Part two in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats. Cats hope →
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On this day five years ago, John Calipari was introduced as Kentucky’s new head coach. Cal picked the program up, wiped off Billy G’s Cheeto dust, and took it back to national prominence in the span of one season. In five years at Kentucky, Cal’s brought in five straight #1 recruiting classes, sent 17 players to the NBA, gone to three Final Fours, and won a National Title. That is unbelievable, but because he’s Calipari, some were still writing his coaching obituary a month ago. Thankfully, because of Kentucky’s incredible postseason run, they’re now all eating crow.
While it may seem like only yesterday to all of us, all you need to do is look at Cal to tell it’s been a long five years. Cal has often joked that being the coach at Kentucky is like being the President in how it ages you, and this season, the job has really taken a toll on his body, to the point that he’ll get a hip replacement this summer. Monday night on his call-in show, Cal said he’s “tired to the point of ill,” but insists he’s got one more week left in him. After that, win or lose, the man deserves a serious vacation.
During his pre-Final Four press conference this afternoon, Cal told reporters that earlier this week, he was wheeled into the Joe Craft Center in a casket, and popped out of it to tell his players “We ain’t dead yet, boys.” While that may not have actually happened, it’s classic Cal, and proof that he’s best when the chips are stacked against him.
Two more wins, Coach. That’s all that’s between you and a sandy beach with unlimited umbrella drinks. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure Alan Cutler stays at home.
News and views…
Julius Randle’s been ready for this moment for two years
Two years ago, Julius Randle tweeted that he wanted to win the 2014 National Championship in Dallas in front of his friends and family. With the win Sunday night, Julius is one step closer to that goal. He was asked Tuesday whether or not he feels he’s coming full circle with the Final Four trip to Dallas:
“Yeah, it’s kind of weird. It’s just what I asked for. I can remember being a junior in high school, I was in study hall and I didn’t have anything to do and I found out it was here, the national championship (in) Dallas. It’s just where I wanted to be and it’s always been my goal.”
In fact, Julius said that the 2014 Final Four logo has been his screensaver for the past two years. Meanwhile, this may be mine for the next two years:
“We’re not done yet”
Julius was just full of quotes this afternoon. When asked if the win over Michigan was a relief, Julius said relief’s not in sight for another week:
“We aren’t relieved. When you realize you’re going to the Final Four of course you’re going to celebrate, but, look, guys are in the gym working right now. So we’re not done yet.”
Dakari Johnson echoed those thoughts, and said the team won’t be satisfied until they win the national championship. In fact, Cal said that they’re not scaling back in practice at all leading up to Saturday, keeping the intensity at the same level it’s been since the start of the postseason.
Cal spoke to Bo Ryan on Monday
Cal said he called Bo Ryan on Monday, and told the two discussed Ryan’s relationship with his late father, who passed away last August. Saturday would have been the elder Ryan’s 90th birthday, and Cal and Ryan have planned a toast to his father at the Final Four:
“So, we’re both going to have a beer and toast to his dad. I said we’re going to toast him yesterday and he said great. I told him I wish we weren’t playing each other because one of us has to lose. I’m happy for him. He’s a good man. He’s a good guy.”
That’s all lovely, but Cal threw cold water on Ryan’s comments about fans who think they invented basketball, a perceived shot at the BBN: “Our people don’t think they’ve invented it, they’ve just made it better.”
Johnny O’Bryant is declaring for the draft
Phew. Best of luck to him, but I’m glad we don’t have to deal with Ireland’s finest forward anymore.
Tyler Ulis was the talk of the McDonald’s All-American practices on Tuesday
The McDonald’s All-American game is Wednesday night, and future UK point guard Tyler Ulis was the talk of practice on Tuesday. Evan Daniels tweeted “it doesn’t matter who comes back for Kentucky, I don’t know how they could keep Tyler Ulis off the floor. He’s a leader with terrific vision.” Dain Ervin of Basketball Illustrated Reporters agreed, calling Ulis “the best player here today.” Mark Edwards listed Ulis and Devin Booker among his standout players on Tuesday, and USA Today’s Jason Jordan said it was impossible to stop Ulis from getting where he wants to on the court. After this season, I think we will all temper our expectations for freshmen when they come in at the beginning of the season, but it’s still good to hear such glowing reports.
