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How do you put these last two weeks into words? The answer is that really, you can’t. After spending some time tonight reflecting, I am fairly confident in saying that this has been the best three week ride as a Kentucky fan in my lifetime. It isn’t just that Kentucky has won and is now on the precipice of a potential 9th national championship and one of the most improbable runs in NCAA Tournament history. It isn’t just that they have done it with a series of games that have been so well-played, so thrilling and so heart-stopping that they have made the entire Big Blue Nation’s collective blood pressure rise to never-before-seen proporstions. And it isn’t just that these Cats are doing it while also fielding a team with seven of its top eight current players true Freshmen. No what makes this ride so sweet and will lock it in our collective memory is just how completely and totally unexpected it has been.
Just go ahead and admit it. Almost all of us at some point in the year gave up on the dream of a national title. We each hit that moment at different spots in the season…maybe for the real negative nancies it came after the first trip to Dallas, when Kentucky looked mediocre in the ice versus Baylor. Maybe it was after the sluggish play at North Carolina or in Arkansas, both games Kentucky could have won but let slip through its fingers. Maybe it was after a LSU loss that was simply embarrassing in its thoroughness. And if you made it through those games, you probably finally abandoned ship when the Cats lost back to back stinkers at home to Arkansas and on the road at South Carolina, the latter of which allowed Calipari’s national media haters to write the obituaries for him that they had saved up for the last five years. Whenever you did it, at some point you finally made the determination, a Championship wasn’t in the cards this year and that hotel reservation you made for Dallas the day Julius Randle committed to Kentucky was going to end up getting a late cancellation.
But one group thankfully didn’t stop believing and that was the team in the locker room. After the loss in Columbia, Aaron Harrison made a comment that seemed so audacious at the time that one wondered how it could even be comprehended. He told a collection of reporters that the team would still turn it around and it would be “a great story.” I asked him about that quote today and whether he really believed at the time he said it. He looked at me with the trademark “serious Harrison” look (very few college Freshmen show fewer excess emotions than the Brothers Harrison) and said, “I just knew the talent we had and I knew we were too competitive not to succeed.” And succeed they have. Let’s take just a second and pick up this magic ride in St Louis for the second round and quickly review what we have seen:
Kentucky catches an undefeated Shockers team not at its worst, but at its best. Wichita State plays a GREAT game and the back and forth counterpunching battle remains (in my eyes) still the best game of the tournament. Cleanthony Early showcases his star potential but Kentucky takes every blow and delivers another one right back. Huge games from both Harrisons, big shots from Julius Randle and a massive three from James Young allows Kentucky to pull out a victory against a team that virtually every non-UK fan wanted to see win. It was a death blow to perfect storylines, but an indication that this team was for real and had finally turned the corner.
The hype, drama and excitement of any game versus the Cards takes the outcome to another level, but this is especially true when the stakes are as high as the NCAA Tournament. The game in Indy wasn’t the prettiest battle in the world and I would still contend that Kentucky didn’t play its best game versus the dirty birds. But Aaron Harrison made a huge shot with less than a minute left and after a missed Wayne Blackshear free throw and a final Russ Smith brick, the Cats got a sweet victory that virtually everyone (myself included) thought would be the highlight of the season…not so fast.
From an offensive perspective, you don’t see to many better games than this one. The Wolverines fired on all cylinders, scoring effectively with Stauskas early and secondary players late, but Kentucky never backed down. The Cats shot the ball extremely well and with Willie Cauley-Stein out, Marcus Lee stepped up in the first half and became known forever in UK lore. Aaron Harrison’s second game-winning shot was huge, but it followed an excellent game by everyone, including big plays from Alex Poythress, who showcased a knack for late-game magic. A Final Four was here and Lexington lost its mind once again.
