By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 2:30pm
John Calipari has always championed the SEC, even when the conference didn’t deserve it. With his team sitting at .500 in league play (7-7), Calipari told reporters this morning that he thinks the SEC is the strongest it’s ever been.
“This league has never been stronger. This is my 42nd year or whatever it is. This is the strongest by far this league has ever been.”
With four games left to go — three against likely NCAA Tournament teams in Arkansas, Missouri, and Florida — Kentucky is in control of its own destiny. Win three or four and the Cats could clinch a crucial double bye in the SEC Tournament; lose two or three and they might be on the bubble. With this team in this league right now, it really could go either way. Calipari said as much this morning.
“My team is getting better and that’s all I can ask. We’re trying to get a rhythm of how we’ve got to play. Kids are trying but there’s no break in the schedule. Eight or nine teams should get in the NCAA Tournament. When we beat each other, it should be good. It should be good for everybody. Because of how everybody’s playing, [there are] no easy wins.”
Another indicator of how good the SEC is this year? According to ESPN, Kentucky ranks second in strength of schedule right now behind, of all teams, Vanderbilt. That’s huge when it comes to their tournament resume, but as Calipari said, it may be another reason this team has struggled to gather momentum.
“We have the fifth — I’m going to guess the fifth, it may be higher, fourth or third — strength of schedule, with all freshmen. So, we throw everything at these kids.”
We’ll see if anything sticks tomorrow.
If the SEC Tournament started today, Kentucky would be the No. 7 seed with a first-round bye.
The Cats’ first opponent would be LSU in the quarterfinals, and that game would have the 6 pm (CT) time slot on Thursday.
Tennessee, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, would be waiting on Friday if Kentucky advanced; while Florida would likely be the semifinal opponent should things go that far. Kentucky is 0-3 against those two teams this season.
This will of course change as the season progresses, and it could change drastically considering several of the teams are tied in the standings with head-to-head games left to play. But if the tournament were to tip today, the bracket would be as you see above.
For what it’s worth, Kentucky currently has a 9.76 percent chance to win the tournament, according to TeamRanking.com’s projections. The site believes Kentucky will end up with the No. 6 seed after the finishing this season with a 9-9 conference record.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 12:30pm
Arkansas starts four seniors, but oddly, no one on their roster has beaten Kentucky, a fact that took even John Calipari by surprise on this morning’s SEC Coaches Teleconference. The Razorbacks beat Kentucky twice in the 2013-14 season, but have lost the last five in the series, meaning they could be especially hungry tomorrow night.
“You’re telling me something in numbers and facts I did not know,” Cal said. “It’ll be a hard one. Again, they’re starting four seniors; we’re starting five freshmen. It’s going to be a hard game for us. Again, it’s another chance to learn and grow and see where we are.”
Like every game Kentucky plays on the road, Bud Walton Arena will be rocking. The Cats’ win over Alabama gave them a little momentum, but Calipari is eager to see if his team carries that over to another hostile road environment. Arkansas has only lost one game at home this season, a freakish 21-point drubbing by LSU back on January 10.
“I’m just concerned about us being in a mode, a desperate mode,” Cal said. “I’m worried about us watching and just saying, okay. Are we moving now into the roles we’ve defined for every player? Are guys accepting how they individually have to play for their team? Are they losing themselves in the team? If they’re not playing great individually, is that really affecting their team play? Stuff that, at this point in the year, you have to get by. You have to get by all that stuff.
“My team is getting better. I don’t know what that means going into Arkansas. Like they said, it’s a sellout, it’s cup night, red out, white out, whatever they’ll have. They’ll have students hanging out the night before, sleeping in tents. That’s what happens to us. We understand they’re going to play as good as they’ve played. They’re not going to give us the game, so we have to go try to take a game vs. seniors. It’s a hard task. All we’re doing is, they’re rolling into the way they individually have to play. It’s been encouraging and now we’ll see where we are on the road in this kind of environment.”
For the second week in a row, Kentucky did not make the AP Top 25. The newest poll just dropped and Kentucky received 33 votes, making them the 27th best team in the country in the eyes of the voters.
