After two months of heavy-recruiting, Stoops Troops’ transition into two months of Spring Practice. Before →
After two months of heavy-recruiting, Stoops Troops’ transition into two months of Spring Practice. Before looking ahead, there’s one thing you can’t ignore when reflecting on recruiting: the height of UK’s young wide receivers.
Decommitments had plenty of people worrying in January, but it’s hard to worry whether or not “they still got it” when you see the
ratings size of of the Cats’ new recruits, especially at wide receiver. People make a fuss over ratings, but there are two things you can’t teach: size and speed. Here’s a look of what the Cats already have on the roster, and what’s to come in the future.
All products from the state of Ohio, they are big athletes that can only improve their stock (rating) with more attention at summer camps. Ross and Holtzclaw have the outside speed, whereas Rigg is already a solid 240-pound tight end with another year of high school to grow and develop.
C.J. Conrad is already on campus, and expected to be a presence on the field immediately. Tavin Richardson has a tweener build, probably more suited for tight end, but much depends on how is how body develops once he’s on campus. Greenwood was one of the best players in the DMV last year. Gosier was a late addition to the class, but with 4.5-speed from South Florida, he’s not just going to take up a roster spot, he’s going to compete to play.
After this Fall’s first open practice, I was prepared to dub Baker and Bone as the best duo of outside receivers in UK history. I bit my tongue — people LOVE telling the young guy he’s short-sighted — but these guys are realer than the chunk missing from the Real Deal Holyfield’s ear. Their confident personalities can appear cocky; perfect for guys that have to “go get it.” They also complement one another well: Baker gets open with his physicality, Bone with his length and athleticism. If Long has improved as much as people have said around the team, he’ll be a consistent contributor in the middle of defenses.
It’s silly to compare these guys to former UK greats, but here’s something important to consider: how many tall UK receivers have been vertically gifted? The short answer is not many. The best of the blue and white have been undersized overachievers: Craig Yeast (5’7″), Randall Cobb (5’10”), Dicky Lyons (5’11”), Derek Abney (5’10”), and (to my surprise) Keenan Burton (6’2″) and James Whalen (6’2″).
After doing some research, here’s a short list of the best UK wideouts 6’3″ and over.
That list looks short because it is. Even if you got back to Bob Windsor (6’4″) in the 60’s, there just aren’t a lot to choose from because “tall wide receivers” aren’t a thing at UK*. Chris Matthews (surprisingly) had better numbers than anybody. Stevie Johnson and Aaron Boone were the only wideouts with double-digit touchdowns in a season and Johnson was the only one to post more than 1,000 yards.
Just because Stoops’ new Troops are tall, doesn’t translate to onfield production, but it does mean that Stoops is addressing changes in the demographics of the game. After watching his DBs get Mossed on repeatedly last season, SEC football is go big or go home.
Or in Chris Matthews’ case, go big and go to the Super Bowl.
* By all means, remind me of any players you believe I missed.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 04th, 2015 @ 8:00pm
After 30 hours, 600 miles, one win, and probably three gallons of caffeine, I am back in Nashville from Athens. I’ll admit I didn’t expect this trip to be quite as thrilling as it was, and even though I may have aged twenty years in the process, I think Kentucky’s dramatic win has me more excited about this team than any 30-point blowout could.
The scene at the arena after the game last night was frantic, so I have a lot of leftovers to dish out before I crash. Let’s get started…
Kentucky survived the perfect storm
Since the beginning of conference play, the Georgia game in Athens has been circled as a trap game on most of our schedules. The rout of Arkansas dulled the hype quite a bit, but Josh Hopkins the worrywart was right: UK had its hands full last night. It started to look like the perfect storm. Georgia fans were surprisingly confident about their chances, showing up early and being LOUD throughout the night. Senior Nemanja Djurisic played out of his mind, scoring 18 points and pulling gritty little Georgia along like an old Serbian bear. Somehow, Georgia was able to crack Kentucky’s impenetrable defense and score in the post while also confounding the Cats on offense. During their big run in the second half, Georgia couldn’t miss and I’ll be honest, JJ Frazier’s NBA three felt like a dagger; however, as they have all year, Kentucky found a way to win. That’s why they don’t need to lose a game. That’s why it may be time to start throwing around the d-word and the f-word. (Destiny and fate, you potty mouths.)
Stone Cold Swaggy Andrew
If Djurisic was Georgia’s old Serbian bear, Andrew Harrison was Kentucky’s bulldog. With Georgia up by two with 2:38 left in the first half, Andrew scored 7 points in 26 seconds. Andrew’s been on a tear in the past month, but he kicked it into another gear during that stretch. The normally stoic point guard gritted his teeth, motioned to the UK crowd, and clapped his hands in the Georgia players’ faces, essentially daring them to come at him. After the game, Karl Towns told me that when Andrew’s playing like that–in Stone Cold Killer mode–the rest of the team never loses its confidence. Cal said that Tyler Ulis has been especially inspired by Andrew’s progress. It’s been a long, hard two years for Andrew, but he’s emerged an even better leader than we dreamed he could be.
There was a whole lot of random in that gym last night
From Nemanja Djurisic’s bizarre parents to Bill Belichick, Charles Barkley, Ashley Judd and the random older Georgia fan doing jumping jacks the entire game, there was a lot of random stuff in Stegeman last night. There was a buzz around the arena an hour before tip, with fans lining up to get a selfie with Jay Bilas and ESPN cameras scuttling around the court like beetles to capture every second. Call it Kentucky’s traveling circus.
Meeting Charles Barkley was really cool
Sorry Jay, Ashley, and Belichick, but the coolest celebrity appearance of the night had to be Charles Barkley. Twitter being Twitter, I didn’t even realize Barkley was in the arena until I saw someone tweet a picture of him, so I immediately stood up and looked for him, finally spotting him in a crowd of fans and security guards. If this job has taught me anything, it’s to seize moments like this, so I maneuvered my way across the arena to his section. He was surrounded by three security guards who were turning people and their camera phones away, but I kept my head up and snuck up to the row above him. Shoutout to the super nice Georgia fan who tapped Charles on the shoulder and moved aside for me, and all the shoutouts to Charles for agreeing to take a picture with a starstruck blogger. He couldn’t have been nicer, and I’ll always look at that picture with a smile.
Blue didn’t just get in, it took over
The Big Blue Nation always puts in impressive showings on the road, but this season has been a different animal. Kentucky fans are traveling to each road venue in droves, desperate for the chance to see this team in action. Grantland’s Mark Titus likened it to a religious experience, and he’s right; each Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday, the Big Blue Nation has made pilgrimages across the South to witness history. Come rain, come snow, come sleet, the BBN is there, praising, prodding, and picking up the Cats when they need it the most.
Last night’s UK crowd was especially loud, starting “Go Big Blue” chants as soon as the game began. I took plenty of videos (seriously, six GBB videos on my phone) and I know some came across on TV, but the chants were deafening in person. My favorite came in the game’s final seconds, when Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis motioned to the crowd to get even louder:
We’re just getting started, bro. If the regular season was church, next week’s SEC Tournament will be our revival.
The “March shakes” are back
I feel like I spent the entire month of March and first week of April last year shaking. UK’s improbable tournament run and Aaron Harrison’s flair for the dramatic gave me something I’ve coined the “March shakes,” or the nervous, uncontrollable trembling one gets towards the end of a late game. A few hiccups aside, this season has been a breeze, but the shakes returned with a vengeance last night during Georgia’s second half run. My entire body succumbed to the shakes and I only had control over my fingers, and even then, I could only cap up and sway along to the live blog. That’s one thing I learned about the March shakes: you can’t stop them, you can only ride them out. Kind of like Kentucky this season.
The media swarm around the team right now is staggering
If you’ve heard it once over the last few weeks, you’ve heard it a million times: the media coverage around Kentucky is insane right now. The Cats are all over ESPN, and the Worldwide Leader took over Stegeman Coliseum last night. Jay Bilas, Brad Nessler, Shannon Spake AND Jeannine Edwards were there, along with countless cameramen, cables, and carts. I’m used to this zoo at places like Rupp, but at tiny Stegeman Coliseum, it became a circus.
Just so you guys know, normally at road venues, visiting teams do their press conferences in a press room with a table, microphone, and plenty of seats for reporters to set up their computers/cameras/etc. Georgia has that setup, but for some reason, John Calipari, Karl Towns, Andrew and Aaron Harrison all did their postgame media stuff in a small hallway outside the visitor’s locker room. The players each went to separate corners in the room and the media mobbed them to the point that the group around Karl blocked the door the players needed to use to exit the gym, which Marcus Lee loudly and hilariously blamed Karl for:
The protocol is kind of the same for player interviews at Rupp, so I’m used to it, but it got even crazier when Calipari came out. A pack of 20-30 reporters and cameramen swarmed around Cal so badly that he had to yell at everyone to back up five steps. And then five steps more. This shorty doesn’t enjoy being squished into armpits, so I stayed off to the side and slid my recorder in against the wall.
