By Nick Roush on ©February 19th, 2019 @ 9:00am
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Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Tennessee is in the rearview morrow. Now it’s time for the fourth-ranked Wildcats to earn another SEC road win.
The duel between the Cats and the Tigers will be a nightcap. If the late tip doesn’t prematurely put you to sleep, Missouri’s credentials might. In Cuonzo Martin’s second season, the Tigers are .500 through 24 games, with only three wins in SEC play. Two of those were at Mizzou Arena, most recently defeating Arkansas by one last Tuesday.
Missouri is led by Jordan Geist. The 6’2″ combo guard from Ft. Wayne averages a team-high 14.2 points, 3.1 assists and one steal per game. Jeremiah Tilmon fortifies the post with 10.9 ppg and 5.7 rpg, while former UK shooting guard target Mark Smith fills it up from three-point range, knocking down 47.1 percent of his attempts to score 12.1 ppg.
On paper, the Tigers do not pose much of a threat, however, we’ve seen this song and dance before: Smith will catch fire, The Zou will go crazy and the Tigers will push UK against the ropes. The only question is, will Kentucky be able to weather the storm after an emotional victory?
“The Journey” is Here
They just keep getting better. From the wide shots of the crowd and Marlana’s National Anthem, to Kenny Payne’s pregame message to Ashton Hagans and John Calipari’s mispronunciation of “mano a mano,” Chapter 25 has it all.
“You’re prepared for this. What a great opportunity, literally for every guy in the room just to go play. This is a man-oh-man game. Let’s help each other.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 19, 2019
How to Watch and Listen
Kentucky is the late game on ESPN’s Super Tuesday slate, tipping off at 9:00 pm with Karl Ravech, Jimmy Dykes and Laura Rutledge on the call. If you can’t get in front of a TV, there are a few different ways you can listen to the Voice of the Wildcats:
- AM: 840 WHAS, 630 WLAP
- FM: 98.1 WBUL
- Satellite: XM-190 and Sirius-133
- Online: iHeart Radio
It should not surprise you to see that the Cats are 11-point favorites over the Tigers. The total is set for 133.5. Wager accordingly (but remember that UK is 8-1-1 ATS over the last ten games).
Prepare on the KSR Pregame Show
Before Kentucky tips-off in CoMo, listen to Matt Jones and the KSR crew preview the matchup between the Cats and the Tigers. All of the action begins on 630 WLAP or online at 6:30 pm.
You’ve seen it from just about every angle, but this time lapse of Hamidou Diallo’s dunk from the New York Times might be the most incredible image yet.
Georgia Offers Beau Allen
The Lexington Catholic four-star quarterback, and son of former Wildcat Bill Allen, has been on Kentucky’s radar for quite some time. After receiving the Blue Carpet treatment from Vince Marrow last weekend, the University of Georgia extended a scholarship offer to Allen. A Top 15 pocket-passer in the 2020 class, preventing Allen from leaving Lexington will not get any easier.
What is Trevor Lawrence Doing?
A month after winning a National Championship, quarterback Trevor Lawrence is playing intramural basketball at Clemson. It only takes one hardo to display why that’s a terrible idea.
Sure Trevor was a little rough, but you don’t set a screen on T-Law. You just don’t. pic.twitter.com/CBMeQvE8VN
— NATIONAL CHAMPIONS (@BarstoolClemson) February 19, 2019
You shouldn’t worry about a hard screen on Lynn Bowden at the JC. UK scholarship athletes aren’t allowed to play in officially sanctioned intramural leagues, a policy Clemson should consider adopting.
R.I.P. George Mendonsa
You might not remember Mr. Mendonsa’s name, but you’ve surely seen him before. George Mendonsa, who passed away yesterday at 95, is the sailor who was captured kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945.
The photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt is one of the most iconic and uplifting images of the 20th century. In a reunion with the nurse, Greta Zimmer Friedman, at Times Square in 2012, Mendonsa shared his side of the story.
“The excitement of the war bein’ over, plus I had a few drinks…So when I saw the nurse I grabbed her, and I kissed her.”
One final salute for an American Hero.