The top four of the poll remains the same (Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova, Xavier), but Duke jumped seven spots to No. 5 after wins over Virginia Tech and Clemson. Auburn’s loss at South Carolina dropped them from No. 10 to No. 12 while Tennessee fell a spot to No. 19 after losing at Georgia. Texas A&M fell out of the poll after back-to-back losses at Missouri and Arkansas.
|AP Top 25|
|2||Michigan State (19)||26-3||1,565|
Others receiving votes: Baylor 52, Kentucky 33, Arizona State 32, Arkansas 23, UCLA 20, St. Bonaventure 13, Virginia Tech 12, Creighton 10, Penn State 6, Missouri 5, Kansas State 5, Texas A&M 4, TCU 4, Loyola-Chicago 2, Butler 2, East Tennessee State 1, Alabama 1, Boise State 1, Oklahoma 1
Dropped from rankings: Texas A&M 21, Oklahoma 23, Arizona State 25
Important scheduling news! Due to rain in the forecast, UK Baseball has moved its home opener up from Wednesday to TUESDAY. The Bat Cats will now play Xavier tomorrow at 6 p.m. at The Cliff.
Kentucky is 4-0 to start the season after wins over Wofford, USC Upstate and Evansville in Spartanburg, South Carolina this weekend. This is the first time UK has started the season 4-0 on the road since 2007.
Tickets for Wednesday’s game will be valid on Tuesday. If you can’t make it to The Cliff, you can listen to the game on 98.5 FM in Lexington and UKAthletics.com or watch online via SEC Network+.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 10:30am
Kentucky’s win over Alabama not only got them back on the winning path, it also may have improved their tournament resume. Joe Lunardi bumped Kentucky from an eight seed to a six seed in his latest Bracketology, playing first and second round games in Nashville:
Lunardi has eight SEC teams in right now:
- Auburn (2)
- Tennessee (4)
- Florida (6)
- Kentucky (6)
- Texas A&M (6)
- Alabama (7)
- Missouri (7)
- Arkansas (10)
Arkansas is 25th in the RPI right now, meaning a Quadrant 1 win is on the line tomorrow night in Fayetteville. Quadrant 1 games are defined as home games vs. teams with an RPI of 1-30, neutral site games vs. opponents with an RPI of 1-50, and away games vs. opponents with an RPI of 1-75. Kentucky is 3-7 in Quadrant 1 games thus far (wins over Texas A&M, West Virginia, and LSU), so a win over Arkansas would be big for the resume.
Here’s Kentucky’s current team sheet from the NCAA:
The opportunity is there; will the Cats take it?
By Bryan the Intern on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 10:00am
Maybe John Calipari leaves the University of Kentucky someday with 1 national title. Maybe he wins more. For many of the fans, whatever that final number is will be Calipari’s legacy at Kentucky. But if Cal had emphasized anything from Day 1 and never backed down, he has emphasized that success on the college level is not his greatest priority. Setting the players up for their future careers in basketball is his #1 goal. After digging through the numbers a little, I think Calipari can be quite proud of the following fact:
Adding past earnings with money already on signed contracts, Calipari players from Kentucky now have over ONE BILLION DOLLARS in NBA contracts.
John Wall: 71.61 million (159.7 million remaining)
Demarcus Cousins: 61.19 million (18.06 million remaining)
Enes Kanter: 52.32 million (20.57 million remaining)
Eric Bledsoe: 46.68 million (29.50 million remaining)
Anthony Davis: 45.31 million (76.30 million remaining)
Brandon Knight: 36.27 million (43.89 million remaining)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 33.76 million (26.0 million remaining)
Patrick Patterson: 27.14 million (10.64 million remaining)
Nerlens Noel: 14.33 million (4.19 million remaining)
Karl-Anthony Towns: 11.66 million (6.22 million remaining)
Julius Randle: 9.40 million (4.15 million remaining)
Terrence Jones: 8.43 million
Willie Cauley-Stein: 6.95 million (8.4 million remaining)
Archie Goodwin: 5.72 million
James Young: 5.25 million
D’Aaron Fox: 4.61 million (5.41 million remaining)
Trey Lyles: 4.58 million (5.80 million remaining)
Devin Booker: 4.35 million (5.63 million remaining)
Marquis Teague: 3.22 million
Jamal Murray: 3.21 million (6.86 million remaining)
Malik Monk: 2.90 million (3.45 million remaining)
Daniel Orton: 2.89 million
Bam Adebayo: 2.49 million (2.96 million remaining)
Deandre Liggins: 2.25 million (0.03 million remaining) *signed 2-year deal last week, terms not disclosed
Josh Harrellson: 1.71 million