It’s only going to get crazier as we keep going. Everything: the media, the coverage, the nerves, the stakes, the shakes. When my mom asked me about my trip this afternoon, I told her last night was when it got real. For the most part, this season has been like a blissful sail on a pretty day–calm seas and sun everywhere. Now, the wind’s picking up and the water’s getting choppy, making everything exciting and terrifying. On Saturday, Kentucky can close the book on a historic regular season at home, one last warm fuzzy comfort before the madness begins.
The SEC Tournament starts in one week (one week!), and Nashville will be a Kentucky fan’s fantasyland. Someone needs to invent a TiVo/DVR for life, because I’m seriously going to need it. One day when I’m old and bored or maybe when the Cats aren’t as good, I’m going to want to relive these moments. Whether it’s Ryan Lemond crowdsurfing during the pregame show at Tin Roof Broadway (oh, this will happen), Aaron making another big shot, EJ Floreal performing the ritual pregame dance, or simply seeing Marcus Lee and Karl Towns playfully bicker, this season has been unlike any other, and we’re getting near the last chapter. Like with any great story, it’s bittersweet because the last thing I want is for this to end.
What a game. What. A. Game.
Remember when you thought Kentucky was going to lose? You did. Don’t lie to me. You thought to yourself, “It was fun while it lasted.” You thought that. I know you did.
Well, you were wrong because Kentucky doesn’t know what losing means. Tonight they stared Loss No. 1 in the eyes and shoved it aside to leave Athens with a 72-64 victory over a very good Georgia team.
To summarize things briefly: the shooting wasn’t pretty; the defense wasn’t up to par; they were out-rebounded and outplayed through most of the game; but all that matters is the final score and that final score shows the Wildcats on top.
Let’s hit five key takeaways before we call it a night and pick back up in the morning…
This team finds a way to win.
Down nine with nine to play and Georgia riding a monstrous wave of momentum, Kentucky kept its cool and clawed back to get the job done, when many teams would’ve crumbled. Andrew Harrison responded to the Dawgs’ biggest lead of the game with an off-balanced three from the corner, sparking a 7-0 run for the Cats. Georgia would get it back out to six, only to see Kentucky tie it up with a 6-0 run in less than a minute, late in the game.
As Karl Towns said in his postgame interview with ESPN, “We can fight through anything.”
Allow me to dial back the clock for a moment, way back to the Bahamas. Kentucky fell behind early against one of the professional teams — I believe Champagne Chalons-Reims — but the Cats responded and won the game in the end. Afterwards, Slice talked about how impressed he was that the team kept its composure after getting hit in the mouth, not only remaining cool, but punching back to take the lead and control of the game.
Yes, that was a preseason exhibition game in August, but there was some foreshadowing in Atlantis as Kentucky has done the same in a few SEC contests this season. UK got hit in the mouth tonight in a hostile environment in Athens, but just like they showed us in one of their first times playing together, they remained calm and battled back to victory. Simply put, they don’t lose. Backs against the wall, they still find a way to win.
Karl Towns was unstoppable.
All that stuff I just wrote, you can thank Karl Towns for it. Towns was the go-to guy in that run when Kentucky trailed by nine and he could not be stopped. Towns scored 17 second half points — SEVENTEEN — and he made it look easy. The kid who couldn’t make that baby hook earlier in the season, now he can’t miss it and defenders have no way of stopping it. He has become a player you feed in the paint and stay out of his way as he goes to work. Confidence couldn’t be higher in himself, and it couldn’t be higher from those of us watching him from the couch. Let Karl eat when UK needs a basket. He’s becoming an offensive force, just in time for the postseason.
Jahlil Okafor, you can remain seated when Adam Silver calls that No. 1 pick next summer.
The Harrison twins also balled.
Not to be lost in the love for Towns’ offensive dominance was an outstanding night from the Harrisons. Aaron scored the first 13 points of the second half and Andrew was equally important, if not more important, in keeping Kentucky in the game. The twins combined for 28 on the night and made big time shots when others (*cough* Devin Booker *cough*) couldn’t get one to fall.
Look no further than Towns and the Harrisons as your heroes tonight. Kentucky doesn’t win without their relentless play.
Nemanja Djurisic played the game of his life.
When did he become LeBron James? Djurisic played the game of his 7-year career tonight on Senior Night, in front of his father and his father’s mullet and his father’s used car salesman outfit. The bearded one went 7-for-11 from the field for 18 points and played like an SEC Player of the Year in the first half. Luckily he cooled off, because the basketballs gods won’t grant him 40 full minutes, but he gave his best effort to try and crush Kentucky’s dreams of regular season perfection.
Jokes aside, it was a pretty cool night for Djurisic and his family. It was his parents’ first trip to Athens to see him play, in his 10-year career, and he gave them all he had. Kudos to Djurisic on a great night and a fun 16-year career at Georgia.
That hair though.
Kentucky is going 31-0.
I was hesitant to say it before, but with Georgia and Arkansas out of the way, it’s happening. Florida wants no part of Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday and the Cats can taste perfection at this point. Rupp Arena will be rocking in the regular season finale, our last time seeing these guys on UK’s home floor, and every media outlet will be in town to capture it all.
This is really happening, BBN. We’re one win away from the unthinkable.
By now you’ve heard we released an iPhone app yesterday and it did really well, so well it jumped ESPN for the No. 1 spot in the Top Free iPhone Sports Apps. But did you know we left several other apps on the drawing board? Yep, lots of great ideas got left behind in the KSR app creation meetings and today I will reveal what could’ve been.
Below you’ll find the apps we considered, but did not develop, for various reasons.
Maybe one day…
Ryan Lemond Wreck Finder
— Comprehensive, accurate map of Fayette County and other areas Ryan frequents
— Instant alerts when Ryan wrecks
— Ryan Lemond Car Tracker
Kentucky Joe Pandora
— Tap into an entire world of Kentucky Joe’s music, including hits like “Big Blue Fan In The Morning” and “Willie Cauley-Stein Man”
— Personalized stations with one artist to select from
Drew Franklin’s Weekend Adventure
— Gain access to the aux cord while dodging flying Fireball shots at Tin Roof
— Survive both levels at Belle’s without leaving a credit card
— Make your way to Taco Bell before it closes
— Escape The Paddock on Sunday
— Add a puzzled, clueless look to any headshot
— Select from your Photo Library or take a new photo with the in-app camera
— Lose to Northwestern
— Connect with new and interesting people around Big Blue Nation
— Swipe right to like or left to pass. If someone likes you back, it’s a match!
— Meet up to watch UK games and see what happens from there
— 24 hours of Matt talking, 7 days a week
— Brought to you by Sleep Outfitters, Harry’s Razors, Hudson, Wendy’s, Shari’s Berries, Egg White Delights…
— John Short guest spots on the hour, every hour
— Inspirational and motivational quotes, powerful nuggets of wisdom direct from Doron Lamb’s Twitter feed
— Keep track of when Doron is watching Martin
— Eat D. Lamb
— Socks of the Day
— Connect with friends to find out what channel UK game on
— For fans interested in any updates on Patterson or Lucas
— Developer note: App has not been updated in eight years
KSR for Android
— Like the current app, but for Android users
(Mark Zerof | US Presswire)
“Be careful,” they said. “This will be a close game,” they said. Well, not so much. Kentucky was out for blood this afternoon, pummeling Arkansas 84-67 to clinch the regular season SEC title. But it wasn’t really that close. Not at all.
Let’s talk about it.
This was personal
In Starkville, Aaron Harrison told Mike Pratt that the Cats wanted revenge. Arkansas swept Kentucky last season and won four of the last five meetings, facts not lost on this team’s veterans. The famous picture of Rod Winkler getting in Aaron Harrison’s face after the Razorbacks beat Kentucky in Fayetteville hangs in the UK locker room, and the team has been circling the wagons around it all week. No wonder they got out to an 11-2 start. I don’t think we’ve seen this team “angry” until today, and man, it was scary.
“We beat them a couple of times. I’m sure they were kind of pissed off about that,” Mike Anderson said afterwards. “They came to play.”
Cal agreed. “I think they were looking forward to this game,” he said, mentioning a practice the team had in Starkville while they were stranded. “We had one of the best practices of the year. The spirit in the gym was unbelievable.” As Alex Poythress tweeted afterwards, when dogs sniff blood…
The normally stoic Harrison Twins showed more emotion this afternoon than I’ve seen from them all season. Andrew admitted this win felt good, but he’s got his eyes on a bigger prize. “You always want to avenge your losses, and that’s what we did today. I’m happy, not satisfied. Two more games to go in SEC play.”
Always focused. Always looking forward. Always a team.
This was big
Add Arkansas to the list of teams Kentucky has made an example of this season. In the first half of the game, I got those Kansas and UCLA feels. The bigger the stage, the bigger the performance from this group. Kentucky has outscored its six ranked opponents this year by an average of 17.2 points per game. Phew. With the stakes rising and history on the line, do you seriously think they’re going to lose? I don’t.