CBS Sports Network is replaying all of UK’s tournament games starting at 10 a.m.
Several of you have been asking when you can see a replay of UK’s games against Louisville and Michigan. As part of their Final Four coverage this week, CBS Sports Network is replaying all of UK’s tournament games starting at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday morning. Set your DVRs accordingly.
Want to see the game on your computer instead? The wonderful people behind UKBasketballLive.com have uploaded all of UK’s games, including the one against Michigan synced up with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt’s call. Click here to go check it out.
Matt and Drew made a pitstop in Nashville on their way to Dallas, and will be doing the show from my city in the morning. See you then.
In front of the fourth largest crowd in program history, Kentucky junior Thomas Bernal helped power the Cats past the #8 ranked Louisville Cardinals 8-3. Bernal went 3-for-4 on the night, with one homer and four RBI on a clear night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Early on, Cardinals catcher Kyle Gibson was able to knock a two-run homer in the second to give Louisville a quick 2-0 lead. However, Kentucky was able to answer right back in the bottom of the second off of RBI base hits from Bernal and JaVon Shelby that tied the game back up at 2-2.
Things then remained pretty quiet for the next two innings, or at least they did until the Cats unleashed a three run tirade against the Cardinals. After a sacrifice bunt by Storm Wilson landed Micheal Thomas and Kyle Barrett on both second and third base, Bernal was able to blast a three-run homer over the left field wall to give the Cats an insurmountable lead of 5-2. This would be the closest Louisville would come to the cats for the remainder of the game.
Kentucky would then go on to add three more runs on the Cardinals to their one to set the final score at 8-3. The rest of the scoring on the night for the Wildcats shaped up a little like this. Thomas would end up scoring off of a single from Bernal in the fourth, and then Wilson would end up getting advanced to home plate on a walk in the sixth.
However, one cat was able to record his third home run of the season. Local Tates Creek product JaVon Shelby blasted a solo shot clear over the left field wall to put the death nail into the Louisville ball club.
On the pitching front, sophomore southpaw Dylan Dwyer (2-1) was able to get the win and fight back from a rough second inning that saw Louisville hang up two runs (both earned) and three hits on him. Dwyer stayed in the game for 5.2 innings of service, when both Zack Brown (1 H, 1 ER) and Logan Salow (1 BB) came in for relief duties in the sixth and seventh innings respectively.
Getting credit for the save tonight was junior righty Spencer Jack (S 2). Jack pitched for the final 2.2 innings, where he struck out three and walked one.
Video Highlights (courtesy of the good folks at Kentucky Wildcats TV):
Kentucky will return to action on Friday when they kick off a three game east-division series against the Florida Gators. First pitch for Friday is set for 6:30 p.m. out at Cilff Hagan Stadium.
But until then, I’ll leave you with a picture of one of the most random things I have ever seen out at The Cliff:
Raise your hand if you watched a Wisconsin basketball game this year. Anyone? Yeah, that’s what I figured. For the first time since 2000 the Badgers are in the Final Four and for the first time since 2003 they will be taking on Kentucky. Wisconsin lost both of those games and if the Cats have their way they will be losing this Saturday night. The Badgers are a mystery as of now but something tells me we are going to get to know them really well over the next 5 days. What better place to start than with a look at their season that was in this edition of Know Thy Enemy:
The Badgers started off this season in the same manner we started one of our final four runs, with a trip to Canada. However their trip was a bit more disappointing than our run through the great white north. Wisconsin took on Carleton University in a game played under FIBA rules with a 24-second shot clock and the up tempo game spelled doom for Kaminsky and friends. Carleton took over in a high scoring affair and beat the Badgers 95-82. The game would only loss for Wisconsin in the second half of 2013.
Wisconsin entered the season ranked 20th and quickly proved they were worthy of the ranking by knocking off Florida on their home court in the second game of the year. A win that appears impressive at first until you realize the Gators were without Dorian Finney-Smith and clutch SEC POY Scottie Wilbekin because of an early season suspension. The Badgers rolled through the rest of their non-conference rising all the way to being ranked 4th with a 16-0 record. Along the way Wisconsin took down tournament teams such as Virginia (on the road), St Louis, and EKU. Their season was off to a great start until Big 10 play got underway.