By Nick Roush on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 11:24pm
Beating Tennessee felt great. It feels even better after watching the latest installment of “The Journey.”
KyWildcatsTV goes above and beyond in each behind-the-scenes feature. This week is no exception. Before you start preparing for Kentucky’s Super Tuesday matchup with Missouri, you have to relive the destruction of the top-ranked team in America at Rupp Arena.
“You’re prepared for this. What a great opportunity, literally for every guy in the room just to go play. This is a man-oh-man game. Let’s help each other.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 19, 2019
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
From the initial tip to open the college basketball season to pregame warmups on Saturday evening, Tennessee junior forward Grant Williams has been deemed the runaway favorite to take home SEC Player of the Year honors this year.
Averaging 19.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, Williams has been the complete package. He’s shooting career-highs in field goal percentage (58.1 percent shooting on 10.8 shots per game) and free throw percentage (83.5 percent), also knocking down threes at a 34.4 percent clip (11-32 on the year).
Williams is polished in the paint, fights for loose balls, makes the right decisions more often than not, and is leader of the No. 1 team in the SEC. It’s hard to find many true flaws in his game.
But with the entire college basketball world watching on Saturday, Williams proved he wasn’t the best player in the SEC. That honor goes to Kentucky forward PJ Washington.
Finishing with 23 points (9-12 shooting, 1-2 from three), five rebounds, one assist, two blocks, and two steals, the Kentucky sophomore forward was easily the best player on the court on both ends. He got the team off to a hot start by scoring the first three baskets and seven points for the Wildcats, and kept that consistent energy throughout the game.
“He’s doing some good stuff,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “I mean, you are looking at him now making shots and skilled with the ball and stuff that a year ago he couldn’t do. Making free throws, playing, sustaining effort, not floating and coming in and out.”
When adversity hit, Washington was the first to respond on the big stage.
With Kentucky up by 24 points and Tennessee’s back up against the wall awaiting the knockout blow, the Volunteers fought through for a 13-0 run to cut the lead back down to just 11.
Who came to save the day? You guessed it, the 6-foot-7 power forward out of Dallas, who immediately forced his way inside for a tough lay-in, followed by a steal on the other end leading to two converted free throws for the sophomore forward. Those four points turned into seven of the team’s next nine points, pushing the Kentucky lead back up to 15.
They weathered the storm and the ship was righted as the Wildcats coasted to an 86-69 victory over the No. 1 team in the nation. And from start to finish, the captain of that ship was Washington.
When matched up with Williams in particular, it was like a switch was flipped for Washington, as the Wildcat big man went right at his throat time and time again. He’d establish himself in the post, create all the space he wanted, and sink jump hook after jump hook right over the outstretched hand of the talented Volunteer forward. On defense (combined with the efforts of Kentucky graduate transfer Reid Travis), they made nothing easy for the Tennessee forward who thrives against just about anybody thrown his direction.
It wasn’t even about the numbers, necessarily. Finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals, Williams didn’t have a bad game by any means. It had more to do with what happened beyond the pure Xs and Os out on the floor.
Above all else, Washington proved to be the tougher player willing to do whatever it took to grind out the victory. When things started slipping away for Tennessee, Williams resorted to flopping on the floor and yelping at the referees instead of bucking up and taking the game over like a junior star should. Washington smelled the blood in the water and went right for the Tennessee forward’s jugular.
And a big reason for that increased intensity had to do with Kentucky’s matchup with Tennessee in January of last year.
The Volunteers won at home by a score of 76-65, but the talented UT forward said Washington was “in (his) head a little bit” in their time matched up on the floor. After jumping out of the gates with force, cramps hit for the star Wildcat, forcing him to miss the rest of the game and allowing the Volunteers to hold on.
“He shut me down in the first half,” Williams said at the time. “I’ll give it to him. He was in my head a little bit. I think the cramps hurt their team a lot. Just the fact they were playing with so much confidence when he was in the game.”
From there, Washington knew, especially on Saturday, he could find both a physical and mental advantage over Williams.
That advantage led to a flat-out domination of the supposed top contender for the SEC Player of the Year award.
“When he said that I felt like I had an advantage tonight,” Washington said on Saturday. “Just try to keep going at him and keep going at their team. And just try to get a victory as we did tonight.”