Willie’s face after his block will go down in screencap history
For someone with such a gentle soul, Willie sure loves to mean mug after blocks and dunks. It’s like he literally can’t understand why someone would attempt to take him on. Or why everyone thought this game would be difficult. Same, Willie. Same.
Oh, you want to run?
One reason a lot of people were worried about this game was Arkansas’ style of play. The Hogs like to run, but today, the Cats dictated the pace. “They’re a great basketball team,”
Booby Eyes Bobby Portis said afterwards. “Our team couldn’t speed them up today, unfortunately.”
Cal said his team welcomed the chance to stretch their legs. “We wanted to score 100 points because of how we knew they could play,” Cal said. “There are other games where you have to hold it a little bit, grind it out. But not this game.” In numbers: Kentucky had 8 steals to Arkansas’ 4 and 16 points off turnovers to the Razorbacks’ nine.
The game plan? Take away threes and make them drive the lane. “We’re a pretty good defensive team, it’s hard to beat us off the dribble,” Cal said. “When you do, you run in to 7-footers.” As Bill Raftery said of Kentucky’s defense at one point, “they make you take shots you haven’t taken since grade school.”
Trey Lyles is the piece we didn’t realize we were missing
For most of the season, it’s been pretty easy to forget about Trey Lyles. He didn’t play in the Bahamas, was sidelined with strep for several games and spent most of the season trying to get back to 100%. Now he’s at full speed and is suddenly the piece we didn’t realize was missing. After scoring 18 points against Mississippi State, Trey scored 18 more off 8-10 from the floor this afternoon. He had a few shots today that will end up making him millions–spin move, I’m looking at you–and his silky smooth style is starting to rival his dad’s R&B.
Cal knows. “He’s the X-Factor for us. He the one that makes us go from pretty good to ‘uh oh – what is this I’m watching,'” Cal said. “It gives us that one more guy who can make baskets and rebounds.”
Andrew and Tyler were excellent
Andrew Harrison’s progress over the past month will never be fully appreciated. Andrew has quietly strung together a series of impressive games, and today, even Jeff Goodman had to shut his yapper. Andrew had 18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal in 27 minutes, but it was his confidence that was most impressive.
“I thought Andrew was like ridiculous. Andrew just dominated the game. In my mind, he was the best guard on the floor,” Cal said. “I’m telling you what it is. It’s a spirit. It’s a spirit that we all feel when you watch him play. He doesn’t stop on the court. There’s nothing. ‘I’m in attack mode, I’m aggressive. I’m talking to my teammates. I’m running this.'”
Andrew’s performance inspired Tyler Ulis to raise his game too. Ulis scored 14 points, including a circus three that was just laughable. Remember when people tried to pit these two against each other? This afternoon, they combined for 32 points, 6 assists, and 2 turnovers. Ha.
Michael Qualls admitted Kentucky’s guard play was too much for the Hogs to handle. “The guards who were bringing the ball down, they took good care of the ball tonight,” Qualls said of Andrew, Tyler, and Aaron. That quote was almost nice enough to make me forget about the time Qualls talked smack after hitting a three to cut Kentucky’s lead to…17.
Despite the slowdown in the latter part of the second half, this game belongs with Kansas and UCLA in the echelon of “Whoa My God” this season. When Tyler Ulis hit that three to extend the lead to 31, the Big Blue Nation fell to the floor in a fit of giggles, eyes up, searching for Kentucky’s ceiling. Do they have one? I’m really starting to wonder.
“You got a bunch of guys playing basketball, scoring, they’re sharing. It’s fun to watch,” Cal said. That swag in his smirk tells me he knows. That wiggle in his walk shows me he can’t wait. When he lectured fans about signing basketballs for five minutes during postgame radio, he might as well have been asking for the ladder to cut down the nets.
Are we getting ahead of ourselves? When Bobby Portis, a Player of the Year candidate, was asked if Kentucky is beatable, all he could do was laugh.
Sorry, not sorry, college basketball.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or you’re a Louisville fan who refuses to turn on ESPN this season, you know Kentucky is 28-0 and chasing history. The Cats are off to the program’s best start ever, they have the longest single-season win streak ever, and they’re 12 wins away from the first perfect season since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976. Twelve games, BBN. Only twelve more games.
So as excitement peaks and the regular season winds down, let’s take a look at how the road to 40-0 stands as of today. Hop in the car with me, buckle up, turn up the new Big Sean, and join me in a hypothetical drive down this last stretch of pavement on Perfection Highway.
Twelve. More. Games.
These are the three games standing between Kentucky and an undefeated regular season, the first in a major conference since Indiana in 1976.
Ranked No. 16 in the country and riding a seven-game win streak, Arkansas is undoubtedly Kentucky’s toughest competition in the SEC. The Razorbacks are one of the few teams in the conference that can match up with UK athletically, led by 6-foot-11 Bobby Portis, a projected NBA lottery pick and one of 14 finalists for the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Trophy.
Luckily this game is in Rupp Arena, although Kentucky wasn’t so lucky on its own floor last year. Arkansas won both meetings between the two teams in 2014, needing overtime each time.
In what will likely be the last time the Cats wear blue uniforms for the remainder of the year, Kentucky will travel to Georgia for its final Tuesday night SEC contest of 2014-15. A month or two ago this was one of the few games some predicted to be the one UK could lose, but Georgia is 0-2 in its last two games in Athens with losses to Auburn and South Carolina.
Is a loss possible? Yes, it is possible. Is it going to happen? Nah.
Kentucky will host Florida in the regular season finale, assuming Florida still has a basketball team on March 7. Billy Donovan has had problems with his team all season long and Tuesday night’s loss to Missouri might’ve been the last straw. The Gators have now lost six of eight and sit in 10th place in the conference standings.
The most difficult part of this game is picking who will cry first during their Senior Day ceremony: Tod, Brian or Sam?
With three more regular season games before we pack up and head to Nashville for a five-day weekend, and several teams tied in the standings, it’s pretty impossible to project who Kentucky will meet in the SEC tourney. But this is who will stand in the way if the conference tournament were to begin today, assuming the higher seed wins each game — although that’s never the case. (Work with me here, people.)
A Wednesday afternoon victory over Tennessee will move Vanderbilt into the SEC quarterfinals, where Kentucky awaits, licking its chops on five days rest. Vandy, though playing in its home city, where it upset Kentucky in this same tournament in 2013, will have to shoot the lights out in Bridgestone Arena to have any chance at all. Not to mention, this year’s SEC Tournament may be more of a home game for Kentucky than its games in Rupp Arena. Nashville and the SEC always bring out the rowdiest and most passionate members of Big Blue Nation and they are over-the-top excited for this postseason run.
The Cats may do to Vanderbilt what Kevin Stallings threatened to do to Wade Baldwin last night.
Sticking with our hypothetical theme of the higher seeds advancing, Kentucky will meet Texas A&M in Saturday’s semifinal. A&M played UK as close as anyone in the regular season, without its best player, but postseason UK isn’t the same UK that showed up in College Station in the second game of January. As I mentioned above, Big Blue Nation will flood Bridgestone Arena to create a home atmosphere for Cal and the boys, writing a completely different story than that double-OT game at A&M, nine weeks earlier.
And for your 2015 SEC Tournament Championship, Arkansas will get its rematch with Kentucky in a meeting of the league’s top two teams. It’s been four years since UK brought home the SEC hardware, so it’s time to get one back in Lexington, where it belongs. (Fun Fact: Calipari has more Final Fours than SEC Championships at UK.)
If Kentucky were to lose this game, you can go ahead and give them the national championship. The 1996 and 2012 title teams, two of the best ever, lost in the SEC tourney finals.
For our hypothetical NCAA Tournament run, I turned to Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, released yesterday. And once again, the higher seed advanced because I can’t see the future.
Doesn’t matter who advances; this is waiting…
Of Joey Bracket’s four 8-seeds, Ohio State is the last I want to see. (The others are Georgia, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State.) D’Angelo Russell is one of the best players in all of college basketball and March Madness loves a hero that can put his team on his back, as Russell can. The Louisville native would love to give it to Kentucky, too.
But as I’ve said all season: I fear no one, only Kentucky coming out flat, so there’s no sweating a first weekend game with Thad Matta’s Buckeyes. Put The Energy Bus audio book in Willie Cauley-Stein’s headphones during warmups and let him chase Russell around if Russell gets hot. Then we’ll pack for Cleveland and the Sweet Sixteen after the game.
If Notre Dame can escape Murray State and Wichita State/Texas in Columbus (not an easy task by any means), Kentucky will get the Fighting Irish in its first game in Cleveland. And considering Notre Dame plays zero defense and relies on its shooting, this is a game that could get out of hand, real quick.
Then again, it could also be one of the aforementioned “hero games” if Jerian Grant goes off. But I like our chances of that not happening against Kentucky’s defense.