And then came last night. I don’t know what to say about the victory over WISCONSIN, besides this. It is one I will always remember. The atmosphere was special…not a little special, but REALLY special. There is something about the gorgeous aura of the new Cowboy Stadium, its perfect lighting, massive structure, huge crowd (a Final Four record) and overall ambiance that made this game feel like something even bigger than it already was. Everyone in college basketball was there and after the first preliminary game ended, it was yet another well-played contest where both teams gave it their all, with unbelievably plays made on both sides. The runs, from Wisconsin’s early success to UK’s 15-0 scurry, made it feel like a four basketball games tied into one, but in the end the moment was still the same. Kentucky down 2, needing a basket and Aaron Harrison making history for the third time in a row. Special doesn’t even begin to describe that moment and the utter joy that descended all over the Commonwealth, but one can guarantee this…when Rupp Arena has its entrance video in 2050, Aaron Harrison will have at least one shot on it somewhere.
I have no idea what Monday night will bring. I don’t think UCONN is as good as the four teams Kentucky has already beaten but they do in some ways match up with Kentucky better than those teams did. They are athletic, can guard Kentucky more effectively and the Cats will not see some of the openings they have in other games. While I like UK’s chances, the fact that UCONN arguably will have the best college scorer on the floor makes me a little concerned that if the night is special for him, the Cats could be in trouble. But no matter what happens, this ride has been one that might never be topped in Kentucky basketball history. For THIS group to accomplish what it has, overcoming its youth, outside adversity and early struggles to beat experienced, veteran teams in the closing minutes of excellent, historic games is almost unfathomable. No team has ever won four straight games in the NCAA Tournament by five or fewer points…no team that is, except this one.
This group of Cats have made a believer out of everyone. That includes those that gave up early and were negative and those (like me) who still knew the talent but questioned whether six straight games were possible. We all were wrong, while Aaron Harrison and this group of Freshman and their unbelievable coach were all right. This has been a great story and one that will live in the Big Blue Nation’s minds forever. If you are like me, you have watched the clips of all the best moments so many times that they are ingrained in your head. One more night and potentially one more clip and we may have the best story in Big Blue Nation history. We didn’t see it coming, but that makes its arrival all the sweeter.
Barry Westerman | UK Athletics
It may be hard for fans across the Bluegrass to pay much attention to anything other than the Final Four and MLB, with the 2014 season kicking off this last week (No, we’re not going to count whatever happened in Australia as the beginning of the season). With that being said, UK Baseball is just over halfway through the 2014 campaign, with 6 remaining SEC series after this last weekend. With a 4-5 conference record, #19 UK went to work this weekend against another ranked SEC opponent, Florida. Miss any of the action with everything else going on? We’ve got you covered. On to the recap…
April 4th, vs. #12 Florida
Result: UK 17- Florida 1
Starting Pitchers: UK- AJ Reed | UF- Eric Hanhold
As they have done multiple times this season, the BatCats exploded offensively, beating the Gators in one of the most lopsided games in recent history. Kentucky scored 17 runs off of 20 hits, with Austin Cousino and Max Kuhn combining for 7 RBI’s. While the ‘Cats smacked the ball around, what was also impressive was AJ Reed on the mound. In 7 innings, Reed only gave up 5 hits and 2 walks while allowing no runners to score. Florida’s lone run would come in the T9th off of Ryne Combs, who put in 2 solid innings to close out the game.
April 5th, vs. #12 Florida
Result: UK 10- Florida 11
Starting Pitchers: UK- Chandler Shepherd | UF- Logan Shore
While UK had fun at the plate on Friday, Florida had its fair share on Saturday. Though the final score shows that it was only a 1 run game, the Gators owned a 9-0 lead heading into the B8th. With UF’s starter Logan Shore coming out, UK would score 8 runs to pull within 1. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, Florida would plate 2 more runs off of Kyle Cody and Matt Snyder in the T9th to stretch the lead to 11-8. Kentucky would score 2 more runs in the last inning thanks to RBI’s from Shelby and Cousino but fall just short of an amazing comeback win.