Kentucky freshman guard Tyler Herro sensed the killer instinct kick in for Washington, as well. He could see the fear in Williams’ eyes, and if his Wildcat teammate can keep this level of play up moving forward, that same fear will strike for every team they face from now until the end of the season.
“I think they’re scared of him, honestly,” Herro said. “Scared of PJ. I think a lot of people are now that he’s scoring how he is and doing what he’s doing.”
Knowing that Williams took home SEC Player of the Year honors last year and is the frontrunner to do the same this season, Washington said he knew he had to give it everything he had against one of the best in the conference. And you better believe he’s happy with the result.
“I take every matchup personally,” he said. “I know everybody is out to get us, so I just need to be out to get them and bring my ‘A’ game every night. I have to be confident in my abilities and be confident in my teammates.
Cramps actually crept back in for Washington against Tennessee on Saturday, and Calipari believes it’s because he’s not used to playing with that physical edge from the opening tip through the final buzzer. The Kentucky head coach was impressed with the effort, but wants it to be more consistent moving forward.
“Well, one of the things is we just went at him,” he said. “We’re just like, ‘go.’ And he also, we like him at the top of the key shooting some threes because he can make that shot. But the whole thing, again, no lapses, none, get to where you’re a vicious competitor the entire time and then sub yourself. Today he subbed himself. And I hate to tell you he got cramps. What does that tell you? It’s probably harder than he’s gone all year. That’s why you cramp up.”
Calipari said that he is ecstatic to talk to people around the basketball world about Washington because of the dramatic growth he has seen from year one to year two. The Kentucky head coach believes there isn’t a doubt in his mind his star forward is the most improved player in all of college basketball, and a big reason for that is because he just wants it more than everyone else.
“You know, what makes me happy is when I’m hearing people call me and say, ‘Cal, he’s the most improved guy in the country,'” he said. “Like ‘he is it.’ And a big part of that was conditioning and toughness and focus. And when you understand that it’s not going to be easy and there’s no easy road, that I’ve got to compete every day, you probably got it licked because you’re competing against yourself. You’re trying to conquer yourself. PJ finishes first in every run we do right now. Every run we do, Kenny Payne’s screaming and yelling, ‘don’t let him finish first’ and guys are trying to chase him down and he ain’t letting them.”
When asked about what it feels like to dominate the way he did on the big stage against the No. 1 team in the nation, Washington said it’s a “blessing” to represent his “dream school” in the way they did.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It shows everyone that we can still play with great teams in this league and in this country,” he said. “To have an atmosphere like that was great. There was one point in the first half I couldn’t hear. I was trying to talk to Ash (Ashton Hagans) and I couldn’t even hear myself. This was my dream school growing up, so just to be here is a blessing for me. To go out there and beat a No. 1 team is just more than I could ask for. I’m just so proud of my teammates because of all the hard work we’ve been putting in. Everybody has been doubting us, but we feel like we deserve this.”
With the dust settled from the victory over Tennessee, is PJ Washington the best player in the SEC?
If you ask him, absolutely.
“Being the competitor that I am, I would say yes, I am the best player in the SEC,” Washington said.” But I feel like our team is the best team in the SEC, and without my teammates, I’m nothing.”
By Nick Roush on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 10:45pm
Kash Daniel is always incredible in front of a camera. Tonight Hey Kentucky visited the UK linebacker in his natural environment — the weight room at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility.
Instead of a traditional interview, Kash talked about the upcoming football season while giving Chris Tomlin work out tips. He could not transform Tomlin into a body-builder, but he did reveal his “Kryptonite” and what he is doing in the offseason to improve in the aspect of his game.
Kash also shared his secrets to talking trash, which eye-popping celebrity reached out during the 2018 football season and discussed if pro wrestling could potentially be in his future. Check it out:
Click here for more from Hey Kentucky.
The one and only Big Mick is a meaty masterpiece in its own right. Composed of two quarter-pound patties* of never-fresh, frozen, mostly beef raised close to the processing plant. Only McDowell’s has the frosted beef and processed cheese to give you a major reason for the afternoon trip to the secret bathroom only you and Debra know about on the 9th floor that is under construction.