Darius Miller: 1.66 million (4.31 million remaining)
Doron Lamb: 1.44 million
Skal Labissiere: 1.19 million (2.85 million remaining)
Andrew Harrison: 0.95 million (2.85 million remaining)
Tyler Ulis: 0.92 million (2.85 million remaining)
Aaron Harrison: 0.90 million
Dakari Johnson: 0.82 million (1.38 million remaining)
Alex Poythress: 0.07 million (2.32 million remaining)
TOTAL: $476.18 MILLION ($454.32 million remaining on contracts)
COMBINED: $930.5 MILLION
Player/Team Options Remaining
Wall: 46.87 million
Davis: 28.75 million
Kanter: 18.62 million
Fox: 14.49 million
Kidd-Gilchrist: 13.00 million
Monk: 9.38 million
Adebayo: 8.56 million
Towns: 7.84 million
Patterson: 5.71 million
Murray: 4.44 million
Labissiere: 2.34 million
Ulis: 1.68 million
TOTAL: $161.68 MILLION
Keep a couple things in mind too as you look at those numbers:
- Karl Towns hasn’t signed a new contract off his rookie deal. His 2nd contract will be massive. Same goes for Devin Booker, who will likely be in for a hefty payday in his 2nd contract.
- Deandre Liggins contract he just signed has not been released.
- None of Calipari’s players are 30 years old yet.
- Calipari is not done. He will add 2-4 players each year to the NBA.
I understand that many fans are constantly frustrated by the infatuation and focus on the NBA rather than college results by Calipari. But 50 years from now, you will have to say the tons of millionaires that Calipari coached will be his lasting legacy. And calling him a BILLION DOLLAR COACH has to be the greatest compliment you could give the guy.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 9:55am
Good morning, friends, and welcome to the Monday edition of Kentucky Sports Radio. Today, the gang will recap Kentucky’s big win over Alabama, the NBA Cats in the All-Star festivities, and much, much more. Tune in as we celebrate the Cats getting some much-needed momentum.
Join in on the fun by calling (502) 571-1080 or send a text to the KSR Texting Machine at (859) 300-3264.
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Kentucky’s excellent All-Star weekend concluded last night with former Wildcats taking center stage at the Staples Center.
A record-tying four players from the same school were selected to play in the All-Star Game. Even though injuries kept John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins off the court, Anthony Davis made sure Cousins could shine. This is what happened when Boogie found out Davis was going to wear his jersey.
Boogie is a national treasure pic.twitter.com/iiE4rADSwb
— #Mickstape (@MickstapeShow) February 19, 2018
The 2017 All-Star Game MVP did not go for 50. In just 17 minutes Davis had 12 points and 2 rebounds.
Appearing in his first All-Star Game, Karl-Anthony Towns knocked down his first three shots of the game. He finished his debut with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double.
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 19, 2018
Devin Booker did not hang around to watch Sunday night’s game. After taking the Three-Point Shootout Title, he flew back to Phoenix and posed for one of the coolest photos in the history of photography.
ASW #3… Told my Phoenix family I would be taking this home with me. Time to lock back in and finish the season up. ?? pic.twitter.com/888lJJCdc6
— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) February 18, 2018
Kentucky was everywhere All-Star Weekend, even in commercials. There’s still a long way to go before Calipari sees half the roster filled with former players. This weekend proved it may not be impossible, and solidified UK’s spot as the NBA’s preeminent college basketball program.
Hear from Coach Cal
The Kentucky head basketball coach will not be at the podium to preview Arkansas, he’s passing off those duties to an assistant, but we’ll let you know what he says on this morning’s SEC teleconference and on tonight’s call-in show.
Calipari spent his Sunday evening celebrating. He was not celebrating the Alabama win, rather his daughter Erin’s birthday.
Lots of Spring Sports Winners
— The UK baseball team went 4-0 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Kentucky’s first 4-0 start to the season since 2012. You can see them at The Cliff this Wednesday vs. Xavier.
— The UK Softball team also went 4-0 this weekend. Two of the wins were run-rule victories. Against North Dakota State, Autumn Humes threw a no-hitter in her first career start to lead UK to a 2-0 victory.
