Kentucky Sports Radio

University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.

Top Story

Featured Stories

© Mark Zerof

Kentucky cruises in 34-point romp over Georgia

© Mark Zerof

© Mark Zerof

It’s happened time and time again this season: just when you get comfortable with Kentucky, they find a way to disappoint you. Not tonight. Kentucky built on an impressive performance against Florida with another big outing tonight, beating Georgia 82-48 on a rather weird night at Rupp Arena.

Simply put, the Cats were everything we knew they could be, shooting 52% from the floor while holding Georgia to a paltry 22%. Jamal Murray followed up his 35-point outing with another hot night, scoring 24 points, including six threes. Tyler Ulis and Derek Willis had good games, finishing with 14 and 11 points, respectively. The Cats were in cruise control for most of the game, and honestly, outside of a scoring drought near the end of the first half, there’s not a lot to complain about.

Regardless, I’m sure some of you will find something, so let’s break down the 34-point romp.

Jamal Murray had the hot hand again

Coming off a career-high 35 points vs. Florida, Murray was on fire again tonight, finishing with 24 points off 8-14 shooting from the floor and 6-10 from behind the arc. At times, when Jamal had the ball and time to set his feet, you knew it was going in. Calipari’s been on Murray to make the easy shots first and stop showboating, but old habits can be hard to break. At the end of the first half, Murray couldn’t help himself from trying to float a shot in from the baseline, drawing the ire of Cal in the postgame presser.

“Better. He’s getting better. He had the one baseline flip, he could not help himself. It’s like crack cocaine; I’ve gotta do this. And he flipped it under, had no chance of making it. But he’s getting better,” Cal said. 

I’ll admit that Murray’s antics have annoyed me at times, but when he’s scoring 20+ and shooting like that, you can’t be too upset. 

Derek Willis looked great

Willis had 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in 28 minutes, helping fill the void inside with Alex Poythress out. Willis reasserted himself in the post, showing some major confidence with this steal and slam:

“I’m really proud of him,” Calipari said of Derek after the game. “He’s rebounding the ball. He’s getting better defensively. Still not there. But this team believes in him and he believes in himself more.”

Here’s an interesting stat from UK Athletics’ Corey Price: Willis is the first Kentucky native UK player with six rebounds in seven consecutive SEC games since Winston Bennett in 1987-88. Derek made Bullitt County proud tonight, especially when he spent part of the postgame interviews praising Tyler Ulis.

“Without Tyler, we don’t have a team. Probably not a .500 team,” Willis said of Ulis, who finished with 14 points and 8 assists. “I don’t think he gets enough credit. Every game, he should be the talk.”

He’s right, and whenever Tyler leaves, we’re going to find out just how spoiled we were. Selfishly, I don’t want to worry about that for a while.

Charles Matthews put in some good minutes

It’s been a rough season for the freshman from Chicago, but he bounced back in impressive fashion tonight, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds in eleven minutes. Matthews, once a liability on both ends, made the most of his opportunity with Alex out.

“I thought Charles Matthews was outstanding today,” Cal said. “And it’s not because he made shots. It’s because he came up with balls and he blocked shots. He did some good stuff. Happy for him, too.”

An impressive performance on both ends

Tonight was a balanced affair. The Cats took care of business on offense, connecting on 52% of their shots from the floor, but for once, that wasn’t at the expense of defense. Kentucky limited Georgia to 48 points and 22% from the field, their best defensive performance of the season. The Bulldogs went 17:57 between field goals, missing a whopping 22 baskets. 

“There were some bad shots in there,” Mark Fox said of his team’s 18-minute scoring drought. “There were some good shots in there. There were a couple great shots in there that just didn’t go down. It just snowballed on us and we could never recover.”

What’s the difference between the team that collapsed defensively at Tennessee and tonight’s steel curtain? Practice and poise.

“A lot of our issues defensively was because we had shifted to really work on our offense, because I thought our offense a month ago was just pitiful,” Cal said. “Now we’re back playing defense, and if you walked in our practice, you’re not seeing us play much offense. We’re really working on our team defense, the ability to fight through a possession, to finish off a possession, to scramble, to not only play your man, play one more, the stuff we normally teach here.”