Seems a little unfair to put Wisconsin up against Kentucky and vise versa, but that’s how it stands as of this week’s tournament projections. Good thing is Wisconsin is essentially the exact same team we saw last year in the Final Four, while Kentucky has added Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis for Julius Randle and James Young, plus Willie Cauley-Stein.
If I’m Bo Ryan, I’m writing a strongly-worded letter to the selection committee if this happens.
Cats by 9.
I don’t expect to see Gonzaga in the Final Four (give me Arizona out of this region) BUT PLEASE LET THIS HAPPEN!!!
Love Kyle Wiltjer, couldn’t be happier for him, but no chance in hell Calipari’s Dream Team gets sent home by Wiltjer. No shot. Write that down. Kyle’s not big enough for that moment. No way. Set. This. Up.
Another Saturday night with the Goon Squad…
… dancing in Indianapolis this time, not McDonald’s parking lot.
Who would you rather see here? You want defense vs. defense in a title game with Virginia? Or do you want Duke, because Duke?
I want Duke all day. The perfect ending to a perfect (literally) season. Karl Towns outshines Jahlil Okafor and takes over the No. 1 pick. Tyler Ulis goes old school Peach Jam and dominates Tyus Jones. Coach Cal over Coach K as Kentucky completes 40-0 with a win over the Blue Devils.
I’m grinning from ear to ear thinking about it right now.
But first, Arkansas…
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 26th, 2015 @ 8:23pm
Over the past few seasons, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover some of UK’s SEC road games for KSR. Along the way, I’ve also been reviewing the venues across the SEC, and yesterday, I visited Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum for the first time. Before we get rolling, here are my past reviews:
Humphrey Coliseum, aka “The Hump”
Seating capacity: 10,575
Like a lot of SEC basketball arena, The Hump was built in the 70’s and has gradually been renovated over time. With a capacity of 10,575, it’s the largest on-campus arena in Mississippi, and it will remain that even after Ole Miss’ new arena, The Pavilion, opens in December. The Hump lies at the center of Mississippi State’s athletics facilities, sandwiched between the baseball and football stadium.
The outside of The Hump isn’t terrible–the oval shape is classic and somewhere on there is the school seal. The design is nice, and I appreciate that they didn’t mess with that when they added on the 57,611 square foot, $11.2 million Mize Pavilion practice facility in 2011. The Mize Pavilion is adjacent to The Hump and was built from the same materials, albeit in a more modern style; however the two blend nicely together, and the Mize itself is gorgeous. More on that here in a minute.
Once inside, I was very impressed with The Hump. All of the 10,500 or so seats are chairbacks, a luxury lost on big arenas like Rupp. Because the arena is pretty small, there are no bad seats. I’m all about embracing one’s quirks, so I kind of love the bold “THE HUMP” at the ends of the court. It’s a great nickname, and come on, it’s Mississippi State basketball, so why not.
The concourses are still basic white-painted cinderblock, but part of the arena opens up to the Adkerson Atrium, a modern, airy entrance to the Mize Pavilion that kind of catches you off guard as you round the corner:
Because of the inclement weather, the announced attendance was only 6,795 (and that’s being generous), so I never noticed any congestion in the concourses. The oval shape of the arena helps that, although the concourses are pretty narrow and I would imagine they could get crowded during a sell out.
I almost feel like I should give Mississippi State an incomplete here. When I first heard of the genius that is the Dawg Snax in-seat food delivery system, I was excited. I daydreamed about fresh popcorn being delivered right to my seat with the flick of my phone. Unfortunately, Dawg Snax was not available last night, I guess because the staff was too busy mopping up muddy water and slush from the floors to deliver food. Whatever, fine. Of all the reasons to return to Starkville, getting to try Dawg Snax for the first time is probably the best one.
Even though I had to walk my lazy butt the 40 feet to the concession stand, the food was fine. Typical fare of popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, BBQ, candy, etc. There was a Dreamland BBQ station as well, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Hot dog price: $5
It was good, but nothing special. Not to be a popcorn snob, but I prefer buckets or bags to boxes. Boxes may be easier to carry around because they close, but they’re a little cumbersome when you’re also trying to run a live blog.
Signature food: 4
At concession stand three, you can get the famous Dreamland BBQ, which is certainly nice. The Alabama BBQ chain is extremely popular across the South, and for good reason. They also had smoked sausage available at some of the concessions stands, which is pretty unique for arena food.
Meh. I won’t go into detail, but they had those faucets that only run when you hold them on. Those annoy me.
Mississippi State got a brand new scoreboard this past summer and it is REALLY nice. Four huge LED screens with two LED ribbon boards underneath to show the score and stats. If UK agrees to stay at Rupp when the lease is up in 2017, for the love of God, put Bertha to rest and put in one of these.
PA System/announcer/music: 3.5
The music was a typical blend of pop and hip-hop. I got to the arena really early, so I got hear the whole spectrum, from Maroon 5 to Taylor Swift to Rick Ross. Whoever is in charge wisely uses the new scoreboard as much as possible, with lots of crowd shots, “cams,” and contests. Like many SEC schools, Mississippi State showed a lot of video features of the players, including interviews, games, and quizzes. I hear UK is showing clips from “This is Kentucky Basketball” show with Jennifer Palumbo during timeouts at Rupp, so at least we’re babystepping in the right direction.
Fun stuff: 4
There were lots of “cams”: the dance cam, the kiss cam, the cheer cam, a bizarre “chicken dance” cam, and my favorite, the “oblivious cam,” which would focus on people in the crowd not paying attention and keep a running clock of how long it takes them to realize they’re on the jumbotrons. There were also plenty of free t-shirts tossed out in the crowd, always a crowd pleaser
Pep band: 4
Lots of new stuff mixed in with the oldies. They played a rendition of “Happy” that I’m still not ashamed to say I danced to in my chair.
Halftime show: 3
Halftime got off to a weird start when Miss Mississippi came out and sang a show tune. After that, “Corey the Dribbler” performed, and he was alright. He’s apparently been on Letterman, SportsCenter, NBA on TNT, etc. etc., but last night was not his finest work. This video is much more impressive.
By Drew Franklin on ©February 24th, 2015 @ 8:00pm
We have a rare Tuesday night without basketball, but Mississippi State awaits tomorrow night in Starkville. So tonight, while you watch Wisconsin at Maryland or Justified, let’s look ahead to Kentucky’s Wednesday night road contest with the Bulldogs.
Spoiler alert: They’re not very good.
1.) They’re on a two-game home losing streak.
Tomorrow night’s game will be the last of a three-game home stretch that has already seen losses to Ole Miss and Arkansas. Ole Miss won the state rivalry game in Starkville a week ago, before Arkansas handed the Bulldogs another loss on their own floor on Saturday.
The losses were by six and five points, respectively.
2.) They’re ranked 13th in the SEC in points per game.
Only Missouri scores fewer points in the conference, but not by much. Mississippi State’s 62.1 points per game is the SEC’s second-worst, less than half a point better than Missouri’s league-worst 61.7.
Missouri averaged 45 points in two games against Kentucky earlier this season.
3.) Head coach Rick Ray worked as an actuary in Chicago before quitting to become a basketball coach.
Ray said he quit his job when he realized his co-workers had never heard of Michael Jordan during the Bulls’ heyday in the early 90s, while trying to talk basketball at the office. From there he moved to Iowa to coach high school basketball and teach mathematics before landing his first college coaching job as an assistant at Indiana State in 1997.
4.) They don’t get nearly enough sleep.
They can’t blame this on late nights out in Starkville. I’ve been to Starkville. Late nights out in Starkville don’t exist.
5.) “The Hump” has in-seat food delivery to every seat in the arena.
Humphrey Coliseum, or “The Hump,” recently installed a new mobile concession ordering service, available to every fan in the building. That means you can get your Cracker Jacks, nachos and weiners brought to your seat while you watch the Cats tomorrow night.
Orders are placed at DawgSnax.com, and if you don’t think I’m sending food to random seats from my couch in Lexington, then you don’t know me very well. I hope it lets me add instructions.
6.) They have non-conference losses to Arkansas State, USC Upstate and McNeese State.
Arkansas State and McNeese State won by double digits, in Starkville.
It’s nights like those when being an actuary in Chicago doesn’t sound all that bad.
7.) Craig Sword’s nickname is ‘Chicken.’
Rick Ray said his starting guard will not answer to Craig, only “Chicken,” a nickname he’s had since birth.
Chicken got buckets against Kentucky last year, leading State in scoring with 19 points in Lexington and then again with 12 in Starkville. It could’ve been more had he gotten more looks on the wing. With free range. But his teammates didn’t recognize his spot in the offensive pecking order.
Sword gets it done defensively, too. His three steals in the last game bumped him to ninth in school history with 140 in his career. Man, he really gobbles those up. Hopefully he lays an egg in that category tomorrow night. Maybe he’ll get in fowl trouble. Beakcause he scratches and claws a lot.
Okay I’m done.
8.) Gavin Ware is State’s leading scorer.
