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© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Wednesday Morning Rapid Fire: Cats Cruise by Arkansas

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Turrible, Turrible Start —  Kentucky was down 11 in the blink of an eye.  The Cats gave up easy offensive rebounds and wide open threes.  Once they woke up, they were fine, but Kentucky can’t dig holes that deep in March.

Sharing is Winning — Kentucky had 16 assists, ten in the second half.  The last time they passed the ball that well, they came from behind to defeat West Virginia.

Bye-Bye, Rotation —  John Calipari said he’s finished rotating as many as nine players. “It’s that time of year. I gotta ride with the guys that are getting it done.”

Who exactly is in that lineup? Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, and PJ Washington were the combination that sent UK soaring ahead in the second half and seemed to flow better than any other group we’ve seen this year.

Still Searching for Hami — Two quick offensive fouls stopped him before he ever got a chance to get going.

They Free — Kentucky was 17-of-20 (85%) from the free throw line. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Dominate the Paint — The Cats out-rebounded Arkansas by 17 and scored 12 more points in the paint.  With Jarred Vanderbilt’s minutes exponentially increasing, over the last two games UK has 34 more rebounds and 20 more points in the paint than their opponents.

This was Not a Foul

The Bench Balled — Kentucky’s bench scored 38(!) points as Washington, Green and Vanderbilt all reach double-figures.

Know Your Role —  Coach Cal had a team meeting last week to clearly define each player’s role. They got the message.

“We’re getting better because we’ve settled in on how we’re playing,” Calipari said. “There were times we looked confused. You know why? They were. I just tried to make it clear how we’re playing and why we’re playing the way we’re playing. A lot of this was on me. When you’re playing freshmen, you can’t blame them.”

Six Straight Losses to UK — It was also just their second home loss of the 2017-18 season.  Poor little piggies.

Missouri Lost —  The Tigers lost by three at home in overtime to the worst team in the league, who had their coach resign twice in ten days.  If they can’t beat Ole Miss at home, they can’t come to Rupp this Saturday to sweep the 2018 series against the Cats.

The Cliff was LIT — The Bat Cats couldn’t get a run with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth.  They fell to Xavier 3-2 in the tenth, but you could still call the 50th and final home-opener at The Cliff a success, thanks to a regular-season record crowd of 4,118.



Mr. Brightside?

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

I like the team I saw tonight

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Three minutes in, it looked like another one of those nights. Kentucky was down 11-0 in a deafening Bud Walton Arena with Arkansas showing no signs of slowing down. Then, something funny happened. Instead of shrinking into the shadows as they have several times this season, the Cats fought back, going toe-to-toe with the Razorbacks to turn a horrible start into an 87-72 win. More importantly, for the first time this season, they seemed to find their identity, giving a weary fanbase a much-needed dose of hope heading into the final stretch of the season.

Here’s what I liked from my team, because for the first time in a long time, there was a lot to like.

We found the lineup

After much experimentation, it’s clear that Kentucky’s best lineup is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, and Jarred Vanderbilt. Funny enough, three of those guys didn’t start. Calipari went away from the rotations last week in hopes it would inspire his players to fight for minutes; it worked. Quade, PJ, and Jarred came off the bench to put up 36 of Kentucky’s 38 bench points. With Wenyen rotating in as the sixth man, Kentucky was the best version of itself, which is why it’s a little perplexing to this blogger that Calipari doesn’t just go ahead and start them.

What about Hami? He struggled again, putting up only two points and one rebound in ten minutes. His plus/minus was the lowest on the team, at -9. Still, Calipari insists this team will need him down the stretch.

“Here’s what I told Hami, just so everybody knows,” Cal said afterwards on the postgame show. “I said, Hami, we need you to do what I want this team to do. I’m not — you’ve understand, I’ve got to win the game. If someone’s playing better than you, I’m leaving them in. If you look a little confused, I’m taking you out. but you have to keep working to play great. And it may take another week or two. We need you to do this.”

The second half was the best we’ve seen since West Virginia

Kentucky’s regression a few weeks ago was troubling to say the least, which is why it was so refreshing to see them play coherent basketball in the second half. The fundamentals that have perplexed this squad so often this year were their biggest strengths in the second half. The ball movement was better (thanks, Jarred Vanderbilt!), the defense around the basket was better, guys weren’t afraid to fire away from the outside, and the Cats dominated the boards 46-29. As Cal would say, what?? There’s no denying that tonight was the best Kentucky’s played since coming back vs. West Virginia — or maybe all season —  a testament to their newfound crisp, confident attitude.