— Technically women’s basketball is a winter sport, but I’ll take this opportunity to tell you Matthew Mitchell’s team lost to No. 8 South Carolina 81-63, despite Maci Morris’ career-high 35 point performance.
— Swimming and Diving wrapped up their season at the SEC Tournament. The women finished fourth, the men placed ninth and the Cats took home three individual conference titles. Read more here.
College Basketball on TV
|6:00||Duke at Florida St. (WBB)||ESPN2|
|7:00||Miami at Notre Dame||ESPN|
|7:00||Maryland at Northwestern||FS1|
|7:00||Howard at NC Central||ESPNU|
|8:00||Texas at Baylor (WBB)||ESPN2|
|9:00||#23 Oklahoma at #13 Kansas||ESPN|
|9:00||Minnesota at Wisconsin||FS1|
The College Basketball season is another week old, and the SEC consistently provides the sport with several talented players and teams. Here are the major storylines from a crazy week of college basketball in the conference.
1. The Gators Take a Dive
In the SEC’s weekly competition to see which talented team has the worst week, the Gators have emerged victorious.
Mike White’s team somehow found a way to lose to both Vanderbilt and Georgia this week who happen to be two of the worst squads in the conference. It doesn’t get much more disappointing than that.
Every week I mention the Gators just because they consistently find new ways to surprise me. Last week they were surprisingly good, this week surprisingly bad. Its been like this all season and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
What does make sense, however, is that Florida’s success is largely dependent on the play of junior guard Jalen Hudson. He is the leading scorer on the year for the Gators, but he failed to score a single point against Georgia and he only had 10 against Vanderbilt.
If Hudson turns things around then maybe Florida will be more consistent, but at this rate any prediction made about the Gators is sure to be a wrong one.
2. No Place Like Home
You have probably heard that home court advantage matters in college basketball. In fact, the saying has become a bit overused in today’s sports world. However, this week the SEC proved there is really no place like home.
Out of 14 SEC games, the road team was victorious just twice. Overall, that speaks to the parity of the conference. All season the SEC has been one of the best conferences in the country from top to bottom.
Good teams defend their home court. However, an argument can obviously be made that great teams find ways to win on the road and the SEC doesn’t have a great team this year.
I find that to be very true. There isn’t a great SEC team this season, but the same goes for every conference in college basketball. Villanova and Virginia are good, but even they have fallen victim to huge upsets this year.
This is the season of parity in college basketball, and the SEC standings are the brightest example of that.
— SEC Country (@SECcountry) February 18, 2018
3. Arkansas Wins the Week
The Razorbacks are 19-8 on the year and have shot up to third place in the SEC after winning four straight conference games. They proved their worth this week as they were one of the two teams who won on the road after winning at Ole Miss.
Arkansas followed that up with an absolute thrashing of a depleted Texas A&M team on Saturday. Senior guard Jaylen Bradford has led the Razorbacks in scoring all season long and he showed up in a big way against the Aggies by posting 21 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds.
When you have one of the conferences best players in Bradford playing well, it’s easy to see why Arkansas has enjoyed this much success. But the real credit should go to Head Coach Mike Anderson.
Anderson has always been an underrated coach, but this is the perfect season for his team to breakthrough and win the SEC Tournament. With the Razorbacks playing like this, an SEC Championship doesn’t seem out of reach.
The longest winning streak in the SEC belongs to the Hogs. ? pic.twitter.com/DhtCiSXTE2
— Razorback Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) February 18, 2018
4. Texas A&M is Heading for the NIT
Just last week I said that the Aggies looked like the team most likely to win the SEC Tournament. Well fast forward to this week and I don’t look very smart.
In my defense, I made that prediction before two of A&M’s players went down due to injury so it makes sense why they are walking out of this week with two losses.
Billy Kennedy’s team is now sitting at ninth place in the SEC with a 17-10 overall record. Add that with the fact that multiple players are down with serious injuries and you have a recipe for a good NIT team.
Tuesday’s game against a much improved Mississippi State team is a must win for Texas A&M. If they drop what will be a big resume-building game, expect the Aggies to miss the big dance. For a multitude of reasons, it just has not been Texas A&M’s year.
5. A Glimmer of Hope for Kentucky
Guess what everyone??? Kentucky won a basketball game in February!!!!