Ware, Roquez Johnson and Chicken Sword share most of the scoring duties with 10.2, 9.9 and 9.8 points per game, respectively. Guard I.J. Ready is next up at 8.2 per contest, then 6.6 from Travis Daniels, to complete a balanced attack from the starting five.
9.) Kentucky has seven straight wins over Mississippi State.
John Calipari is undefeated against the Dawgs during his tenure at UK, although he needed overtime in the first two meetings in 2010. Prior to hiring Cal, the Cats had lost three straight in the series — two under Billy Gillispie and one at the SEC Tournament with Tubby Smith.
10.) Mississippi State’s last win against the nation’s No. 1 team was in 1996.
And it was against Kentucky, the eventual national champion.
Unfortunately for present day Mississippi State, Dontae Jones, Darryl Wilson and Erick Dampier ain’t walking through that door.
On the day the program retired Tony Delk’s jersey, it had to be something special. On the day Bruce Pearl returned to Rupp Arena, it couldn’t just be another routine win. On the day John Calipari could get his 100th win in Rupp Arena, it had to be done in spectacular fashion. So, it was really no surprise that Kentucky came out and steamrolled Auburn tonight, eclipsing the 100-point mark for the first time this season to win 110-75.
Let’s enjoy a fun, fun night in Rupp Arena just a little bit longer.
It was over early
Kentucky sprinted out of the gates, jumping to a quick 9-0 lead before Trey Lyles got a little too anxious and gave Auburn two points with a goaltend. It didn’t knock the Cats off their stride; Auburn didn’t score a field goal until the 9:03 mark, and by then, it was already 30-6. Kentucky shot a season-high 65% from the field tonight, an astounding stat in conference play. As he’s said after all of Kentucky’s dominant wins, Cal said Auburn had the unfortunate fate of running into a buzzsaw.
“We got ‘em pretty good today,” Cal said. “They hit us on a tough day. We were working on all cylinders.” Auburn’s Antoine Mason agreed. “They hit us in the mouth first, continually,” Mason said. “We got pushed around from every position. It took a toll on us.”
Mason had 29 points on a night that had to be especially rough. After the game, Bruce Pearl told reporters that Mason’s father is currently “fighting for his life” in New York right now after suffering a heart attack. “Let’s give Antoine Mason some credit,” Bruce said. “Given his father’s health, to come to Rupp and put up 29, I don’t care what the score was.”
Karl led the way inside
For what seems like the umpteenth game, Karl Towns showed up. Karl led scorers with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 assists in 21 minutes, his fifth double-double, the third in the last six games. Remember tentative Karl that couldn’t finish at the rim? Me neither. The new Karl, aided by his invisible BFF Karlito, is now a force inside. “I sat him down at the end and said, ‘You’re making strides,'” Cal said. “He’s starting to be the best version of himself, but all of them were.”
Karl’s was one of many impressive performances for Kentucky in the post. Dakari Johnson had another great game, scoring 13 points on 6-7 shooting. Add in solid games from Willie and Marcus and the Cats had 62 points in the paint tonight. Afterwards, Bruce Pearl said his team had no answer for that.
“It’s nothing like anything we see all year long,” Pearl said of Kentucky’s dominance inside. “There’s nobody in the league that’s even close to that.” Before the game, Pearl said his team didn’t have a chance to beat Kentucky, and at halftime, he knew they wouldn’t be able to overcome a 26-point deficit. “We weren’t coming back.”
Karlito is alive and strong
During postgame interviews, Karl and Marcus Lee were cutting up, joking over reporters about Karl’s invisible friend. “I thought you saw him on the court,” Karl said when asked about Karlito. “He was wearing #6, half my number.” Towns tried to interrupt Lee’s interviews, to which Lee chimed in playfully, “You stole my haircut. You and Karlito stay over there.” Then Lee started harassing Karl about how much he eats.
“Why you talking about my eating habits,” Karl asked. “You lose everything. You walk from here to there and you lose ten pounds.” The exchange ended with Lee coming over and putting Karl in a headlock. I’m shocked he didn’t give him a noogie.
We talk a lot about how fun this team is, and tonight’s win underscored that on and off the court. On the court, they looked like Globetrotters, and off it, they clowned around like brothers.
Tony Delk’s jersey retirement was special
And if you haven’t seen the video, you need to stop right now and watch:
Auburn hit 11 threes and still lost by 35
Give Auburn some credit. They could have rolled over and played dead in the second half. They could have locked the door to the locker room and just stayed inside. Instead, they came out and scored six straight points to start the second half, but Kentucky quickly squelched their momentum. Not even 11 threes could help the Tigers’ cause. “They say to beat us, you have to hit 3’s. They hit 11. Maybe that’s not the way to beat us,” Cal quipped.
The second half turned into a dunk fest
The people who pick the SportsCenter Top 10 plays have it really easy tonight; all they need is Kentucky’s highlight reel. The Cats threw down ten dunks tonight, and the last ten minutes turned into an absolute dunk fest. Marcus Lee and Willie Cauley-Stein threw down some ridiculous ones that we’ll be admiring for years to come. To start right now, scroll down.
Trey Lyles and Alex Poythress kept the photobomb trend going
When you see this team play like that, it’s hard not to look ahead. With 13 games left, the undefeated dream is alive and kicking, taking over every ESPN promo, college basketball game, and sports talk show. Calipari claims he’s trying to block out the “clutter,” but you could hear it creep in during his postgame remarks. “Let’s just be the best we can be. They are looking after each other. There are 25 assists. There are six guys in double-figures,” Cal said. “It’s what we want to be.”
Bruce Pearl, never shy to share his opinion, told reporters he believes. “I think because of the character and chemistry, they certainly can,” Pearl said, “The one thing I would be a little concerned about, if they let them play, which I hope they would in a big game, they should have a real good chance.”
If Kentucky plays the way they did tonight, no one else will come close.
On Saturday, Tony Delk will have his jersey retired, becoming the 43rd person to receive Kentucky basketball’s highest honor. Those of us over the age of…oh, 28 have been waiting for this moment for awhile; Delk has long been considered the next in line to have his jersey retired, and for good reason. Following in the footsteps of Mashburn, Delk helped move Kentucky basketball into its golden era of the mid to late 90’s. For Kentucky fans growing up at the time, he was our folk hero, all long arms and threes, as iconic as the famous denim jerseys.
If you’re under the age of 28, you know of Delk, but you may not really know him. I hear that. For years, I listened to UK fans older than me wax poetic about Rex Chapman, Kyle Macy, Dan Issel, and all of the great players who have gone through the program during its long and storied history, but I didn’t really have the same appreciation for them as players I grew up watching. That’s life. So, in hopes of giving our younger readers a better understanding of why Saturday’s jersey retirement is so huge, I put together a little guide to why we love Tony.
A celebrated player in a celebrated era
During Delk’s four years (1993-1996), Kentucky had a 119-18 record and went to the NCAA Final Four twice, winning one national championship, two SEC championships, three SEC Eastern Division championships and three SEC Tournament titles.
Delk was named first-team All-American (1996), SEC Player of the Year (1996), first-team All-SEC his last two seasons, third-team All-America as a junior and second-team All-SEC as a sophomore. He was also given the honor of Most Outstanding Player of the 1996 Final Four, one of only six Kentucky basketball players to ever receive the award.
His arms are the stuff of legend
Delk is only 6’1″, but has a 7’2″ wingspan. That is freakish. Legend has it Delk’s arms are so long that when he’s sitting in a chair, he can put his palms on the floor. When standing up straight with his arms at his side, he can touch his knees. No big thing, you say? Try it right now.
Delk’s arms seem even longer when compared to his neck. He doesn’t really have one. It’s like the basketball gods got bored and created a caricature, smushing Tony’s head down to stretch his forearms out even more. It’s not like he’s Skinny Arms Rob Lowe either–at his peak, Tony’s arms looked like most people’s legs if most people were 7′ body builders.
He’s made more three-pointers than any player in Kentucky basketball history
You know what they say about long arms: long stroke. Delk still holds the UK basketball record for most three-pointers made with 283. He’s also second in career steals (201) and fifth in scoring (1,890 points). On a team of superstars, Delk led UK in scoring for three-straight years. Delk made nine threes against TCU on January 20, 1996, a single-game school record that wasn’t broken until Jodie Meeks made ten vs. Tennessee in 2009.
He had an epic 4-point play in the NCAA Championship game
With eleven minutes left, Kentucky led Syracuse 55-46 when Todd Burgan crashed into Delk as he was shooting a three. Delk fell to the ground but the three went in and Delk made his free throw, pushing the lead from nine to thirteen and outside of Syracuse’s reach.
This was one of many plays that earned Delk the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor. Delk scored 24 points in the Championship game, including seven three-pointers, tying a championship game record.
He was drafted 16th by the Charlotte Hornets
With the 16th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, Tony Delk went to Charlotte, which meant kids across the Bluegrass finally got an excuse to ask for that Hornets Starter jacket–you know the one:
I just wish I’d saved mine. Some hipster in Brooklyn would pay way too much for it now.