Kevin Knox was more consistent

Kevin Knox has a bad habit of disappearing in games, but tonight, he contributed 11 points in the first half and 12 points in the second. A 30-second span in the second half shows you just how important Knox is to this team. With twelve minutes to go, he hit a jumper to tie the game, grabbed a huge rebound off an Arkansas miss, and laid it up to give Kentucky the lead for good. We’ve said it all season, but for Kentucky to be its best, Knox must score consistently.

PJ Washington earned his flexes

With Nick Richards struggling to contain Daniel Gafford down low, Kentucky needed someone to step up and be physical in the post. PJ Washington answered the call. Calipari has begged PJ to take leadership of this team throughout the season to no avail, but the freshman was Kentucky’s most efficient player tonight, registering a +24 in plus/minus. He had 13 points (6-10) and 10 rebounds off the bench, along with 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. For Kentucky to keep building momentum, PJ cannot revert. Not even an inch.

That flex to give Kentucky the lead late in the first half said it all:

Jarred Vanderbilt’s becoming a game changer

A month after his debut, Jarred Vanderbilt has knocked off the rust to become the dynamic playmaker Kentucky needs, but not in the way you’d expect. Vanderbilt gives the Cats two things they desperately need: good passing and rebounding. Watching him run the floor and look ahead to deliver the ball to the open man is a thing of beauty. He finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal in 19 minutes. To whatever extent Vanderbilt disrupted Kentucky’s flow a month ago, the team is better off with him now that he’s settled into his groove.

Hello, momentum

Does this win mean Kentucky is over its growing pains? Certainly not. I fully expect more face plants before all is said and done; however, it is a big step in the right direction. Kentucky now has a path to the double bye in the SEC Tournament, which is more important than ever. After the game, Calipari said the four-game losing streak was the best thing to happen to this group because it made them confront their issues and band together. Nothing is better for a young team than a little momentum, and after back-to-back wins, Kentucky finally has some; how will they carry it over to Saturday’s rematch with Missouri in Rupp Arena?

Time will tell, but man, I feel better about it after that win. Phew, what a day.

Calipari says the losing streak was the best thing that could happen

Kentucky’s recent four-game losing streak was brutal to watch as fans of the Wildcats; however, John Calipari sees a positive in it, in how it got his team moving in the right direction.

“You got a team full of young players that have to go through experiences — good and bad,” Calipari said in his postgame interview. “You cannot talk about them. They have to experience them.”

“The best thing to happen to this team is losing four in a row. It wasn’t good to me because I’m older now and I don’t take it as well. But they needed that.”

Calipari also reminded us Jarred Vanderbilt is still new to the team, which set them back a bit in their chemistry and development as a group. Cal said he sat them all down last week to identify each player’s new role now that he’s seen his full roster in action, and it has since limited a lot of the confusion.

“The second thing is, we added Jarred. So here we are, a young team trying to experiment and figure out how we’re playing, and Jarred joins us. What ends up happening is, we were discombobulated. So about a week ago I sat everybody down and told them what their role is, especially Jarred. And I told them who we’re playing through and how we’re playing… so now there’s not as much confusion on the court.”

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

WATCH: Highlights from Kentucky’s Impressive 87-72 Win at Arkansas

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

See the best of the best from Kentucky’s blowout road victory over Arkansas, their sixth straight over the Razorbacks.

Kentucky Climbs in the SEC Standings

Kentucky Climbs in the SEC Standings

How time changes things.

Only a few days ago, Kentucky was facing a worst-case scenario: Wednesday night at the SEC Tournament.  After two straight wins, a best-case scenario double-bye to Friday is within reach.

Kentucky is now just 3.5 games back from the top of the SEC.  If Florida falls at Tennessee tomorrow, the Cats will move into the the top four of the SEC standings if they can split the season series with a victory over Mizzou ar Rupp this Saturday.

(Click to Enlarge)

John Calipari has his best group

John Calipari has his best group

It took 28 games to find it, but John Calipari has his best five.

For the Cats to make some noise in the weeks ahead, it’s clear the majority of the minutes need to go to Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt. Coincidentally, those five players led the team in points and minutes in the most impressive win all season, and three of the five came off the bench to start the game.

If that is the winning bunch moving forward, it relegates starters Hamidou Diallo, Wenyen Gabriel and Nick Richards to reserve roles, along with Sacha Killeya-Jones. Each of those players can and will pitch in on any given night, but it’s time everyone accepts they’re on the second tier of contributors. The other group just looks better when on the floor together.

You can look to the emergence of Jarred Vanderbilt as a big reason Kentucky has looked good in its last two games, and he is the final piece to the puzzle. Vanderbilt is the team’s best rebounder and maybe its best passer, and he is finally scoring the basketball, too. He reached double figures in scoring the last two times out.