You can be a part of McDowell’s KSR Top 10 Tweets by using hashtags like #KSR #BBN or #KSRtop10. You can also nominate tweets by mentioning them with the hashtag. If we like what we see, it could be posted the next day.
If you are interested in sponsoring KSR’s Top 10 Tweets, please contact us at Via Email.
#10 Caleb Wallace
How can SEC Network continue to deny picking the show up???
— Caleb Wallace (@crwally_512) February 18, 2019
I thought the same thing, Caleb.
#9 Kentucky Wildcats Fan
— Kentucky Wildcats Fan (@kentuckyfan023) February 19, 2019
Photoshop needs some work, but I like the joke. Good work.
— ParkerWDahlman (@dahlman_w) February 18, 2019
I get it! But, doesn’t everyone loves Spongebob
#7 Tucker Hargrove
— Tucker Hargrove (@tucker_hargrove) February 18, 2019
— BottomLineLexington (@bottomlinelex) February 18, 2019
Pitino AND Vegas? A match made in heaven. Please make it happen.
#5 Jordan H
— Jordan H (@Heflin3) February 19, 2019
I can’t tell you how jealous I am about this.
#4 Nick Beasmore
We might complain about the checkerboard, but at least we never have to worry about wearing those ugly, God awful warm ups that Tennessee has. #KSRTop10
— Nick Beasmore (@nickobeazo) February 17, 2019
Never wear Striped pants, people.
#3 Daryl Rideout
— Daryl Rideout (@cardz1) February 18, 2019
YES! Plus, I like the dedication.
#2 Ally Tucker
— Ally Tucker (@AllyTucker14) February 19, 2019
The crazy thing about this tweet is it doesn’t seem weird to us.
#1 John Sword
7 years ago we printed a Fathead for a KSR Remote & wondered where it ended up. In a garage, in a landfill…nope the Erupption Zone! Thanks @ryanlemond for the pics & to a KSBar server who resurrected that glorious head of hair! @KySportsRadio @DrewFranklinKSR @ShannonTheDude pic.twitter.com/f6n2rWij9n
— John Sword (@JohnSword) February 18, 2019
Ryan Legend Lemond. Of course, he’s in the same category as the #4 team in the country.
Follow me on twitter and tag me in one of your tweets for a chance to make KSR’s top 10 tweets: @BrentW_KSR
The Vegas oddsmakers have spoken. For Kentucky to hold onto the title of, “Covering Cats,” they’ll have to score quite a few points.
Kentucky opened as 11-point favorites over the Tigers. The total for Tuesday night’s matchup at Mizzou Arena is 133.5. The Cats are 8-1-1 against the spread over the last ten games.
Tip-off between the 12-12 Tigers (3-9 in the SEC) and the Wildcats is set for 9:00 on ESPN.
By Nick Roush on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 9:55pm
If Ashton Hagans hit a wall prior to the Tennessee game, he leapt over it against the Volunteers.
The Kentucky point guard had a tough three-game stretch leading into the showdown against the top-ranked team in the country. During that time he averaged 4.6 points and assists per game, committed nine turnovers and forced just three steals.
“He’s a freshman. He hit a little bit of a wall,” Calipari said Friday afternoon. “He’s not played well at all. This is a game where we’re going to need him to get back to where he was ten, twelve days ago.”
Kentucky got exactly what they needed Saturday. In 36 minutes of action he had seven assists, a pair of steals and only one turnover. What changed so quickly for Hagans?
“After practice one day, he (Calipari) came in, he showed us North Carolina tape, when I got a lot of steals and I was playing aggressive,” Hagans modestly described his eight-steal performance. “He was just showing the videos, then he would stop after every steal. Then, everybody turned around and started looking at me. And (Calipari) was like ‘who was that’ and they would say ‘that’s Ashton with the braces.‘”
Hagans did not get his braces back for the Tennessee game, but he did bring intense focus to the table.
“For him to have some success against him (Jordan Bone) was vital because we have been on him about being focused, being disciplined, being disruptive, and it’s hard,” said associate head coach Kenny Payne.