He played on eight different NBA teams
Delk’s time in Charlotte didn’t last long. In November 1997, the Hornets traded Delk and Muggsy Bogues to the Golden State Warriors for BJ Armstrong. Over ten years in the league, Delk played for eight teams: the Hornets, the Warriors, the Kings, the Suns, the Celtics, the Mavericks, the Hawks, and the Pistons.
He once scored 53-points in one game
The highlight of Tony’s pro career has to be his 53-point performance for the Phoenix Suns against the Sacramento Kings in 2001. What flipped Delk into Boomshakalaka mode? The Kings traded him in 2000. Payback, baby.
He reunited with Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty in Boston in 2002
The three helped the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference semifinals. In 2003, Delk and Walker headed to Dallas together:
In 2004, they went to Atlanta:
Delk stayed with the Hawks until 2006, while Walker was traded back to the Celtics in 2005.
He was an assistant coach on Calipari’s staff from 2009-2011
Most of you younger fans should know this. After playing overseas for a few years, Delk returned to Kentucky in 2009 to serve on Calipari’s staff as assistant director of basketball operations, a position he held until 2011, when he accepted an assistant coaching position at New Mexico State.
While an assistant, he got to reunite with Darius Miller
Like any kid growing up in Bluegrass in the 90’s, Miller was a huge Tony Delk fan, and during Miller’s time at Kentucky, this picture of a young Darius and Tony became famous. Darius Miller: he’s just like us!
He showed us he’s still got moves in the 2012 Alumni Game
Hearing Walter McCarty yell “TD” just gets the nostalgia going all over again.
He’s now an analyst for the SEC Network
And he’s getting better every day. Congrats, Tony.
Kentucky moved to 26-0 last night with a win over Tennessee, setting a new record for the best start in school history. But you knew that already. It’s great. They’re really good at basketball. Give me a high-five one time.
Tonight, in celebration of the perfect record, let’s list 26 of the million reasons why the Cats are awesome this season. There are so many things to love about this team, enough to go on forever, but here are the first things that popped in my mind while sitting here hoping to find an airplane that will get me out of New York City.
1.) They’re the best kids, like ever.
This can’t be said enough. Coach Cal has the best group of young men on his roster the season. There’s not a bad apple in the locker room, not even a guy that could potentially be anything close to one. The personalities vary, but they’re all good people who represent the blue and white well. And most of them will soon be filthy rich. So that’s cool, too.
2.) They beat the hell out of Kansas.
I’m not sure we’ve seen a more fun basketball game in the regular season than that slaughtering of the Jayhawks in Indianapolis back in November. UCLA was a blast, but that Kansas game was the first WOW moment of the season. Kansas isn’t supposed to lose like that.
3.) The UCLA game.
It was 41-7 at halftime.
Forty-one. To seven.
4.) Willie Cauley-Stein dunks all over people.
5.) He dunks all over people a lot.
6.) Coach Cal is loving life.
Calipari’s swag is at an all-time high, going all the way back to the Bahamas when he was running camera for ESPN instead of coaching his team. Most recently it was his #WhereIsTrey tweet that proved he’s really enjoying himself this season.
7.) The Bahamas.
While it’s on my mind, gotta throw the Bahamas trip in here. We watched a brand new Kentucky team destroy professional basketball players before Calipari ever uttered the word ‘defense’ in practice. We also did some things at the Atlantis that will stay in the Bahamas forever.
8.) Karl Towns photobombed Calipari.
9.) So did Trey Lyles.
10.) Devin Booker has been a pleasant surprise.
Who knew he was going to be so good? I certainly didn’t. Booker went from a guy we thought we’d see for two years to a projected lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. He has been outstanding on both ends of the floor and fans are more than comfortable with him firing up a three-pointer.
11.) They beat Louisville.
Although that’s been a pretty common thing in the Calipari era.
Whether you agree with the platooning or prefer to see another system, you have to admit, it is fun watching two great basketball teams playing for the same side.
13.) Opposing coaches can’t deny UK’s greatness.
Bruce Pearl: “With the exception of Kentucky, I have said there isn’t a team on our schedule we can’t beat.”
Donnie Tyndall: “I think it’s arguably the best team that’s ever been assembled.”
Steve Alford: “In my 24 years of coaching, this is the best team I’ve coached against. This team is really, really good.”
15.) And this.
16.) They’re the overwhelming favorite to win it all.
VegasInsider.com currently has Kentucky at 4/5 to win the championship. That’s absurd.
17.) Tyler Ulis is the real deal.
Much like his roommate, Tyler Ulis has been a pleasant surprise this season. He’s been one of the best point guards in the country and that has pushed Andrew Harrison to elevate his game as well. UK has two outstanding point guards.
18.) The defense is one of the best in history.
The Cats are on pace to be the best defense in 35 years, allowing only 34 percent shooting and 52 points per game from the opposition.
19.) They’re winning games without key contributors.
UK beat Tennessee by 18 last night, in Knoxville, with only five points from Aaron Harrison and Karl Towns. Andrew Harrison didn’t take a shot at Florida. I’m not sure Willie Cauley-Stein knew there was a game being played at Missouri. Yet they’re still undefeated.
20.) Marcus Lee’s air guitar.
21.) And Devin Booker’s “reload.”
22.) And Coach Cal cheering for the other team.
23.) They live in the gym.
The assistant coaches have all told stories of their phones going off late at night with players calling them up for a spontaneous workout. This team seems to really put in the work to be the best and they’re seeing results from the extra gym time.
I’ve heard Devin Booker lives in the Craft Center. Karl Towns, too.
24.) They’re very close off the court.
They really, really get along. When they call each other brothers, they mean it.
25.) Did I mention Willie Cauley-Stein dunks on people?
26.) They’re 26-0.
And not looking to lose any time soon.
By Drew Franklin on ©February 17th, 2015 @ 3:00pm
Hello, everybody. Drew here, reporting live from a hotel lobby in New York City. I’m stuck here thanks to the weather in Kentucky but a little snow, a canceled flight and a temporary hold on my credit card can’t hold me down. We have a game to preview here on KSR.
So before I get kicked off this computer and walk over to Halal Guys, allow me to share what I know about the Volunteers. They low down. They dirty. And they some snitches.
1.) Tennessee lost to LSU at home on Saturday. By 18 points.
That’s the same LSU that Kentucky beat in Baton Rouge last week. Donnie Tyndall said his team will lose by 100 if they don’t play better against UK.
The Vols also dropped one at home to Mississippi State, one of the worst teams in the conference, in their only other home contest this month. Thompson-Boling Arena hasn’t been kind lately.
2.) Josh Richardson is one of the best players in the SEC.
UT’s starting point guard can do it all. He’s among the conference’s best in several statistics, including points per game with 16 to lead the SEC East.
As good as Richardson is offensively, he may be even better on defense. He was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team last season
3.) Tennessee plays 40 minutes of zone defense.
Donnie Tyndall brought his matchup zone to the Southeastern Conference this season. He began using the zone while at Morehead State with Kenneth Faried and he admits he adopted the system from Rick Pitino and Louisville.
Devin Booker is licking his lips.
4.) Donnie Tyndall is a sneakerhead.
Tyndall’s shoe collection includes over 400 pairs of shoes, seen below in a screenshot from CBS.
He also had a pet alligator before moving to Tennessee. True story.
5.) UT’s starting backcourt leads the conference in steals.
Josh Richardson leads the SEC in steals per game on the season, while his teammate in the backcourt, Kevin Punter, leads the conference in steals during league play. Together they average four steals to spark Tennessee’s league-best eight per game.
6.) Kentucky’s last trip to Knoxville did not go well.
The Cats lost by 30 in 2013 in their first game without Nerlens Noel. Coach Robic got ejected. Willie Cauley-Stein got T’d up. UK gave up 88 points. It was really painful to watch.
Let’s not do that again.
7.) Tyndall married a Wildcat.
His wife, Nikki, played basketball at Kentucky from 1999 to 2001 before transferring to Transylvania to finish her hoops career. She is a native of Ashland, Ky. and a graduate of Paul Blazer High School.
Tyndall also has four Kentucky natives on his staff.
8.) Calipari’s 2007-08 Memphis team was 26-0 before losing to Tennessee.
But that Tennessee team was ranked No. 2 in the country, so don’t let this little tidbit concern you.
The Vols are 4-12 all-time against the top-ranked team.
9.) They take postgame locker room selfies.
Can we get Willie to start posting stuff like this after UK games?
10.) No other team in college basketball has more wins over Kentucky.
Kentucky is 150-67 in the series since the first meeting back in February of 1910. Tennessee’s 67 wins over UK are more than any other basketball program.
Tonight that number will remain at 67.
By Ryan Clark on ©February 16th, 2015 @ 8:00pm
Andre Riddick knows just what goes on in the heads of talented-but-frustrating college athletes – because once upon a time, he was one of them
FLORENCE, Ky. – It was 2009, and the room was filled with smiling, eager faces. They were ready for a new chapter to begin. They were ready to put the Gillispie experience behind them. The crowd, a mix of university suits and former athletes, welcomed the man who was at the center of the party, the newly hired coach named John Calipari.