Business continued as usual for the Badgers in the first two games of Big 10 play as they took down 22nd ranked Iowa and 23rd ranked Illinois. Then the wheels came off for Bo Ryans squad. Wisconsin lost 5 of their next 6 to four unranked teams. They lost to Indiana (an infamous court storming), Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern (at home) and Ohio State. Things looked bad in Madison.
From that low point of the season Ryan’s team responded by winning their next 8 and notched 3 more top 25 wins when they beat Michigan State, Michigan, and Iowa. Wisconsin would only drop two more games the rest of the way. One to Nebraska on their senior day and another to Michigan State in the Big 10 tournament. For the Badgers it’s been a season of highs and lows to say the least.
Wisconsin is a very solid team that finds a way to execute in the half court while playing good defense on the other side of the ball. They have proven through this tournament run that they aren’t going to beat themselves and can adapt to play with any type of opponent. For the Cats to win they need to play smart basketball and take advantage of their athletic edge. Do that and a spot in the championship may be easier than reaching the Final Four.
What do you think of the Cats opponent for this Saturday?
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©9:15 pm
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have placed a bet on Saturday’s game. If Kentucky wins, Governor Walker will send Beshear beer, bratwursts, and cheese; and in the unlikely event that the Badgers win, Governor Beshear will send Walker “a fully stocked Kentucky bourbon bar.”
Beshear said in a press release that the Cats are playing “their best basketball of the year,” and “we’ll look forward to grilling those Wisconsin brats after the Kentucky win on Saturday. Go Cats!” Walker responded with “the Badgers’ season has been un-BO-lievable,” which makes me shake my head AND roll my eyes. Come on, man.
(Photo © Bob Donnan | Getty)
Throughout the year, the preseason talk of Kentucky going 40-0 haunted this group; they couldn’t escape it, and in the worst times, it became a punchline for the national media. Instead of rolling over, this group grew up in the postseason and refused to let their failures define them.
Since Sunday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how special this tournament run has been because of Kentucky’s regular season struggles. Would the highs of the past few weeks seem so high without the lows? Say Kentucky was 38-0 going into the Final Four. Would the wins feel as thrilling and unexpected? I don’t think so. Here are my five reasons 28-10 is sweeter than 38-0.
The program had reached the lowest of the lows under Calipari
Before you say “NIT,” let me stop you. Last year, the Cats at least had an excuse for not making the tournament in Nerlens Noel’s injury. After UK lost to South Carolina one month ago, the only thing Cal could point to was youth, and even then, that’s just the nature of the program at this point. Cal has talked a lot about his personal failures coaching this team lately, and I think in South Carolina, his frustrations boiled over, as shown by his absence in the postgame press conference. Under normal circumstances, an SEC road loss is not a huge deal, but for a group heralded as the greatest recruiting class of all time, UK’s eighth loss was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans and, of course, the national media. I’ll never forget that depressing drive from Columbia to Nashville, and being unable to shake the feeling that I’d seen something really, really bad go down that night. It was after that game that Aaron Harrison and James Young bravely met reporters and Aaron said that he still knows this team had a great story in them. Little did we know then that it was a story of redemption.
The vultures had to eat crow
No one was happier when UK lost to South Carolina on March 1st than Pat Forde. Forde and all the other reporters who dislike Cal finally got to open their pandora’s boxes of hate on him, with column after column flying out about how his one-and-done culture doesn’t work, and 2012 was just a flash in the pan. For Cal, who has been battling a whole other kind of pain this season because of his hip, it was hard to stay quiet any longer. Cal went on his radio show the Monday after the loss to try to calm down the Big Blue Nation and go after some of those reporters, who he said had been waiting “years” to get the chance to write those stories.
UK’s transformation in the past few weeks has been so remarkable that those reporters have been forced to eat crow, most notably Pat Forde in his column Sunday night. For a guy like Cal who thrives on proving people wrong, that’s one reason this season may be the sweetest of all.