Then there’s the steady hand of Quade Green, who has proven the offense goes stale when he isn’t on the floor. For all Shai Gilgeous-Alexander brings to the backcourt — and he brings a lot — the offense needs Green with the ball in his hands to be at its best.

Kevin Knox’s importance needs no explanation, and now PJ Washington is playing up to his potential. Washington recorded the second double-double of his career in the win at Arkansas; his only other one came in the second game of the season, many months ago.

Assuming you believe Kentucky is better with this five leading the way, does it change your expectations?

The team we saw at Arkansas looks to be more than capable of making a big run in the postseason.

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Kentucky Turns Slow Start Into 87-72 Blowout Win at Arkansas

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

In a game that featured 12 ties and nine lead changes, Kentucky used a 13-2 second half run to turn a back-and-forth battle into a blowout at Bud Walton Arena.

It looked like it was going to be a long night for the Wildcats.  Moments after the ball was tipped, the Cats were in an 11-0 hole.  Kentucky found a way to claw back and enter the locker room with the game tied at 43.

Kentucky’s second half was all about excellent defense and unselfish offense.  After surrendering eight first half three-pointers, they held Arkansas to just one in the second half.  A team that struggled to get assists earlier in the year, had 10 assists in the second half on 15 made field goals.

Kentucky extended the lead to 13 with 6:50 to go and never looked back.  Kevin Knox led all scorers with 23 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 18 points and P.J. Washington added 13 points.

The 15-point victory gives UK another Quadrant One win and keeps the Cats in contention to get a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.  

Kentucky Drops Home Opener To Xavier 3-2 in Extra Innings

UK Athletics

In the final home opener at Cliff Hagan Stadium, Kentucky was upset by Xavier 3-2 in ten innings. Xavier sent the record-breaking crowd home unhappy as they handed UK their first loss of the season. The Musketeers scored the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth on a sac fly by Natale Monastra.


Before the record-breaking crowd had a chance to settle in, Xavier scored a pair of runs off Kentucky starter Brad Schaenzer. Allbry Major shot a two-out RBI single to center to put the Musketeers in front 2-0 in the first inning.

It took two innings before the BatCats’ offense responded. Trey Dawson and Tristan Pompey delivered singles to lead off the third. After Dawson moved up to third, Ben Aklinski drove him in on a sac fly to left.

After a rough first inning, Brad Schaenzer settled in on the mound. The senior was pulled after five innings, allowing five hits, two runs, and striking out four. Xavier was never able to recoup the offensive success they found in the top of the first. Carson Coleman, Mason Hazelwood, and Jimmy Ramsey combined to throw four shutout innings out of the bullpen.

The bullpen kept the Musketeers quiet while the offense slowly got rolling. T.J Collett roped a line drive home run into the capacity crowd at the Cliff to tie the game at two in the sixth inning. But even with the big hit in the 6th, it felt like UK was leaving a lot on the field. UK left 11 runners on base in the first nine innings, including leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. Ryan Johnson and Collett struck out with the sacks full as Xavier staved off a UK rally in the 9th.

Xavier was able to take advantage of UK’s failure to drive in the game-winning run. Joe Gellenbeck doubled and advanced to third on an error with one out in the tenth. Gellenbeck came around to score on a sac fly by Natale Monastra that gave Xavier a 3-2 lead.

After striking out two with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Trey Schramm returned in the tenth to shut down UK. Schramm used a dominating strikeout to retire the side in the tenth and hand UK their first loss of 2018.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

At The Half: Kentucky 43, Arkansas 43

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas got off to a great start with an 11-0 lead, but Kentucky clawed back to play the Razorbacks tight for the rest of the half. It’s all tied up at the break with a lot of entertaining basketball ahead.

Come get your first half stats:


UK vs. Arkansas LIVE BLOG

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Live Blog UK vs. Arkansas LIVE BLOG

Five Things Kentucky Fans want to see vs. Arkansas

1. Diallo’s Resurgence

The long-awaited return of Diallo will happen when we least expect it, OR it could happen against a team that suits his playing style, like Arkansas.  The Razorbacks love to play fast in transition, as does Diallo.  The Razorbacks will play extremely physical, as does Diallo.

The slumping shooting guard does not need to make a ton of shots to play a significant role against Arkansas.  If Diallo hits just one shot to get his confidence back, his length on defense can create game-changing turnovers that turns into Kentucky offense.

2. No Knox Disappearing Act

There was a 40-minute stretch between the Alabama and Auburn games that Knox did not score a point.  That just can’t happen.  Even if his shot isn’t falling, Knox must remain aggressive.

3. Consistent Quade

Quade Green was probably the most important player on the court against Alabama.  When the ball was in his hands, the offense had a flow fans had not seen in weeks.  He made open shots (5-6), found open teammates (4 assists, including a late dagger) and had zero turnovers.  For Kentucky to continue to improve late in the season, Quade needs to be a consistent presence on the court.