Calipari was so good at this sort of thing. He remembered names and faces, and made everyone feel welcome. He shook hands and laughed and reaffirmed to everyone that he was the perfect man for this job. Suddenly, he saw one old acquaintance, and Coach Calipari had to introduce the former player to his wife.
“This guy broke my heart,” Calipari told his wife. He pointed at the tall man’s chest. “Just broke my heart. I wanted him to come to UMass and he breaks my heart … and goes to Kentucky.”
Then Cal gave the former player a bear hug.
And Andre Riddick just smiled.
After all – it was just water under the bridge. They were both Wildcats now. Finally, they were family.
BACK IN TOWN
There’s several games playing here on the big screens but no one seems to be paying much attention. I’m at the bar, waiting for my acquaintance to arrive.
On one television Coach K is going for career win No. 999 against Pitt. On another, Lebron is teaching Chicago a lesson in humility via a circus-shot layup. Just then the door opens and my acquaintance walks in, looking much like he did in his playing days, minus the Kid ‘n Play high-fade haircut. He’s still tall – 6-foot-9, though his hunched walk makes him seem a bit shorter – and he still looks like he needs to eat more. I’m certain he could be knocked over by a moderate wind.
Yes – this is the guy who almost had the triple-double. This is the guy who did, in fact, choke Rasheed Wallace.
He sees me, shakes my hand and offers a hello before sidling up to the bar.
A young female bartender in a low-cut top takes our order. “Hey Andre,” she purrs.
Andre Riddick smiles. He’s a bit of a regular at this place, a spot where he can sit and have a beer and watch a game and sometimes still mingle with fans, young and old, who remember him as the shot-swatting center for the Kentucky Wildcats in the mid 1990s.
It’s been about a year now since he officially retired, choosing to move back to northern Kentucky after an impressive 18-year overseas basketball career. The choice was easy – his three children live in the area, with their mother. He wants to watch them grow up.
As we order, a song comes on the bar’s radio, and it’s one that takes us both back – “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison. “It’s still good – it really holds up,” I say, and he agrees.
Andre Riddick can relate. Eighteen years is a damn long time for any athlete to play a professional sport.
FROM NYC TO LEX
Jordan played for 15 years. Barkley played for 16. Andre played in Japan (with Deron Feldhaus), Taiwan (with Rodney Dent), Venzuela, Belgium, and France for 18 seasons.
How did he do it? He finally got it, he says. He finally learned to hone his talent and love the game. But it took Andre Riddick a while – he did not, as he says, “put all the pieces together” until he was long out of Kentucky blue.
But it makes sense when you know his story. And it might make Riddick the best to understand today’s athletes – guys like the Harrison twins, Karl Towns Jr., and Trey Lyles – the guys who have all the talent but seem to have trouble consistently putting it all together.
Riddick grew up in New York City, in one of the most drug-ridden and violent places in the world. Did he know the dealers? Yes. They were everywhere. “You were either in jail or you were dead,” he says. “There were a lot of things pulling at you. That draw was always there.” Luckily, he and his brothers were tall and were able to use basketball to make it out of their situation. He first dunked when he was 13 years old. He was 6-foot-4. But from an early age, Riddick never loved the game. It was a tool, something he could use to better his life.
“Basketball wasn’t a first priority for me,” he says. “And Coach Pitino would say that. They knew I didn’t enjoy basketball that much then – but it grew on me over the years. I got to enjoy it more.”
He was drawn to a few college campuses out of high school. One was Syracuse. Another was Pitt, where a player named Orlando Antigua would become a star. Then there was UMass, where a young coach was trying to turn the program around with very little star power. He talked a big game – and he made it seem intriguing.
“UMass was a good place – I felt like it would have been a good opportunity for me,” he says. “Both Coach Pitino and Coach Calipari come from the same mold – but they don’t coach the same. They don’t see things the same. They both have big personalities. That’s the one thing about being at UK – you have to have the right personality. You have to deal with so much, and they both have that, so that’s why it works.”
But back in 1991, Kentucky had the former coach of the New York Knicks. And there was another former New York City kid who raved about the program and what was happening. His name was Jamal Mashburn.
“I never saw (UK) practice,” he says. “I was real lazy at that time, and I think if I’d have watched them practice, I probably wouldn’t have come to UK. But honestly, the first letter I received was from Kentucky. And I saw myself getting some minutes there. The seniors were going to be gone and they needed some big men. Plus, Mash was there. I could see myself there.”
He did not think about getting to the NBA. “I was just worried about getting playing time,” he says. “I didn’t even think about (the NBA). I didn’t even think it was a possibility.”
Riddick would go on to play for the start of one of the most successful runs in Kentucky basketball history. In his freshman season, the Cats lost to Duke in the Elite Eight. (As an aside, I wondered if he or Aminu Timberlake begged Pitino to guard Grant Hill on the famous inbounds pass. Riddick shook his head. “We thought we won. We thought the game was over. Myself and Timeberlake, we never really had a chance to think. We trusted Coach P’s decisions. He told us to steal the ball – how it happened wasn’t supposed to be that way. We didn’t steal it. We weren’t aggressive – no one to blame, we just didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”).
In his sophomore season, Mashburn and Travis Ford led the Wildcats to the Final Four. Along the way, Riddick tallied a near triple-double against LSU in the SEC Tournament Championship game, with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks. “Just a great group,” Riddick says. “That second year, we were coming back and trying to put it all together. We had a shot to win it all. When you make it a little further, the losses hurt a little worse.”
After an upset loss to Marquette in the NCAAs his junior year, Riddick’s senior season was magical. The team was loaded with talent and many thought the Wildcats would return to the Final Four. Instead, they met Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and the Carolina Tar Heels. Four minutes into the game, Riddick fouled Wallace, who then elbowed Riddick in the face.
Riddick then lunged forward, chocking the Carolina star. It was the most emotion anyone had ever seen from Riddick on the basketball court.
“It wasn’t anything I planned,” he says, looking back. “I noticed during the game they were tyring to be extra physical – a few possessions before that, I saw Stackhouse do somehting, then Wallace do something, but it wasn’t anyting I was going to retaliate for. That’s how they were playing the game – that was their strategy. Thing is, you just push through it. They thought we were soft. I made a play on the ball, I made a dumb foul, the ref called the foul, and instead of stopping, Sheed kind of continued with it, where he didn’t have to. Everything else before that was cool – it was just basketball. But when you do that, it’s not basketball. I’ve never done that. I’ve never got hit, fouled, and then continued and hit someone in the face. I’ve never done that in all the years I played. Now it’s kind of like, I wish I could have held myself back, but at that time that’s how I was. And at the time I felt like there was nothing else I could do. I tried to choke him – I did choke him. I put my hand around his neck and pushed him. I tried to do some more because it really upset me. I was saying all kinds of things. I can’t tell you how much that upset me.”
Oddly enough, a foul was issued to Walter McCarty for the fracas.
“Coach P and I talked about using your head and staying under control,” Riddick says. “We were a talented team and other teams tried to do things to get to us. That game, we didn’t play like we could have. That’s one of those games I regret because I feel like we were better than them. I was on the bench when the game ended and I just sat there. I didn’t even go shake hands. Rasheed and their guys came over and shook hands with me.”
With the loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight, Riddick’s college career was over. And he still hadn’t gotten the most from his potential. He didn’t prepare for games like the coaches said. He didn’t love basketball.
GETTING IT – FINALLY
In 2014, Riddick came home.
Not to New York, but to Kentucky. By that time, he’d seen the world. The 41-year-old had played as long as he could. All told he won eight championships on his different stops and he’s still a celebrity in Belgium for his basketball heroics.
Of course, nothing compares to the reception he still gets from the Big Blue Nation. Several hundred came out that spring to a signing at a local store in Florence.
“Andre got a really great crowd,” said Jim Ransdell, owner of The Kentucky Shop. “UK fans remember every player and appreciate them all. The fans especially appreciate humble and appreciative guys like Andre.”
He now looks back on his pro career and he’s proud he was able to play that long. Somewhere, on a court in Venezuela or France, all those things his coaches told him about eating right and staying mentally strong and preparing every day to play as a professional finally hit home.
“It kind of clicked over there, what Coach P told us about getting ready and working hard and being prepared,” he says. “I played hard, but sometimes I just didn’t have the understanding of the game that I needed to to take advantage of my strengths. I was a defense guy and I kind of turned that into the best I could do. In the European leagues I was the all-time leader in blocks and rebounds. I won championships over there. I played with some great teams, even in my older years. I think people respected me for what I could do. I was one of those guys people still wanted to play with – even when I was 40.”
Now, when Riddick watches this year’s Kentucky teams, he sees himself in the players. He sees guys like Willie Cauley Stein and Karl Towns Jr. still struggling to grasp how good they can be. He sees the maturity in the Harrison twins, and how much they’ve learned since last year.