April 6th, vs. #12 Florida
Result: UK 9- Florida 8
Starting Pitchers: UK- Andrew Nelson | UF- Kirby Snead
While the previous two games were blow-outs (for the most part), Sunday’s match saw numerous lead changes and who was going to win wasn’t certain until the last out was recorded. UK jumped out to an early 1-0 lead off of a Shelby RBI single in the B2nd, though that lead wouldn’t last long as Florida would plate 2 runs in the T3rd to gain the lead. UK would tie it in the bottom half of the inning thanks to a solo shot from AJ Reed, his 12th of the year. The game would remain quiet until the T5th, when the Gators would add another run to take a slim lead. Then, just as they had done the last several games, the Cats had an offensive explosion, plating 7 runs in the B6th. The game seemed like a lock at that point, but the Gators would put together a rally of their own, scoring 5 runs in the T8th, making it a one run ballgame with an inning left. Luckily for the Cats, Spencer Jack (who stayed in the game after giving up 2 of the 5 runs in the previous inning) and Kyle Cody would close out the 9th without allowing another run, getting Kentucky another valuable SEC win.
UK vs Morehead St | 4/08/2014 | Lexington, Kentucky | 6:30 PM ET
UK vs Missouri | 4/11/2014 | Lexington, Kentucky | 6:30 PM ET
UK vs Missouri | 4/12/2014 | Lexington, Kentucky | 7:00 PM ET
UK vs Missouri | 4/13/2014 | Lexington, Kentucky | 1:00 PM ET
To the detractors and haters, (and there are many) a common complaint about the fact that some of Kentucky’s super-talented players leave after only being at the school for a year or two is that the players aren’t invested in the program. “The jersey and the fact that they play for Kentucky doesn’t mean anything to them.” “They are more concerned about getting to the next level.” Blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard it. Most people who watch John Calipari’s Kentucky teams know better though. We see it in the passion the players play with, and the loyalty they show Kentucky even after they’ve moved on to the next level. Willie Cauley-Stein had a couple of great quotes in his media breakout session today that showcase just how much playing for Kentucky, and playing with one another means to these guys.
When asked by Ben Roberts of the H-L why he still wears his jersey on the sideline even though he can’t play, when some players would just wear street clothes, Cauley-Stein responded, “That’s kind of a tribute to our school. I maybe can’t play, but I’m still going to wear the jersey with that pride.”
Cauley-Stein knows as well as us that this team won’t look exactly the same next year. Seniors will graduate. An unknown number of players will likely declare for the NBA draft. And a new crop of talented youngsters will come in to fill in the gaps. The thought that this exact group of players, this team, this family, will only one more game together– stirs the emotions.
“It’s never gonna be like this again for us. This group of guys will never be together again. It’s kind of sad.”
It means something to these guys. The school. The fans. The team. The jersey.
“I’m not ready to take it off,” Willie Cauley-Stein admitted.
ESPN sure did get the headline right last night when they called this team “The Cardiac Cats.” These games are glorious when they are over, but very hard to watch. They’ve had me and Big Blue Nation on the edge of our seats and we could not have asked for anything better. As we head into the championship game with UCONN tomorrow, I wanted to see how consistently Kentucky has been playing, so I went back and looked at the stats over the last four games to see what they need to look to improve upon going into tomorrow’s game with UCONN. (I didn’t include K-State due to the fact that it wasn’t as memorable as the past four games)
What Has Been Consistent
Balanced Scoring- Here is a list of the top three scorers over the past 4 games:
- Wichita State- 20 (An. Harrison), 19 (Aa. Harrison), 13 (Randle, Young)
- Louisville- 15 (Johnson), 15 (Randle), 15 (Aa. Harrison)
- Michigan- 16 (Randle), 13 (Young), 12 (Aa. Harrison)
- Wisconsin- 17 (Young), 16 (Randle) 10 (Johnson)
The Cats have proven that multiple people can carry the scoring load. They have had a different player lead the way in scoring over the past 4 games. If Kentucky is going to beat UCONN, multiple people need to be scoring threats. They have proven over and over in the tournament that this can be done.
Points- Kentucky has scored 78, 75, 75, and 74 points respectively over the past 4 games. Proving that they can score consistently; defense will be a major factor against UCONN. All four games have been extremely close, so every stop is important. In each of these four games, Kentucky has been the first to 71, which could be the magic number to look for.
Area of Focus
Free Throw Shooting- Kentucky’s free throw shooting has been up and down over the past 4 games. Here are the numbers:
- Wichita State- 72.7% (16-22)
- Louisville- 81.5% (22-27)
- Michigan- 54.4% (6-11)
- Wisconsin- 66.7% (14-21)
Kentucky needs to hit their free throws in order to beat UCONN tomorrow night. Even though Wisconsin only missed one free throw and still lost, that one free throw could have kept us out of the championship game. Kentucky needs to shoot 70% or better to give them the best chance to win.