It showed.

Alex will be out two weeks

In case you missed Ryan’s scoop earlier, Alex Poythress reportedly underwent a minor procedure on his knee and will be out 10-14 days. Calipari didn’t divulge whether or not Alex had surgery, but did confirm the timetable for his return after the game, telling reporters Alex will be out “about two weeks.”

“It gives him a chance to come back on fire,” Calipari said. “It gives us a chance to get Isaac and these kids chances to play, maybe put Charles Matthews at the four. Our team is playing well, two of our better games. We’ll hold the fort down until Alex comes back. He’s a big part of what we’re doing. He’ll be fine.”

Was this Dancing Guy’s last dance at Rupp?

With Kentucky up big, another story stole the show in the second half. During his “Mony, Mony” routine, Dancing Guy picked up a young girl and slid down the railing, per usual, only to fall and drop the girl to the steps. Thankfully, both of them seem to be okay, but it was a scary, scary moment, and one that may signal the end of Dancing Guy’s ritual shimmy and shake for the cameras. The clip made “SportsCenter.” Will he return? Or, after his Katina Powell quote drop, will Ryan Lemond suddenly be free to replace him? Only time will tell.

For tonight, be happy the Cats won big. Get some rest, we’ve got a lot to talk about in the morning.


Miss Katina Powell’s KSR interview? Here’s what happened

IMG_0167

Katina Powell just wrapped up her interview with Matt on KSR, and it’s all anyone in the Commonwealth can talk about today. Nick will have full video up on the site soon, but until then, here are some notes….

Who was the player that first opened to the door to Minardi Hall?

One of the most interesting moments of the interview came when Katina described her first trip to Minardi Hall. She said a player opened the door for the girls, but apparently Chuck Smrt, the investigator UofL hired to look into the allegations, told her it was a different player than she originally thought.

“We were let in by a player,” Powell said. “I don’t want to say [which player] because once I spoke with NCAA — or Chuck Smrt — he said it wasn’t the player that I said.”

That means that Smrt knew a player opened the door, validating that it did, in fact, happen.

The line heard around the Bluegrass

I’ve already posted the quote everyone in the state’s talking about, but because of that, it’s worth repeating. Powell said that she dealt with Andre McGee until McGee left Louisville for the University of Missouri-Kansas City, after which she dealt with “Coach Mike,” who had some very interesting demands for her.

“He was just telling me the type of girls that he wanted. He wanted white girls with big butts and big breasts and girls that could squirt to the ceiling and you know, things like that.”

😳 This will rank up there with “down my leg” and “15 seconds” in UofL quotes I can’t unhear.

The ledger was compiled later

Powell brought her journals with her to the show, and a big point of contention since the book came out was that the ledger (record of payments) looked as though it was done all at once, not after each show over the years. Powell confirmed that she compiled the ledger in 2013 from years of notes.

“Yes, and let me explain that. It was done in one sitting,” Powell said. “When I say that I did it as a I went, if you look at the top of my journals, you ‘ll see the amount that was paid at the top. I went back because I wanted to count up how many times I’ve done it and how much was paid and that’s how I did it. Then I sat down one day and went back in all my journals and counted up how many times I did it and how much I was paid and that’s why it was written in one sitting.”

Powell also confirmed that the $10,000 figure she mentioned in the book was only money SHE received, not money that was paid to other dancers.

Powell says she had a sexual relationship with one of the players

But declined to say who.

Peyton Siva only came to one party

Powell confirmed that Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell, Russ Smith, Chris Smith, Terrence Jennings, George Goode, and Wayne Blackshear all attended parties, and that Peyton Siva only came to one, near the end.

“He came to the last — close to the last party. He was leaving and he came in and we were shocked because he never had come to parties. You never see Siva. He came to that one party and that was it.”

Powell said that more players attended the parties than the ones she listed, but she couldn’t keep track.