— Sacha Killeya-Jones (@SKJ) February 17, 2018
Kentucky actually won a basketball game pic.twitter.com/kTclN6dOSR
— Hunter (@hunter_munford) February 17, 2018
For the past two weeks, the Wildcats struggled….and struggled….and struggled some more. After the first four-game losing streak under John Calipari’s tenure at UK, it was obvious that these young Cats hit the freshman wall hard.
However, Kentucky figured out how to win basketball games once again and they defeated a good Alabama team in Rupp Arena on Saturday. While the Wildcat’s offense was still painful to watch, they found a new way to get a victory: through real team basketball.
A total of 5 players were in double figures for UK, and even more impressively the Wildcats had a ridiculous 44-27 rebounding advantage over the Crimson Tide on the boards.
This may not be a championship team, but its still an immensely talented one that is still healthy. If they keep rebounding well and playing more as a team on offense, then the Wildcats could find their way to the second weekend of the big dance.
Tuesday’s game at Arkansas will be the perfect test for UK. A win sends a statement that Kentucky can still conjure up a special run in the postseason. A loss will hand UK its 10th of the season, and with three regular season games left the Wildcats could still collapse and miss the NCAA tournament.
There is hope for the young Wildcats, but as Texas A&M would tell you, things can fall apart in a hurry in the SEC.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 18th, 2018 @ 10:00pm
DeMarcus Cousins may not be able to play in the All-Star Game after suffering a torn Achilles, but his teammate made sure to include him in the action.
At tipoff, Anthony Davis wore Cousins’ jersey, and kept it on for the entire first half.
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) February 19, 2018
And it didn’t take long for him to make some highlight plays in Boogie’s honor.
— The Havoc (@hoophavoc) February 19, 2018
According to CLNS Media’s Clevis Murray, Davis planned on wearing the jersey all along, but was told he wasn’t allowed to.
Anthony Davis says he planned on wearing DeMarcus Cousins' jersey during All-Star practice but was told he couldn't.
— Clevis Murray (@ClevisMurray) February 17, 2018
#LaFamilia don’t follow no stinkin’ rules.
Nothing beats the BBN.
By Alex Holder on ©February 18th, 2018 @ 9:00pm
This post was contributed by Alex Holder and Brent Wainscott
Easily the best thing the University of Kentucky does, in my opinion, is their annual dance marathon to raise money for UK children’s hospital, Dance Blue. This year was the 13th year of Dance Blue and each year is better than the last. As someone who has had a family member involved in the Children’s clinic at UK, this event is truly astonishing and proves how much these students really care about the health of our future, along with the kids themselves.
At Dance Blue, UK students are on their feet 24 hours dancing for one cause and that’s to help raise money for the UK children’s hematology/oncology and all the proceeds to help children fighting cancer. It helped to build the current facility they’re in and the state of the art equipment for the future.
On Saturday night, the marathon is primarily for the students to get acquainted with the line dance they do at the top of every hour and some years some of the athletes, mascots, or coaches will come join the students in the marathon. On Sunday, Dance Blue invites the families who have helped with Dance Blue or has had Dance Blue help them to come watch the event along with the children’s talent show, the celebration of life hour, and of course the big reveal. It’s truly a great event.
Each year Dance Blue raises money and each year the end of marathon total increases, which is an amazing feat alone, but the total has now reached over 13 million dollars in 13 years after $1,804,068.77 was raised today.
Keynote speaker, Jennifer Mynear, said never in a million years did we think Dance blue would turn into what it is today…If we bottled up what dance Blue embodies and spread it this world would have fewer problems.
Alpha Chi Omega sophomore Margret Dolan participated for the first time this year and said participating in a cause that truly made a difference was inspiring.
“Being on the dance floor for the first time in dance blue was by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Dolan said. “Seeing 1,000 students come together and being on their feet (and in a good mood) for 24 hours was unbelievable. The best part about it all was the kids, every dance and every second on our feet was for them. Knowing we’re making a difference in Kentucky with pediatric cancer is an empowering feeling.”
The AXO sorority raised over 11,000 for the event.
UK Delta Gamma sophomore is Katy Kerwin also participated in the great cause.
“Although DanceBlue is a long and tiring 24-hours, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the families faces light up during the donation reveal,” Kerwin said. “Often times people feel there is nothing for them to do to help a child who is fighting such a horrible disease, but DanceBlue has drastically changed my opinion on that. DanceBlue opens the minds and hearts and souls of every single person that even knows the word DanceBlue.”