If Kentucky continues to have a balanced scoring attack, it greatly increases their chances of winning. Remember, in every game, they have been the first to 71 points. If/When the game gets to that point; this will be a huge stat to watch out for. Hopefully Kentucky will play 40 minutes of solid defense, get the magic number of 71 first and bring home championship #9.
Watch the players react to Drake dropping by the locker room after the big win over Wisconsin. Also, enjoy Calipari’s post-game speech to the team as they celebrate moving on to tomorrow’s national championship game.
In my favorite moment of the video: Calipari makes Aaron Harrison stand up…gives him a hug and a kiss. Then he makes Andrew get up and give him a hug. “He saved you.”
In my 2nd favorite moment of the video: “You two saved us. We lose this game if you two didn’t come in and play.” (As Cal points to Jarrod Polson and Dominique Hawkins)
“It’s your story now. You’ve made it.. This is it.”- Drake to the team
If you remember all the way back to Kentucky’s preseason exhibition with Transylvania, you may recall the tragic story of Dick Gregory, the life-long Kentucky fan who was paralyzed while attending the game. Gregory, who was taking his wife of 50 years, Mary Alice, to her first Kentucky game, unfortunately fell victim to paralysis while attempting to catch her when she slipped and fell in the Rupp Arena crowd. She walked away physically unscathed in large part to Dick Gregory’s efforts, but as one could imagine, life changed forever that day.
Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports recently caught up with the couple and gave an update on Dick’s status and how Kentucky Basketball, John Calipari, and the current crop of Wildcats have inspired him to persevere through the extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Below is an brief clip of his recent interactions with Coach Cal.
John Calipari was at a doughnut shop in Lexington when he ran into one of Gregory’s relatives. Calipari asked how Dickie was doing. Not good, he was told. He asked for the number to the rehab facility, where the phone rang that day.
A nurse answered and said, “Oh my gosh, it’s John Calipari,” and put the phone to Gregory’s ear.
“She kept asking me, ‘Is it live, is it live?’” Dick Gregory was saying on Sunday. “Sure, it’s live. I’m talking to him right now.”
Dickie gave Calipari some advice, telling him he wasn’t being tough enough on the Wildcats. This was late in the regular season, when the Wildcats were losing three times in five games, and Dick Gregory says he told Calipari he needed to get on his players some more.
“He kind of laughed,” Gregory said, “and told me, ‘I think I’ve done too much of that. I need to go the other way. I think I got them settled down a little bit. I think we’re about to do something.’”
If you wish to read the entire article on Gregory and his struggles (and I highly recommend you do), it can be found by following this link.
Do you enjoy hearing from the players but hate reading long-winded transcripts written by people like me? If so, you’re in luck because the Harrison twins and Dakari Johnson (among other players) caught up with the media today to preview the Huskies and talk about the path to the title game. If you’re one of the people who enjoy reading the highlights, kindly scroll down a few posts to see the quotes. The videos we’re recorded by our good friends from Kentucky Wildcats TV.
Kentucky Track and Field Competes at Florida Relays, Bellermine Invitational, and Stanford Invitational over the Weekend
By Aaron Perkins on ©7:10 pm
Kentucky Track and Field continues to do amazing things as they competed in 3 events over the weekend: the Florida Relays, Bellermine Invitational, and Stanford Invitational. Here are some highlights of the weekend.
- Kendra Harrison posted a world leading time of 56.60 seconds in the 400m hurdles; breaking the school record of 19 years by more than a second.
- Kayla Parker jumped 6.11m/20-0.5 (+2.9) and ran 13.14 (+1.9) in the 100m hurdles; ranking 2nd and 6th in school history respectfully
- In the 800m, Allison Peare ran a time of 2:04.57, good enough to lead the nation
- Dezerea Bryant broke the Kentucky 200m record, but placed third
- Amy Hanson broke the UK 3k steeplechase freshman record by almost a minute, but was only good enough for 8th
- Andrew Evans threw a personal best hammer throw with a distance of 60.72m/199-2
- The sprint medley team of Keilah Tyson (200m), Dominique Booker (200m), Angelica Whaley (400m) and Allison Peare (800m) won easily with a time of 3:43.20.