“He’s never worked as hard as he has worked here. He’s never had to focus as much as he is having to focus here, and he is a freshman. There are times when he pouts; we have to address it. There are times when he’s immature; we have to address it. But then there’s times when he is locked in, and that’s has been a big difference in our team. When he’s locked in, we are really good.”
Coach Cal forced Hagans to address his shortcomings and implored the rest of the team to push him over top of the wall. They happily obliged.
“It’s tough, I mean, it’s a long season,” said Reid Travis, “but, this group, everyone is excited about what we have on the horizon…I think that’s what really helps everybody is that we’re all in here trying to get better, working hard every day. So you can really get over that mental fatigue when everyone has so much excitement about what’s about to come for us in the next couple of games, next couple of months.”
If Hagans and the rest of the Wildcats avoid hitting another wall, the horizon could be filled with winning until April.
See everything Hagans and Travis said Monday afternoon here.
Matt Jones and the Tennessee fan base have developed an adversarial relationship over the last month after a few appearances on The Paul Finebaum Show. Could that have changed after today’s show?
The SEC Network’s favorite personality invited KSR’s Fearless Leader onto the program to lead off the show by throwing fuel on the fire. Matt brought plenty of praise…and a few jabs.
You can find more of The Paul Finebaum Show, including an appearance from Jay Bilas, in the ESPN PodCenter.
By Nick Roush on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 8:30pm
A wave of excitement crashed over the Big Blue Nation this weekend after the UK basketball team completely annihilated the No. 1 team in the country. The win over Tennessee was nice, and not just for the basketball team.
After focusing on quantity for Junior Day, Vince Marrow emphasized quality while hosting a smaller group of incredibly talented in-state recruits for the Tennessee game.
Four of the state’s top athletes — safety Vito Tisdale, offensive tackle John Young, quarterback Beau Allen and wide receiver Izayah Cummings — spent the day in Lexington with Marrow, Eddie Gran and John Schlarman. The crew received a standing ovation from UK fans at KSBar when they entered the restaurant. During one of the timeouts at Rupp Arena, Kash Daniel’s Super Bowl commercial aired on the Jumbotron.
Young described the experience to Justin Rowland as ‘insane.’ “I’ve never seen an arena like that.”
While they toured the facilities, the group stopped to pose in front of the National Championship trophy. It’s quite an impressive collection of talent. The top four uncommitted players in the state were joined by Warren Central sophomore tight end Jordan Dingle and Rickey Hyatt Jr.
Unlike the others in the photo above, Hyatt Jr. is not from Kentucky, however, he still has a close connection to UK. The three-star safety attends Benny Snell’s old high school, Westerville Central. Snell shared a classroom with Hyatt’s sister and has returned to speak with his team multiple times since he found stardom at UK.
Kentucky also hosted four-star all-purpose back Michael Drennen. A top 250 player in the 2020 class, Drennen attends Dublin Coffman High School, Gunnar Hoak’s alma mater. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Notre Dame are considered his top schools. He posed in uniform with a few of his underclassmen teammates.
My Brothas ?? pic.twitter.com/nVRy6ZYKf4
— The “Prodigy”? (@BThreats2) February 18, 2019
Two 2020 Offers
Young isn’t the only talented tackle in UK’s big board. This weekend there Cats offered Omari Young, a 6’4″ 300-pound offensive tackle from Memphis that is considered the No. 124 player overall by ESPN. Young has offers from everybody who’s anybody. UK also offered Jerrold Pough, a three-star safety from Hollywood, Florida.
Before I explain the significance of E.J. Price’s departure, allow me to use this platform to clap back at all the haters. Price’s last appearance in a UK uniform ended prematurely because of a sideline altercation at the Citrus Bowl. When I asked about said altercation in the postgame press conference, I was crucified for being a Debbie Downer. Now he’s gone and I still want to know what set him off on the sideline.
Price performed better than most Blue Chip transfers. In Landon Young’s absence Price started 11 games at left tackle. He was no Young, but Kentucky would not have been as successful if he wasn’t there to fill those big shoes.