There has been more growth
While 40-0 would be the ultimate conquest, I think this season has taught us that it’s nearly impossible with a team of freshmen. Juniors and seniors, maybe, but freshmen just have too much growing to do not to stumble along the way. I really don’t think this team would have been able to make their incredible postseason run if not for their losses in the regular season. After each of their big wins in the tournament, Calipari has said that this team’s struggles have only made them stronger, instilling a “never give up” mentality that otherwise, may have not been there. Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle were hyped as the team’s “alpha beasts” heading into the season, and both have struggled at times to live up to that moniker. Seeing them grow into the players they need to be has been especially heartwarming given those dips in the road. Besides, 40-0 may be immortal, but winning the title with a freshman starting five would be an historic accomplishment in its own right.
The road has been tougher
Kentucky’s road in the tournament hasn’t just been hard, it’s been really, really hard. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg argues Kentucky has had the most difficult path to the Final Four of any team in NCAA Tournament history. They’re only the sixth 8-seed to ever make it to the semifinals, and they had to beat three teams from last year’s Final Four to do it, including undefeated Wichita State and the defending National Champs in Louisville. If UK were undefeated coming into the tournament, they would most certainly be the number one overall seed, meaning their path to the Finals would be much easier. With few expecting UK to get past Wichita State, let alone all the way to the Final Four, these past few weeks have been so sweet because they’ve been so unexpected. After a regular season of regression, they’re peaking in the postseason. If you listen to Cal, they haven’t even reached the top of that mountain just yet.
Can you imagine how stressed out we would be if Kentucky were 38-0 right now? The pressure would be indescribable. I’m firmly in the “sometimes a loss helps” camp, not only because coaches can use it as a teaching tool, but because it can help motivate a squad (case in point: Indiana in 2011-2012). If Kentucky was rolling into the Final Four undefeated, that storyline would dominate everything, and would be close to impossible for the players to tune out. In contrast, the pressure has been off the Cats throughout this tournament, to the point that they’ve actually been considered an underdog by Vegas in two games. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team, who is playing with a very sharp chip on its shoulder. There’s less pressure on fans, too. After Kentucky beat Louisville, the season was made for me. Some could argue the same for the win over Wichita State. The rest of the run is on house money, which has made it that much more enjoyable.
The only thing sweeter than the Cats’ run right now? Number nine as the cherry on top.
Except for UK’s players, I don’t follow the NBA a lot, but I do love Dirk Nowitzki. The Dallas Maverick is not only hilarious, he’s a Cats fan. Nowitzki told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that he claims Kentucky as his team because he would have gone there had he not opted to declare for the 1998 NBA Draft:
“It would have been a great time,” Nowitzki said. “They showed me around. I met some of the players. Scott Padgett was my host. I went to dinner with Tubby [Smith]. He was the coach back then. …I visited in ’98, so they just won [a national title], so that would have been obviously a great program. But I decided to go straight pro and was lucky”
Unfortunately, the Mavericks will be on the road this weekend, so Dirk can’t cheer the Cats on in person at AT&T Stadium: “They screwed us over. We’re basically out of town the whole weekend. That’s unfortunate.”
Yes, it is.
Greetings, Cats fans from all across the United States and the world. To make sure UK fans can be as united as possible on Saturday, I’m going to put together a list of watch party locations to post here on Thursday. I’ll be in Nashville and I know of a few here, but I want everyone everywhere to know of places they can go to watch the game with fellow Cats fans.
If you are having a public group watch party somewhere in the world, email or tweet the following pieces of information to me @AFlenerKSR or AFlenerKSR@gmail.com:
City, State, Country
Name of Establishment
Address of Establishment
Food/Drink specials for Cats fans
Go Cats. Beat Wisconsin.
Yesterday, DeMarcus Cousins tricked most of us into thinking he was starting an R&B career under the name “Boogie Smooth,” but it turns out it was just an April Fool’s joke. Watch this video Boogie put out this morning celebrating the holiday.
I’m still bitter.
I once saw the definition of superstition as “A belief or an action that is inconsistent with science”, but I would argue scientifically the mojo created by Big Blue Nation is helping this team win. That’s probably not right, but the important thing is that we believe it.
A belief in a force external to ourselves helps comforts us. It acts as a force field giving us the confidence we need to say we did everything we could to help in the win. It makes us feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
So is the mojo really a working? Probably not. But it does give us the comfort to think so.