“I felt really bad for Alex Poythress when he got hurt,” Riddick says. “I could tell he was close to putting it together. First you get used to the level of play in college, but you also need to figure out what you bring to this team. Where’s my spot? What shots do I take? What’s my role? It’s not like high school. Maybe he can keep making progress and come back for a big season.”
If he sounds like a coach, it’s by design. Financially, Riddick can afford to wait a while and figure out what he wants to do next in life. He wants to watch his children grow up. Maybe he’ll try sports radio. Then, he can see himself coaching.
“I belong coaching somewhere,” he says. “As a player it takes about until January to get used to the college game. That’s when you start feeling more like you understand college basketball. I think Poythress was getting to that point. I think you’d have been able to depend on him. He was going to make the difference.”
Riddick thinks he can make a difference, too. He thinks he can get in these players’ heads and help them out.
“That’s the thing,” he says. “It’s not something you come to the gym and share one night. It’s an ongoing progress. The conversation is just a way of letting the player know I can relate because I have been there.
“Sometimes that may be what they need to hear and that’s it, but more often it’s a process. It would be about them evaluating where they are and where to get where they want to be, game-by-game.”
There’s a pause in the conversation, and we look up at the televisions on the closest wall of the bar.
Riddick watches the college game intently. He never glances over at the NBA game. Not for a second.
QUOTES FROM ANDRE RIDDICK:
WHEN RICK PITINO WENT TO LOUISVILLE:
It didn’t really affect me. I thought about Mr. Bill Keightley. Sometimes you can’t pick and choose and you go where the jobs go. I think it’s a shame people try to erase everything (Pitino) did (at Kentucky) just because he coaches (at UofL) now. They forget what it was like here, when UK was on probation, and they forget that the reason all these great players came to UK was because of him. You wouldn’t have Mashburn. You wouldn’t have Tony Delk. Any of those guys. You need to respect what he did. Hate him if you want – that’s the rival school. But you’ve got to respect what he did.
- IN THE MODERN ERA, RIDDICK WAS THE SHOT BLOCKER. WHAT ABOUT ANTHONY DAVIS, NERLENS NOEL, WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN AND KARL TOWNS JR.?
“That’s my style – it excites me to see guys playing like that. A lot of times scoring gets the attention, but people recognize the defensive effort. It’s instinct – you’ve got to put yourself on the line. Go after the block. This year’s team takes it to another level. You can’t really teach it. You do it or you don’t. It’s not just blocking – it’s altering shots. It’s being intimidating.”
AND WHO IS THE BEST?
“Anthony Davis – he was just amazing. He has so much more to show – we haven’t seen it all yet. He was the one for me that changed how you see defenders.”
THIS YEAR’S TEAM:
“This team has a defensive presence that others haven’t had. Everyone is stepping up their defense to another level and teams have to figure out how to score. It creates doubt. You try to get your shot up and you can’t. It’s a lot to deal with.”
CAN THEY GO UNDEFEATED?
“I think we’re going to win it all. We’ve got experienced guys, a suffocating team. I don’t know if we can go undefeated, but I think we’ll win the championship.”
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 14th, 2015 @ 5:44pm
(Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
After a scare in Baton Rouge, John Calipari said he wanted his team to get back to beatdowns and blowouts. He wanted them to get up on a team and keep their foot on the gas. Well, they did. Kentucky absolutely killed South Carolina this afternoon by a score of 77-43, and it wasn’t even that close.
The Cats are now 25-0 and tied for the best start in Kentucky basketball history, a feat John Calipari made sure his players were aware of after the game. “I told them, ‘You just tied a record of the most storied program in history.'”
Let’s break it down…
It was over from the start
Poor South Carolina. I mean, really. Seventeen seconds in to the game, Karl Towns dunked the ball and Kentucky never looked back. The blue platoon played so well that Cal kept them in past the first TV timeout, which has almost never happened this season. With the score at 12-3 at the 13:45 mark, Cal finally put the white platoon in, and the lead grew to 20 over the next five minutes.
“We played well,” Cal said. “Offensively, we were really good, which created a really big gap, but I thought we defended. We played with great energy. We needed to play a game like this.”
Seven players score eight points or more. The team shot 50 percent from the field. They outrebounded South Carolina, a team that beat them on the boards in Columbia, 45-21. They had 17 assists. There’s clicking, and then there’s click-click-boom.
Trey Lyles returned to the starting lineup
Trey Lyles is healthy and back in the starting lineup, taking over the spot Dominique Hawkins kept warm for him. When asked about it after the game, Cal said he wanted to get his rotation back to where it was before Trey was sidelined with strep.
“Trey has been out, so I continued to play nine guys,” Cal said. “Now Trey is back and we gotta get back in that rhythm, and I told him and I told his teammates based on Dom’s good, he’s just not as good as some of the other guys and they deserve their minutes.”
Before you start yelling about Dominique being a Kentucky kid, relax. Cal knows how valuable Dominique is to this squad, reminding reporters how Hawkins shut down Michigan’s Nik Stauskas last season. “I know we can count on him if we need him,” Cal said.
South Carolina only scored 18 points in the first half
And they might as well have stayed in the locker room for the second. I’m sure they wanted to. Kentucky held the Gamecocks to 24% shooting and 13 field goals this afternoon. It was ugly, and Frank Martin knew.
“It’s hard for me to judge how good they were today, because we didn’t put up much of a fight,” Martin said. “As soon as we got punched, we went down.”
Kentucky’s defense made it nearly impossible for South Carolina get back up, which Cal credited to his guys switching better and blocking shots. He also said that the team started scrimmaging during practices recently, something he never does this late in the year. So far, the players are responding. “They argue, fight, foul, grab, and whoever loses has to run.” Cal said. “They’re really competitive.”
That’s how good this team is. When they get bored with competition, they have to make some of their own.
Everyone played well, especially Dakari
You’re really going to have to nitpick to find errors in this one. Calipari couldn’t even do it. “I didn’t think we had anybody play poorly,” Cal said. “I thought Andrew was great today, Aaron played, Devin played, Tyler played, they all played.” If anything, Cal said that Trey and Karl got beat on a few plays, but Cal didn’t seem too upset with it. How could you after a beatdown like that?
My MVP? Dakari Johnson. Dakari had ten points, thirteen rebounds, two blocks, and one assist. “I thought Dakari was outstanding today,” Cal said. “Today, he gets 13 rebounds, I believe. I mean, he went after every ball and he did it in 10 points, 13 rebounds, a double-double in 21 minutes.
Kenny Payne agrees. “Dakari is the X-factor for this team. We’re going to be in physical games, we’re going to be in games where it’s not going to come down to one play, it’s going to be dogfights,” he said. “Dakari Johnson is a big body kid who brings a lot of physical play, and we need that from him.”
Willie was tired of being called soft, so he started dunking
That dunk in Gainesville changed Willie. Since then, it’s like someone took his volume knob and turned it up to MAX. For the third straight game, Willie had some soul-crushing slams, including that beaut right there.
“I feel like the whole criticism is I’m soft. So I’m just going to start dunking on people,” Willie said after the game, telling reporters that he enjoys the reaction he gets from the dunks more than the dunks themselves. “I think I just feed off of my teammates. I make a highlight dunk or something and I’m like getting head butted, their faces are looking crazy and that is fun to me. Seeing my teammates happy is more fun than me actually doing something.”
You’ve seen a picture of Willie’s hat already, but I prefer this edit by Cameron Mills:
Willie’s not just dunking, he’s hitting some pretty midrange shots. One of my favorite plays today was Aaron Harrison saving the ball from going out of bounds, throwing it across the baseline to Willie, who nailed a long jumper. A play that was not easy at all looked effortless. This season in a nutshell.
The Cats photobombing Cal is a thing now and I love it
First, it was Karl:
Then it was Trey:
Then it was Dominique:
By Drew Franklin on ©February 12th, 2015 @ 8:00pm
Valentine’s Day is almost here and you’ve waited until the last minute to pull something together. Shame on you, guys. You’re better than that.
But worry not, my friends, because I’m here this evening to save the day for all of you slackers out there with these Kentucky basketball-themed Valentine’s Day cards. Give one or two or all of these to your lady or that special someone you want to be your lady and her heart will melt before your very eyes. She’ll be dying to rip off your wrinkled JCPenney button-down to get her paws on those sweaty manboobs. Trust me. These cards are FLAWLESS. It’s like fishing with dynamite; you’ll reel her right in. The only thing you’ll have to worry about is who’s getting up to cook breakfast, or how you’re going to fix that headboard Sunday afternoon.
As for what I get out of this act of generosity, this John Stockton-like assist of love, all I ask of you is that you thank me later for whatever happens when the lights go out Saturday night. A tweet or a fist-bump or a brief e-mail should do the trick; I don’t need intimate details. Just give me a wink next time you see me and I’ll know my job was done.
So print these, cut them out, and give them to the woman in your life, then you’re on your own from there, Casanova. You got this.
Oh, and you’re welcome.