Without Price, there’s no panic in John Schlarman’s meeting room. Young is back with Naasir Watkins, who split plenty of snaps with E.J. and was excellent in the Citrus Bowl, prepared to spell him as a reserve. After taking reps at guard in 2018 as a true freshman, Darian Kinnard is expected to replace Big George at right tackle. Aside from 2016, Kentucky has typically stuck with a three-offensive tackle rotation and I expect the same in 2019 with this young, talented trio.
New ESPN FPI Rankings
As you saw Friday night, my favorite advanced college football stats are the S&P+. I might have to flip flop.
Kentucky ranked 37th in the S&P+, while ESPN’s FPI ranks Kentucky 30th entering the 2019 season. Seven spots better is good, but it’s all relative. In each projection UK ranks sixth in the SEC East. The numbers can’t calculate Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri’s ability to consistently underachieve.
Primetime NYT Treatment
Hand up, I don’t receive the print edition of the New York Times. If I did, I would have found this picture of Nik Ognenovic and his father, Steve, gracing the sports section cover on National Signing Day.
Feel free to read the online version of the story that includes the 2019 UK tight end signee here.
Spurrier don’t give AAF
You already read Drew’s post, but I couldn’t let the excellent header go to waste. What you may have missed from that game is who Spurrier’s team came back to beat: Logan Woodside.
The Frankfort native led the nation in passing touchdowns in 2016 with 45 as Toledo’s quarterback. Drafted in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Bengals, Woodside was arrested for a DUI before completing his first NFL minicamp. In spite of the off the field hiccup, he remained with the Bengals until the final cut.
After watching a few AAF games, it’s not hard to tell that Woodside is one of the best passers in the league. Yesterday he completed 20-of-39 passes for 223 yards, a touchdown (which should have been two, if not for an embarrassing drop), an interception and a two-point conversion. Through two hames Woodside is second in the AAF in passing yards with 478. His tape should get him another shot at cracking an NFL roster.
In his second week of action, Kayaune Ross made it into a box score. The former Wildcat receiver caught one pass for seven yards in another Memphis Express loss. All the blame should fall on Christian Hackenburg’s incapable shoulders.
20 Pounds of Poop
I’ll close this chapter of the MNF Notebook with a clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, inspired by former Wildcat C.J. Johnson.
Our client CJ "Poop" Johnson makes his late night debut. We shit you not! pic.twitter.com/VugzRz9tfY
— Lawrence McGivney (@LMcGivney) February 16, 2019
For most people, it takes serious wealth and fast horse to earn a Triple Crown Trophy. Now you don’t even need a horse to own a piece of thoroughbred history.
In 1978 Affirmed became the 11th horse to win the Triple Crown of horse racing. Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera was awarded with a silver Cartier trophy for the incredible accomplishment. Another Triple Crown Trophy would not be distributed for 37 years. Now it’s on the open market for a half million dollars on eBay.
The coveted trophy was on the market in 2018, but did not sell at Heritage Sports Auction. The same trophy also made an appearance on History channel’s Pawn Stars. The owner would not drop from his asking price of $500,000 to $250,000. Without a done deal on Pawn Stars, the next logical step was to eBay.
A similar award was only passed out one more time. After American Pharoah’s win in 2015, NYRA commissioned a new trophy. The immaculate piece of hardware created by sculptor Roberto Santo was handed to Justify’s team after last year’s incredible run.
The creation of the new trophy means Affirmed’s award is only 12-of-a-kind. If you have $500,000 lying around, it might not be a bad investment. The only potential downside to the purchase: No free two-day shipping.
By Drew Franklin on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 6:30pm
Steve Spurrier’s days in the Southeastern Conference are long gone, but he’s still trolling the Tennessee Vols, even in his new gig in the AAF.
Spurrier, the new coach of the Orlando Apollos, said the crowd for his team’s game against the San Antonio Commanders in San Antonio was just as loud as anything he heard in Neyland Stadium.
“It was just as loud as Rocky Top, to tell you the truth,” he said. “The Swamp is a little bit louder.”
Spurrier claims the San Antonio Commanders crowd today was louder than Rocky Top ever was.
Head Ball Coach still trolling after all these years. Legend. pic.twitter.com/Mv8u5bc4Dz
— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) February 18, 2019
Never change, Spurrier.