4. Made Layups

Kentucky missed approximately 43 layups against Alabama.  They only got 20 second chance points out of 20 offensive rebounds.  Kentucky is one of the 25 best offensive rebounding teams in the country, while Arkansas is in the bottom 100 in defensive rebounding percentage.  Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards need to turn easy second chance opportunities into points to get a crucial quadrant one win in SEC play.

5. A Kentucky Win

There’s no team more fun to beat in the SEC than Bud Walton’s Woo Pig choir. Go Cats.

Sore Losers, Cold Sore Losers

Sore Losers, Cold Sore Losers

Editor’s Note: The following was written by Harold Leeder, editor-in-chief of The New Circle Circular, Lexington’s #1 source of fake news you can’t count on.

In the unenviable position of defending indefensible acts, the University of Louisville continues its Sisyphean struggle to act like what they allowed to happen was no big deal, and after today’s press conference announcing their appeal was denied it appears the University’s plan of overwhelming the NCAA with scandals didn’t work according to plan.

“Ya’ll ever seen an appeal? They’re super long and boring, and that’s just for one violation. Imagine how much paperwork is required when you’ve broken every rule in the book. Heck we even broke some rules that haven’t even been written yet. The logic is, if you write a long enough story, no one will read the whole thing,” explained the University’s “Compliance Officer” Jeff Smeocan-Gunne. “Why else would we appeal something we admitted to doing?”

Unfortunately for UofL, the NCAA managed to finish reading the documents, and announced their decision this afternoon, “While we found the appeal of our previous decision hilarious, we couldn’t find any merit to it. One page just said ‘Look dude rules were meant to be broken.’”

The NCAA’s spokesperson explained they were kind of getting annoyed with the whole process, but weren’t shaken, “Look the banner is coming down, they should be used to things falling from the ceiling. No but seriously, Louisville your program has a lot of problems and it’s time to take your medicine. Which I’m pretty sure might be Valtrex. I mean you know things are bad when we are living in the participation trophy generation and you can’t even get one of those right now because we’re not letting you even pretend like you participated.”

In response to the decision the University’s future former interim president Greg Postel decided to speak out against the decision, “We believe the NCAA is simply wrong, and these punishments are excessive and downright Ivan Dragonian.”

We reached out to the NCAA for further comment via email, “We have to applaud their efforts, but at some point you have to recognize the difference between getting a standing ovation and getting the clap.”

To keep up with The New Circle Circular, like the Facebook page or follow Harold Leeder’s Twitter Account.

You don’t want to miss the KSR Pregame Show at 6:30

You see that smile?  That’s the kind of smile that comes to Drew Franklin’s face overtime something bad happens to University-6.  

Tonight is a very special edition of the KSR Pregame Show.  Normally filled with at least 30 minutes of non-related shenanigans, those will be cast aside to give Matt, Drew and Ryan a chance to dance on the grave of UofL’s 2013 National Championship banner.

Also, something about Kentucky vs. Arkansas.

Turn your AM dial to 630 WLAP or listen here.

ESPN: Louisville’s Fall from Grace Falls on Rick Pitino’s Shoulders

Rick Pitino has been away from Louisville for quite some time, but his scandal-filled legacy will continue to cripple the university.

Pitino did plenty of great things during his time at Louisville.  He went to a couple Final Fours, consistently lost to John Calipari and helped bring UofL to the ACC.  A Hall of Fame coach who brought three different programs to the Final Four, all of it will be overlooked because of how he finished his career.  Andrea Adelson of ESPN sees no way around his scandalous finale.

There can be no other way to view his 16 years with the Cardinals, no matter how vehemently both he and his defenders scream that he has been vilified and misjudged. Pitino harmed Louisville in many ways, staining its reputation, triggering multiple investigations and now this: a national title and 2012 Final Four appearance stricken from the record books.

It’s not just the stripper scandal that cost them a pair of Final Fours and a National Title banner.  It’s also Karen Sypher and the ongoing FBI recruiting investigation.

Pitino has not once taken responsibility for the sex parties that happened during recruiting visits and drew the NCAA to investigate. He also has denied any knowledge in the recruiting scandal that cost him his job. In fact, Pitino is suing the University of Louisville Athletic Association for $37.6 million for breach of contract after he was fired in October.

As much as Pitino won at Louisville, all those victories seem meaningless and his legacy forever tainted, especially now that the banner must come down.

Playing the denial card did Pitino no favors in his fall from grace.  In his dramatic fall, he took Louisville down with him.  One day Louisville may be able to recover.  You can’t say the same about Coach-2.