I have worn the same clothes (sorry people who have had to be around me), ate at the same places, and done the exact same thing throughout every game of the tournament so far. My dog has to sit on the left side of the couch and my boyfriend on the right, then I have to stand with my arms at a 45 degree angle. I even marked the floor with eyeliner to be sure of where I stood for the Wichita State game to prep for the Louisville game…yes I am that serious. Matt Jones hides out in a hotel for the games. Ryan Lemond threatens his teeth. A fan even told me he has worn the same shirt to home games since 2004, retired it in 2012, and brought it back for the tournament. If that isn’t enough to keep your mojo pumping, then I don’t know what will.
Some might argue that the mojo can’t be a true thing because not everyone does the exact same repeat every game, but maybe those people and the people not participating are part of the mojo themselves.
I was once told “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” and I have been and will continue to follow those words throughout the rest of the tourney. Am I saying it works? I don’t know, but I am also not willing to find out.
It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, and so far…it’s working.
Who knows…maybe the mojo is the tweak. Do you believe in the mojo?
Lost in all the excitement of Kentucky’s run through the Midwest Region is Louisville’s run through the NCAA tournament of meth. Esquire.com’s “Meth Madness” formed an eight-team bracket from this year’s NCAA tourney participants and determined an overall winner based on how many meth laboratories were busted in each school’s county. Using a nine-year DEA study on meth busts across America, Louisville defeated Tennessee, San Diego State and then UCLA in the finals to earn the Meth Madness trophy.
“The Louisville Cardinals are the greatest feeners to handle the rock[s],” Esquire writes. “Jefferson County, where this school of higher learning stands, was home to an impressive 180 labs in 2012 alone.”
We now interrupt your Final Four coverage for this very awesome piece about Anthony Davis from Grantland’s Zach Lowe today. Lowe writes that “it’s only a matter of time until Anthony Davis ascends to the NBA throne.” Here’s an excerpt:
Davis has murdered this parlor game. People around the league don’t know what to make of him anymore. They are just terrified, especially after having watched Davis average 30 points, 13.5 rebounds, and three blocks per game on 55 percent shooting over a 10-game stretch in March — a period during which he turned 21 freaking years old. He’s already fourth overall in Player Efficiency Rating, behind only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kevin Love. His game has so many elements on both ends of the floor, it’s going to take years for the Pelicans to figure out the optimal uses and roster construction for him. It’s hard to decide what someone is best at when the answer might be “everything.”
Lowe breaks down AD’s offense and defense, and says that the Pelicans are racing to surround him with the right talent to maximize his performance. As we get ready for the Final Four, it’s nice to look back and see the guy who helped us win the last one is doing so well.
It’s been an exciting few days for the team, and Marcus Lee told reporters this afternoon that he got a standing ovation when he walked into his marketing class this morning, which he says was a pretty humbling experience: “If you could see me blush, I was probably blushing. It was pretty cool.”
Some other notes from the players’ media opportunity:
Julius Randle and the Harrison Twins said people need to stop asking them for tickets to Saturday’s game.
All three are Texas natives, Julius from Dallas, and they say they’ve received a ridiculous amount of ticket requests from friends and family at home. Andrew said “it’s kind of stressful, but better than not having any,” while Julius has turned the task over to his mother: “I’m not dealing with it. I’m not dealing with it. You can call my mom. I’m not dealing with it. I changed my number.”
Cal didn’t actually pop out of a casket, but he talked about doing it
Sad news: Cal didn’t really pop out of a casket like he said he did earlier (Cal embellish the truth?! Never!). However, the players said he did talk about doing it, and they thought it would be hilarious. Marcus Lee said when Cal told the team he was going to do it, it “was probably the funniest thing that’s happened this year,” while Julius Randle said he “probably would have lost it” had Cal gone through with the prank.
Didn’t Cal say the same thing last year when Kentucky beat Florida? This whole thing seems familiar.
James Young says the best part of the tournament experience has been the BBN
When asked what his favorite part of the tournament experience has been so far, James Young gave reporters a quote I think you all will approve of:
“Being in atmospheres like that. Seeing how many fans came to all of our games. A lot of love that they showed. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be like that in Dallas.”
See you there, buddy.