do offensively. Mitchell commented that a key to today’s game will be Kentucky’s advantage in the post. The Commodores don’t start a player taller than 5’11 in the post, and the Wildcats hope to take advantage of that all day in the paint. Cats win the tip…and we’re off.
10 Minutes till Tip: Wilder- Well, as expected, tears were shed, hoops were run through, and hands were clapped. The Senior Day festivities were an emotional time in Memorial, but it was great to see the smiling faces of Kastine Evans, DeNesha Stallworth, Bernisha Pinkett and Samarie Walker…four players who have overcome vast amounts of adversity to be where they are today. Kentucky does not think the emotions of Senior Day will get in the way of a focused mindset in today’s game, but that’s always a potential issue on the final day of the regular season at home.
The Cats started their first home game opener at John Cropp Stadium Friday against Butler with Kelsey Nunley on the mound and Griffin Joiner behind the plate. UK defeated Butler 9-7 with homeruns from Emily Jolly and Lauren Cumbess. A rally in the fourth by Butler forced head coach Rachel Lawson to go to the bullpen for freshmen pitcher Meagan Prince after Butler loaded the bases. After an illegal pitch, a wild pitch and an error by the Cats, Butler pushed three across the plate, entering the bottom of the fourth down 8-3. The Cats were able to score one more run with a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the 6th. Butler didn’t give up without a fight in the 7th inning, as they rallied back, scoring 4 more runs but coming up short handed against the Cats, 9-7 with Prince recording the win, who is now 3-0 on the season. The win over Butler was head coach Rachel Lawson’s 300th career win.
The Cats took on Pittsburg in their second game of the tournament on Saturday with the same duo of Lauren Cumbess on the mound, and Griffin Joiner behind the plate. Pittsburg went up early 2-0 with a two-run homerun in the first inning. The Cats remained scoreless until the bottom of the 5th inning when Maisie Steed hit a solo homerun to reduce the lead 2-1. Ansley Smith then hit a RBI single to tie the game in the bottom of the 5th. Lauren Cumbess held Pittsburg from scoring in the 6th before being relieved from the mound in the 7th inning by Meagan Prince and moved to first base. Prince had a 1-2-3 inning but the Cats were unable to produce on the offensive side in the bottom of the 7th, which led to extra innings. Ansley Smith won it for the Cats in the bottom of the 9th with a walkoff single that scored two runs, ending the game 4-3.
UK then took on EKU in their last game on Saturday with freshmen pitcher Shannon Smith. EKU came out swinging with a solo homerun in the first inning. The Cats went hitless throughout the first 6 innings before Griffin Joiner broke up the no-hitter with a single to leftfield. Christian Stokes then reached base and Emily Gaines followed it up with her first career home run, which happened to be a 3-run walkoff homerun to defeat EKU 3-1.
The games that were scheduled for today, Sunday March 2nd, have been canceled due to weather, but EKU and UK will plan to make up there game later in the season. The Cats are now 16-2 on the season and will now focus their attention to Southeastern Conference play next Friday in Starkville, Mississippi against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Suddenly after a two game skid for the Cats, the ever certain 2-seed in the SEC is suddenly not as certain. Kentucky is currently second in the standings, with an 11-5 mark in conference play, one game ahead of Georgia who is in third place at 10-6. Tennessee and Arkansas round out the top five with 9-7 record respectively. With post-season play just around the corner,
-If Kentucky wins both games (Alabama and @Florida), Wildcats lock up the 2-seed in the SEC.
-If Kentucky wins one and loses one, and Georgia wins their last two (Mississippi State, @LSU) Kentucky will still have the 2-seed because they defeated Georgia 79-54 earlier this season. If Georgia loses another game, they are unable to get the 2-seed in the SEC.
-If Kentucky loses their last two games and Georgia wins their last two, Bulldogs are the 2-seed in the SEC. Kentucky would fall into a potential 3-way tie with Tennessee and Arkansas if the Vols and Hogs win their last two games. Tennessee plays at home against Auburn and Mizzou and Arkansas plays home against Ole Miss and at Alabama.