Kenny Payne took the spotlight from John Calipari in Monday’s pre-Missouri trip press conference in Lexington. UK’s assistant coach spoke for fifteen minutes about the Cats’ win over Tennessee, what’s ahead in Tuesday night’s game in Columbia and a lot more about the team. You can watch the entire thing here or you can read a five-note summary of Payne’s comments below:
1. Winning the SEC is important to this team.
“For this group, I think it means a lot,” Payne said, when asked about the importance of winning the conference. “I think these kids need to know that they are champions, that they are the gold standard of this conference, and not just by our eyes but everybody’s eyes. That’s important. That’s important for them to feel good about the work that they’ve put in, how hard we train, how hard we practice, how hard Coach Cal pushes these kids in order to be a great team, and the result of that is winning. So, as much as we can win, we want to win.”
He said it’s important for the Cats to believe they’re the gold standard because, “when we get into an NCAA tournament, every game is intense. Every game is every possession matters. Defensively, the way that game went against Tennessee is how we have to play in that tournament, so that’s vital. That’s vital.”
2. When Ashton Hagans is locked in, like he was Saturday against Tennessee, Kentucky is really good.
Ashton Hagans broke out of a multi-game funk by playing well against Tennessee, but Payne said it was even more important for Hagans to do it against Tennessee’s star point guard, Jordan Bone, who people consider the best point guard in the conference.
“More than just Tennessee, against what people consider the No. 1 point guard in this conference,” Payne said, “for him to have some success against him was vital because we have been on him about being focused, being disciplined, being disruptive, and it’s hard.
“He’s never worked as hard as he has worked here. He’s never had to focus as much as he is having to focus here, and he is a freshman. There are times when he pouts, we have to address it. There are times when he’s immature, we have to address it. But then there’s times when he is locked in, and that’s has been a big difference in our team. When he’s locked in, we are really good.”
When asked what makes Hagans pout, Payne shrugged it off as Hagans being a normal 18-year-old kid. (Fun fact: Hagans is actually 19, but you get the point.)
3. Grant Williams’ physicality played right into Reid Travis’ hands.
“I think Williams has really tortured this conference with his physical play. He’s dominated this conference, not just this year, last year as well with physical play,” Payne said of Tennessee’s star big man.
But as we saw on Saturday, Williams met his match in Kentucky’s Reid Travis. Payne said Williams’ physical playing style fit right into Travis’ hands, calling Travis a “very physical forward who has really learned to move his feet and be defensive here.”
“It doesn’t always show up in the stats, what he means to this program, but I can only say this to you guys: I can’t imagine Reid Travis not on this team and what he’s meant,” Payne added. “Imagine being at Stanford for the last two years, averaging 20 and eight and nine. You come here, the numbers aren’t the same, but your impact on the program is more because now you’re winning against the No. 1 team in the country. You’re beating teams, and you’re a major part of that, and it’s not centered around you getting 20. You’re playing with other great players. You’re learning to sacrifice, to be a great teammate and to play winning basketball.”
4. It was a “class act” for Calipari to silence the overrated chant.
Payne admitted he had no thoughts on the “overrated” chant, but noted Coach Cal respects all of his opponents, especially Rick Barnes and Tennessee.
“We’re Kentucky, we don’t have to do that,” Payne said of the late-game taunting. “We don’t have to talk about a team being overrated. They do it to us, but we’re not going to do that to them. I thought it was a class act for Coach Cal to do that.”
5. Forcing turnovers will be a point of emphasis in Tuesday night’s game plan.
Missouri has trouble taking care of the basketball, so Kentucky will try to exploit that weakness by really trying to force turnovers. It just so happens that creating havoc is one of Kentucky’s best weapons, thanks to the coaching of Calipari and his defensive-minded assistant, Tony Barbee.
“I think that Coach Barbee and Coach Cal have done an unbelievable job of getting this team to buy into defense,” Payne said. “They work together hand in hand. Coach gives Tony a bunch of responsibilities and different strategies, different ways of guarding different things. And what we found is that is when we are the aggressor defensively and we are swarming, we’re pretty good, which leads into transition baskets.