Delta Gamma had a goal to raise $31,000 but ended up raising over $33,000.
Michael Danahy graduated from UK in 2015 and is now currently part of the Golden Matrix Fund Advisory Council, a group of alumni that are stewards to raise all of the funds for DB.
He said standing for 24 hours isn’t easy, but the end result makes it all worth it.
“Being on your feet for 24 hours is a tough task,” Danahy stated. “But the reason so many students do it and so many alumni come back to cheer them on is because it’s the least we can do to support the families of the DanceBlue Clinic.”
What better way to show the kids that they are not alone than to dance for them for 24 hours
Well done, University of Kentucky students. Well done.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 18th, 2018 @ 8:00pm
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to have superstar basketball abilities and a multi-million dollar unibrow, your time may be coming.
Former Wildcat and NBA All-Star Anthony Davis recently demoed a new virtual reality technology presented by Verizon, featuring an outer camera to virtually build the world around you. For Davis, the basketball court he was standing on was created in his headset, and he was able to shoot free throws and jumpers completely in virtual reality.
So why would anyone want to virtually be in the place they are physically in already?
The new technology allows for a fan experience unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
Fans will eventually be able to “join the court” with NBA stars and participate in the same drills and games as their idols. Just by putting on a headset, you will be able to talk to and interact with individuals you likely would have never had the opportunity to. With countless former Kentucky stars blossoming into young NBA studs, the Big Blue Nation has a lot to look forward to.
And according to SB Nation’s Paul Flanner, it’s right around the corner.
The headset is made by Verizon and offers a glimpse into the world of 5G technology, which is still in the development stage. 5G is the future and it will be here sooner rather than later. The company says it will begin offering residential service in Sacramento by the latter half of the year.
Verizon says that 5G will be 100 times faster than 4G, which addresses one of the key issues in virtual reality technology: latency. That’s a measure of how quickly information is processed and presented back to you.
In Davis’ eyes, this technology is a game changer for the sports world.
“I saw everything that I would see with my real eyes,” Davis said. “Lot of crazy, crazy things going on in this world. Everything was showing up in real time, so that was pretty dope.”
Former Gator and current Washington Wizard Bradley Beal also tried out the technology, saying it reminded him of something you’d see in RoboCop.
“When you first put them on, it’s a black screen. Then all of a sudden the camera turns on and it’s not your eyesight; it’s the cameraman. It’s kind of weird to experience, but the signal is so fast it’s like your eyes are actually working. I kind of felt like RoboCop,” said Beal.
Before long, you’ll be able to meet your former Wildcat idols in a way fans were only able to dream of until Verizon made it a reality.
In other news, Davis spent yesterday afternoon at the Food Bank in Los Angeles giving back to the community. Here’s a quick clip he shared from his experience:
— Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) February 16, 2018
On Valentine’s Day, the former Wildcat big man unleashed his inner Dr. Phil and gave relationship advice as the “Master of Rejection.”
Take a look:
— Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) February 14, 2018
The Brow stays busy.
Ask any coach, the first weekend of the season rarely has an effect on where a team will finish in June. But Nick Mingione and Kentucky will obviously be a lot happier with this year’s start over last year’s. One year after starting 0-4, the BatCats began 2018 4-0 with an opening weekend sweep in South Carolina. The sweep included wins over Wofford, USC Upstate, and Evansville in a round-robin style series. The BatCats got big outings on the mound from Sean Hjelle, Justin Lewis, and Daniel Harper. The strong pitching performances helped UK to outscore their opponents 30-14 this weekend. The undefeated weekend was UK’s first 4-0 start since 2012.
Kentucky 6 Wofford 1
Nick Mingione won his first season opener with a fundamentally sound victory over Wofford on Friday. Sean Hjelle threw six shutout innings while the offense scored runs in four consecutive innings. In the first four innings, Luke Heyer, Tristan Pompey, and Luke Becker all hit their first home runs of 2018. Carson Coleman and Alec Maley combined for eight strikeouts in three innings to close out the final three innings of a season-opening win. The 6-1 win was UK’s first opening day win since 2015.