- The womans 4x100m relay team of Dominique Booker, Dezerea Bryant, Kayla Parker and Keilah Tyson ran a time of 43.65; breaking another school record. It ranks 3rd nationally.
- Kendra Harrison broke the school record in the 400m hurdles and Dezerea Bryant broke the school record in the 200m marks
- Andrew Evens was runner up in the men’s discus with a distance of 59.68m/195-10
Once again, the Cats are proving that they can compete with anyone in the country. GO CATS!
(Stats and info from ukathletics.com)
Well played @_Happy_Gilmore, well played.
Although, the Huskies could put five men right there and Aaron would still sink it in their eye and let ‘em hang.
The media sessions are now over, and between the press conference, the breakout sessions, and the locker room, there are plenty of quotes and pictures to share. I chose to check out the locker room. Here are some notes…
Dominique Hawkins woke up this morning and thought it was all a dream
Dominique Hawkins gave the Cats some huge minutes last night, and like a true Kentucky boy, he says he grew up dreaming of playing for the National Championship:
“I’m pretty sure every kid in Kentucky dreams of this moment in their backyard, just playing with a ball, acting like they’re taking the last second shot in the National Championship game.”
In fact, Dominique sums up the feelings of most of the BBN when he said he woke up this morning and thought it was all a dream:
“I feel like it’s not real right now. I woke up out of bed this morning and I thought I was dreaming until I got up and my legs was aching.”
He totally geeked about Drake
By now, you know that Drake visited the locker room last night after the game, and Dominique said he totally geeked about it. “It was really cool because I’ve never met any type of rapper that’s famous before, and Drake, he’s probably my favorite rapper. As soon as I saw him walk in, I jumped out of my seat, I was like ‘Aww, that’s Drake!!’”
Dominique said he was too starstruck to really say anything to Drake, but said that if he could have, he would have said “I know almost every one of your songs.”
Started from the bottom, now we here…
Willie Cauley-Stein is heartbroken
Willie confirmed that he is definitely out for tomorrow night’s game, and you could feel the change in his demeanor from yesterday. Whereas he was upbeat and cheerful the past few days, he is now sullen, sad, and in his words, heartbroken:
“It’s tough, it’s heartbreaking,” Willie said. “The only thing I can really do is encourage the team and stay positive even though I can’t play. I still serve a purpose uplifting people and staying in people’s ear or cheering.”
I attempted to cheer Willie up by asking about the celebrations in Lexington, which brought a smile to his face. “I wish I was there. It’s nuts to see people go crazy like that.” What’s it going to be like on Monday? “Probably pretty similar.”
Marcus Lee enjoys sleep and Rice Krispie treats
Marcus Lee was a popular interview this afternoon, and told reporters that Cal may have been exaggerating about James’ sleeping habits: “James is my roommate, so once he goes to sleep, I’m going to sleep, so we’re on the same timeline.”
Alex Poythress is not:
Rest up, Cats.
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, famed political predictor Nate Silver and his team of statisticians have been giving live win probability updates for every team remaining in the field. And after the dust had settled in
Dallas North Texas last night, Silver gave his final prediction on who had the highest probability to win the NCAA tournament. Unlike Vegas, Silver’s model thinks tomorrow night’s contest is a coin flip, giving each team a 50% chance to cut down the nets.
The interactive bracket can be found by following the link below.
[Updated from earlier when FiveThirtyEight's model said Kentucky had a 55% chance to win.]
More from the Cats at Sunday’s media opportunity…
Aaron Harrison has seen the Fab Five documentary 10 times, says it’s “us against the world.”
Aaron “Ice” admitted to watching The Fab Five at least 10 times since it was released a couple of years ago; he called it is his favorite documentary. He sees similarities between his team and those early 90s Wolverines, but he doesn’t believe age is as important as many people make it out to be. “It’s about the team coming together, not age,” he said.
“Us against the world, we have that,” he continued, calling out all of the doubters and naysayers that were critical of the Cats all season. “We have a swagger to us now.”