“That’s the way we want to play. So, the fact that Missouri has shown a tendency to turn the ball over, our job is to pressure them, and we have to pressure them without fouling and allow that to get us in transition where our young players are comfortable, and they are really fast and they are really athletic and they are tough to deal with. This team, when we are getting transition baskets and we are playing free, it’s a different atmosphere. Ashton Hagans starts that with his on-the-ball defense, and then when we get the rebound or a steal in his hands and he flies up the court, we are different.”
Sounds like a good plan for tomorrow night. Let’s do that.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 4:00pm
Kentucky’s win over No. 1 Tennessee was the undeniably the biggest of the season, and with three games remaining against Quadrant 1 opponents, the Cats can polish their NCAA Tournament resume up even more in hopes of securing a No. 1 seed. As we do each Monday, let’s examine the Cats’ team sheet.
If you’re not familiar with team sheets, they’re what the Selection Committee uses to pick and seed teams in the NCAA Tournament. Wins are sorted into four quadrants using the opponent’s NET ranking:
- Quadrant 1: Home Game 1-30; Neutral Site 1-50; Away Game 1-75
- Quadrant 2: Home Game 31-75; Neutral Site 51-100; Away Game 76-135
- Quadrant 3: Home Game 76-160; Neutral Site 101-200; Away Game 136-240
- Quadrant 4: Home Game 161-plus; Neutral Site 201-plus; Away Game 241-plus
On the team sheet, the opponent’s NET ranking is listed on the left, followed by the site of the game (home/neutral/away), the name of the opponent, and the result. Quadrant 1 is obviously the most important, but losses in Quadrants 2-4 can be resume killers.
Here’s Kentucky’s team sheet through February 17:
My two cents:
— Kentucky can add a Quadrant 2 and Quadrant 1 win to the sheet this week in No. 92 Missouri and No. 21 Auburn. Even though it feels like Bruce Pearl’s team has fallen off the map, they’re still No. 21 in the NET rankings, making Saturday’s game big. Don’t forget, Austin Wiley didn’t play in last month’s game at Auburn; he’s back in the lineup now and could be a difference maker on Saturday.
— The Cats’ eight Quadrant 1 wins are the third most in the country behind Michigan State (10) and Kansas (9).
— That Seton Hall loss is sure looking better, isn’t it? The Pirates rose five spots in the NET rankings this week after beating Georgetown and Creighton. If they can jump another ten spots, that game will slide into Quadrant 1, making Kentucky’s resume look even better. They play St. John’s on Saturday.
Go Pirates. Go Cats.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 2:45pm
PJ Washington is playing the best basketball of his life right now; however, John Calipari isn’t willing to give his star any slack. All season, Cal’s been hard on PJ, and as the sophomore’s play has improved, his coach’s critiques have just gotten louder, which associate head coach Kenny Payne says of Cal’s way of pushing PJ to new heights.
“So proud of PJ and what he’s done,” Payne told reporters today. “Love the way that he’s approaching the game. And you’re right, Coach has been really, really focused on him playing to a certain standard. Last six games, he was unbelievable to finish games and Coach said, ‘You’re going to get rebounds — attempts — 60 percent of the time. That’s not who you are. You have to be a 90 percent attempt rebounder. Don’t mean you get them, but you attempt 90 percent of the time.’ So, as the world is giving him all this praise, Coach Cal is saying, ‘I need more.’ And that’s what this is about. You can see it in his play.”
After PJ scored 23 points at Mississippi State last week, Calipari reminded the team that he only had three rebounds. PJ’s face afterwards was priceless:
In Tuesday night’s loss to LSU, PJ tied Reid Travis for a team-high nine rebounds, but only had five on Saturday vs. Tennessee. Afterwards, Calipari said the staff is keeping track of those rebound attempts.
“We keep attempts, focus — at the end of every game that’s the first thing I look at is what were their attempts. And I told you, PJ started going down, down, down, as he started scoring more thinking, I’m a scorer, I’m not a rebounder.”
So, what happens if PJ does become a 90-percent attempt rebounder like Cal wants?
“If he gets to 100, it’s going to be 105,” Payne quipped.