Long story short? Don’t lose both games. The only way that Kentucky ISN’T the 2-seed in the SEC is if they lose both, and at that point I think the Wildcats have a lot more issues than seeding in the SEC Tournament.
Four players. Four players who came to Kentucky at different times, from different paths, and certainly different expectations. These four players will take the court at Memorial Coliseum one more time (in the regular season) this evening as the 12th ranked Wildcats take on the Vanderbilt Commodores, but today is about more than just picking up another win. Today is about honoring and celebrating the legacy that these four players will leave behind at the University of Kentucky. “All four of them have very unique stories and have contributed in my life all four in different ways but very impactful ways and I’ve learned a lot from these seniors and they’ve been very important people to me and will remain that,” Coach Mitchell told the media on Friday. To Mitchell, and to the women’s basketball program and university as a whole, these four women have served as more than just basketball players. They have served as ambassadors, women of high character, goofball’s and fun people to be around, scholars, and simply just great people. Let’s take a look on each player’s contribution to UK Hoops, and what today means to them…
Walker transferred to the University of Kentucky after spending half a year at the mighty University of Connecticut. Walker, an Ohio native, wanted to play closer to home and family, and didn’t think a match with the Huskies was the best fit. The Wildcats were thrilled to have her, as she was just the second McDonald’s All-American to ever sign with UK, following Jennifer O’Neill’s commitment. Her impact was immediate. Coming off the bench her sophomore season, she led the Cats in rebounding, and was named to the All NCAA-Regional team when Kentucky made it to the Elite 8.
Despite her success, it hasn’t always been easy for Walker. It has been made public that Walker has seen and continues to see a sports psychologist, as while the physical talent was always there, the mental fortitude in the big situations didn’t come as easy to the senior forward. She questioned herself, and her ability to make shots and big plays when it mattered most, and this really affected her play on the court, especially last season. This season, Walker has blocked out that voice inside her head. She plays with confidence and aggression, the the type of player Mitchell envisioned her to become. The Walker/Stallworth post-tandem is now one of the most versatile in the league and in the nation. It seems like just yesterday when Walker came to Kentucky as she said “I remember watching it last year [Senior Day] and just saying that I couldn’t wait for that to be me. Now that it’s finally here, it’s like where did the time go?”. Mitchell values Walker, who hopes to play basketball professionally and one day become a wardrobe stylish (she has great fashion sense), and says “She and I have a lot of laughs and she brings a lot of value into my life just with who she is. I’ve had to learn a lot through coaching her about patience. She’s been real hard on herself and she’s sort of up and down and so that’s sort of been a roller coaster we’ve been on together.”
Like Walker, Stallworth didn’t come to Kentucky straight from high school. The West Coast native spent two seasons playing for the California Golden Bears, making the all-Pac 10 team her sophomore year before deciding it just wasn’t the right fit. She then found herself over 2,000 miles east in the city of Lexington, KY and here we are now. Coming into the season, Stallworth was the pick to be the “next big thing”. After a very successful junior season and the departure of A’dia Mathies, she was the team’s leading returning scorer and Mitchell could not stop singing her praises. Her consistency in the paint fell short however after the historic 4-OT win against Baylor. Following that game, Stallworth was sidelined for four weeks as she needed arthroscopic surgery in her knee. After her return, things still weren’t the same, as the Cats lost questionable conference games with her in the line-up against Florida and Alabama, and Stallworth knew she wasn’t playing to the best of her ability. Now, she’s back, and better than ever. In Kentucky’s last game against Mississippi State, Stallworth logged 16 points and a career high 20 rebounds. Her play of late will be key to UK’s post-season success.
Looking back, Stallworth has no doubt made the most of her time at Kentucky. She made the risky decision to leave her home and come to play in the SEC, and without her, the Wildcats would be a very different team. Her personality is vibrant, an always smiling figure at the press conferences, and her dreams and aspirations might not be what you expect. Stallworth has dreams of one day becoming a certified sign language instructor, as she is now near fluent.