Yes they do.
Julius Randle wanted to play football, Carolyn said no way.
Growing up in the state of Texas, where football prevails over all else, Julius Randle had dreams of one day playing wide receiver or defensive end in the NFL. But Mama Randle had something to say about that. “Mom was not having it,” he said. “She was afraid I would get hurt.”
Julius said he’s glad he decided to go stay off the gridiron for basketball. “Basketball worked out for me.”
Can you imagine that spin move coming off the line and around the tackle? Look out, QBs.
Someone asked Randle how many credit hours he is taking this semester.
Randle probably would’ve chosen college over the NBA if the one-year rule didn’t exist.
Randle said he is extremely happy he was able to attend college and he probably would’ve chosen it over the league if given the opportunity to enter the NBA straight out of high school. He said he needed it because he’s matured and learned how to live on his own. “Several guys think they’re ready coming out of high school and they’re not,” he said. “I’m happy to be in college.”
Dakari Johnson would climb on cars in Lexington if he didn’t have basketball to play.
Dakari said he’s been following the mayhem in Lexington on social media during the Cats’ journey to the Final Four. “I saw those pictures from State Street, I was so jealous,” he said. “If I was out there, I would been on top of the cars too.”
Julius Randle added, “There are people burning things, swinging from trees; it is a zoo back home. It really feels good to make people feel like that.”
Party responsibly, Lexington.
Randle was introduced to the media as “Connecticut’s Julius Randle.”
He turned and gave the moderator a lethal stare. I think he looked into his soul.
No. 12 UK faced No. 18 Texas A&M in a three-day three-game series over the weekend at John Crop Stadium. The Aggies took game one on Friday 6-1 despite five scoreless innings from freshman relief pitcher Shannon Smith who replaced Kelsey Nunley in the third. Nunley walked three, struck out five and allowed six earned runs on five hits in the first two innings. Shannon Smith allowed only two hits and struck out five in her five innings. However the Aggies posted six runs in the first two innings against Nunley and UK’s offense had trouble answering back. The solo run of the game for the Cats came from shortstop Christian Stokes, who hit her second home run of the season. Nunley recorded the loss and is now 13-4 on the season.
The Cats had an answer for the Aggies in game two of the series on Saturday. The Cats faced extra innings against Texas A&M and took a 4-2 win in the 10th inning after a two-run walk-off homerun by senior outfielder Emily Gaines. The homerun records her fourth of the season, and second walk off home run of the season. Lauren Cumbess started on the mound for Wildcats coming off an injury obtained a week ago when Cumbess collided with Auburn’s first baseman, tweaking her ankle. Cumbess pitched four innings, allowing three hits with one run while walking and striking out one before being replaced by Kelsey Nunley.
Nunley picked up the win after pitching a total of six innings in the prolonged game, allowing five hits, one unearned run, walked one and struck out five. Ginny Carroll, Silver Samuel and Emily Gaines all had a multi-hit game with Gaines recording three RBI, stretching her hitting streak to a career best 10 games. Nikki Sagermann also recorded a hit and RBI in the 4-2 win over the Aggies.
The Cats stole the series from the Aggies in game three on Sunday 5-3, and are now 31-8 on the season and 7-5 in SEC play. Freshman pitcher Meagan Prince started in the circle for the Cats with a 1-2-3 first inning. Prince was quickly backed with run support from the Cats after a two-on two-out homerun by Nikki Sagermann to put the Cats up 3-0 in the first. The Aggies cut the lead to 3-2 after a two-run homerun in the fifth inning. The Cats went on to score another run in the bottom of the fifth on a throwing error to first. Prince loaded the bases in the sixth inning and a grounder cut the lead 4-3 before she was replaced by Shannon Smith who successfully got out of the jam with no more damage done. The Wildcats scored one more run in the bottom of the sixth after a sacrifice fly by Christian Stokes to take the 2-1 series win over No. 18 Texas A&M.
The Cats will continue their home game stretch on Tuesday at 5:00pm against Wright State and will turn around and play Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday at 5:00pm. The Cats will then Travel to Oxford, Mississippi on Friday for a three-day three-game SEC series against Ole Miss.