Kentucky 6 USC Upstate 5
Before UK could blink, they were down 5-0 against USCU. The dreary Saturday afternoon weather in Spartanburg might have played a factor in a sluggish start for Zack Thompson and UK. Thompson was pulled after allowing five runs thru 2.2 innings on Saturday. Luckily for Thompson, his bullpen and offense picked him up over the next 7.1 innings. After picking up a pair of unearned runs in the sixth, UK trailed by three when Ben Aklinski ripped a solo home run to get the Cats within two in the 7th. While the bullpen kept the Spartans quiet, UK’s offense completed the comeback. T.J Collett and Kole Cottam drove in runs to tie the game in the 8th. After a scoreless 9th, the game headed to extras. Luke Becker led off the tenth with a double and Kole Cottam singled him home to give UK a 6-5 lead. Chris Machamer finished off the Spartans with a scoreless bottom of the tenth.
Kentucky 10 USC Upstate 3
Life was a beach and Kentucky was just playing in the sand on Saturday night. 35 minutes removed from an extra-inning win over the Spartans, the Cats started game two of the doubleheader. Justin Lewis was electric in six innings of shutout baseball. After turning down the Tampa Bay Rays offer, Lewis returned to UK for 2018. The redshirt junior struck out nine Spartans and allowed only two baserunners in his season debut. Lewis left the game with seven runs of support from his offense. The Cats scored two in the second and four in the sixth before the middle of their lineup started pushing balls over the fence in the 8th. Luke Becker and T.J Collett hit home runs in the three-run eighth as UK polished off a 10-3 win.
Kentucky 8 Evansville 4
Regardless of your opponent, making your collegiate debut is difficult. Freshman pitcher Daniel Harper made his inaugural start look easy in Sunday’s win over Evansville. The Kansas-native allowed two runs (one earned) while striking out eight in four innings against the Aces. Harper wiggled out of a couple early jams as Evansville went 0/4 with runners in scoring position against Harper. While the Aces struggled to bring runners in, UK was lighting up the scoreboard. Tristan Pompey went 4/4 with three runs and Ryan Johnson collected three RBIs on a bases-clearing double in the third. The Cats led 8-2 after six before Evansville attempted a late comeback in the eight. The Aces scored two runs and looked ready for more, but Maley slammed the door by recording two outs on three pitches. Evansville could not rally in the 9th and UK wrapped up their first 4-0 start since 2012.
— Kentucky Baseball (@UKBaseball) February 18, 2018
Kentucky’s Bullpen Answers Questions
No Logan Salow or Zach Pop? No problem. UK’s bullpen showed that they have a bevy of talent in 2018 to replace Salow and Pop. The Cats got 11.1 consecutive innings of shutout work from their pen to open their season. The biggest performance came on Saturday afternoon when the bullpen pitched 7.1 innings of scoreless to pick up Zack Thompson who was chased early. Brad Schaenzer, Jimmy Ramsey, and Chris Machamer combined to allow five hits and to strike out seven as their offense crawled back from a 5-0 deficit to win. It remains to be seen which guys will be consistent throughout 2018, but the opening weekend showed that Jimmy Belanger’s bullpen will still have guys that can finish games.
Tristan Pompey is an OBP Machine
The “Lav Sav” has picked up where he left off in 2017. After reaching base in every game this weekend, Pompey has reached base in 41 straight games dating back to last season. Pompey went 4/4 on Sunday and is already hitting .470 with three doubles and six runs scored. It has been a lot of fun watching Pompey grow into what he is today. This weekend showed that there has been no dropoff since 2017. He had great plate appearances and reached base 11 times (four extra-base hits) at the leadoff position this weekend.
Luke Heyer and Ben Aklinski Make Loud 2018 Debuts
There has been so much attention on Pompey (for good reason), that centerfielder Ben Aklinski flew under the radar in the preseason. The speedy, athletic JUCO transfer hit .411 in four games this weekend. Aklinski collected his first career home run this weekend from the three spot in the lineup, and he also stole a base and scored three runs. Luke Heyer showed promise off the bench last season, but he has taken over as the starting third baseman in 2018. Yet another JUCO transfer from the class of 2016, Heyer hit two home runs this weekend and drove in six runs in four games in South Carolina.
The Week Ahead
Kentucky will have two days off to start the week before their home opener on Wednesday. Defending Big East Champions Xavier will come into Lexington for a 4 ET first pitch at the Cliff. The Musketeers are once again near the top in the Big East, so this game will be a good test for the young Cats. Next weekend, UK will host Oakland for a three-game series in Lexington.