When talking about Pinkett’s legacy at Kentucky and his thoughts on her Senior Day, Coach Mitchell had to take a full 20 seconds to compose himself. “Well, that one is very special to me…” he started off. He went on to talk about how in the neighborhood that Pinkett is from in Washington D.C., only two percent of kids even attempt to go to college, and a whopping less than one percent actually graduate. “Just the fact that she got here and made it and is going to walk across that stage on May the 10th is something else. So if you really kind of dig down into her story, it’s something else.” Admittedly throughout her career at UK, basketball sometimes had to take the back-burner for Pinkett. “It’s just much more important for me to see her graduate and finish…the good thing for Bernisha is that we still have a lot of basketball left.”
While basketball hasn’t always been on the front of Pinkett’s mind, she has definitely had some noteworthy and many contributing moments in her time as a Wildcat. Earlier this season against top-5 Louisville, Pinkett nailed two consecutive 3-pointers to take the lead against the Cardinals, and the smile on her face afterwards was priceless. The waterworks continued as Pinkett herself talked about her experience graduating high school and coming to Kentucky, and the emotions were a lot to handle as she talked about her grandmother the “person who has been there for [her] since day one.” Pinkett’s grandmother will be in attendance today, marking the first time she has ever seen her granddaughter play a college basketball game. “It means a lot to me because she’s always been there for me throughout my whole basketball career. Shedoesn’t really understand it that much, but she tries to coach me or call me when she watches a game on TV.” Pinkett has been a part of historic success on, and off, the court and today’s celebration of her legacy at UK will not be one for the weak-hearted.
“Kastine is just really a gift from God in my mind……Someone who I would like for my daughters to try to emulate.” Two very powerful quotes from Coach Mitchell when asked about the contributions of senior guard Kastine Evans. Evans is the kind of player and woman you hope to see every college athlete turn into. Unquestionably the leader of this year’s team known as “Mama Kas” by her teammates, Evans might not lead the team in points or rebounds, but she does lead the team in heart and versatility. She has had plenty of highlights throughout her basketball career. She always seems to be the right player, in the right place, at the right time. Last year against Delaware in the Sweet 16, Evans was the one to hit the 3-point shot in the final two minutes to seal the deal to another Elite 8. Need a bucket? Evans will get you one. Bad loss? Evans will call a players-only meeting. Emotionally and mentally, she has put this team on her back, and has never batted an eye in the face of adversity.
It hasn’t always been easy for Evans though. Coming from Salem, Connecticut, Mitchell admitted he didn’t know that much about Evans other than what she did on the court in high school when she came to Kentucky, but was thrilled to get a sharp shooter on his team. What he would soon find out however, is that he got much more than just a basketball player in Evans, he got a leader, a trail blazer and an incomparable ambassador for his program. “I don’t think that you can ever anticipate somebody being as strong as she is in just every area of her life,” said Mitchell. Off the court Evans started her own non-profit organization called “Shooting at Success” where she meets with local elementary school kids to discuss high character, leadership skills, and how to succeed in life, all while having fun. She is a regular at the Ronald McDonald House and God’s Pantry, and was just recently named to the SEC Community Service Team for the second year in a row. Evans will leave behind a legendary legacy at the University of Kentucky, and there is not one thing Mitchell doesn’t think she can accomplish in life: “Kentucky, the University of Kentucky, is better because Kastine Evans decided to come here.”
Together, all four of these players have gone through their fair share of adversity. What they all have in common though is their fight through that adversity, and now, the love for the University of Kentucky. Today will be special with a double-bye in the SEC Tournament on the line and momentum needed for post-season play, but most importantly: for the perspective these seniors have given us. When they started at Kentucky, this program was in a much different place. Now, they can do like Chris Brown and say “Look at me now.”
Today’s game tips off at 4 pm on ESPN2.
While the current Wildcats sometimes leave us with a sour taste in our mouths, we can always count on our NBA-Cats to do well and remind us of happier times. Last night John Wall finished with 17 points and a career high 16 assists as the Wizards won their sixth straight game, 122-103 over Philadelphia.
Wall wasn’t the only one with monster numbers, as Terrence Jones made his presence known for the Rockets, finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds as Houston beat Detroit at home.
DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins returned in his first game from suspension and notched yet another double-double with 21 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and three blocks as the Kings fell to the T-Wolves.