“Right, there were a lot of players that came in,” Powell said. “The only one that I could say that wouldn’t come was Siva because, you know, once you see a lot of the players, you start to think they all look the same, as far as a lot of the white players or — I knew pretty much all the black players. I’m not trying to be racist. I knew the black players. Some of the white players would just step in, come in and do various things and leave back out.”

Powell’s answer about employing her daughters

Powell has been honest and up front about the fact that her daughters performed in shows for her. Today, she maintained that her daughters were “grown” (18 and over) when they started performing, but that one was 17 when she “started picking up money.” The question many of us have been asking is, as a mother, how could she willfully employ her daughters in activities like this?

“My daughters wanted to do it is what people don’t understand,” Powell said. “It was kids their age. They were high school kids, they were coming into college, this was a college setting, the guys weren’t that much older, they were not 17 and having sex with anybody.”

“A lot of parents don’t want to see a lot of their kids do a lot of things, but that’s just the cards sometimes that we’re dealt. I have good girls, I really do. I have really good girls. They’re smart. They don’t get in trouble — well, I can’t say they don’t get in — they do what average kids do. To say that I feel bad, I can’t say that I feel bad because I didn’t make anybody do anything. I never prostituted anybody, I never made anybody do anything. My girls begged and begged me for years to go. Finally, I’m like okay — the other were like, ‘let them go, let them go,’ so.”

Powell estimated that “7-8” members of the 2013 National Championship team participated in parties

Based on the players she’s already listed, I think you can guess who.

She feels bad for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis

Of course, the real losers in this whole mess are UofL fifth-year transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who were not part of the program when any of it happened and, because of UofL’s self-imposed postseason ban, won’t be able to play in the NCAA Tournament. Powell said that while doesn’t have a lot of regrets, she does feel bad that Lee and Lewis will miss out on the tournament.

“In a sense, I do have some regrets about what I did. I don’t feel like I did the wrong thing. I feel like a lot of people were punished that were innocent,” Powell said of Lee and Lewis. “They did nothing. I didn’t know of those guys, they had nothing to do with this. They had nothing to do with it whatsoever. It seems like it comes down on me because they can’t play in the tournament and you know — all of this. I do feel bad for them. Again, they had nothing to do with it and I never sanctioned those boys.”

She’s received threats

Powell said she plans to stay in Louisville, and for the most part, she only gets stares from Louisville fans when she goes in public; however, she did say that sometimes, she doesn’t feel safe.

“In a sense, sometimes. Sometimes I don’t feel safe. I get threats all the time. I’ve had a local radio station, 104.7, give away Bryson Teller tickets if someone could tell them my address.”

She feels bad for Andre McGee. Pitino? “No comment”

Powell wanted to clear up rumors that she and McGee were romantically involved, telling Matt and listeners that the two were simply friendly business partners.

“Andre and I had no relationship. We had no love affair, we didn’t have any of that. It was just business.” Katina said. “He called me and asked me to do business and I did exactly what I was asked to do. That was the bottom line.”

However, Powell said she does feel bad for Andre for having to go through this. Pitino? Ehh…

“No comment,” Powell said when asked if she felt bad for Pitino. “No comment.” Matt pressed her a little further, to which she finally said, “Do I feel bad? No.”

Check out that glance she gives her lawyer:

Later on, Matt asked if Powell was mad at Rick Pitino, and while she said she was not, she did admit she doesn’t like some of the things Rick has said about her in the media.

“I don’t. That’s his opinion. I’m not mad at Rick Pitino. I have no reason to be mad at Rick. Rick has done nothing personally to me. I’ve never talked to Rick, I’ve never had conversations with Rick.”

How would she feel if this scandal caused Rick to resign?

“That wouldn’t be my call, and I wouldn’t — I have no comment.”

AUDIO:


Ranking UK’s 8 Remaining Games from Easiest to Hardest

Ranking UK’s 8 Remaining Games from Easiest to Hardest

ranked-meter

Believe it or not, there are only eight games left in the regular season. Kentucky is currently 17-6 overall and 7-3 in conference play, which is good enough for a 4-seed in the SEC Tournament; however, there’s a LOT of basketball still to play, and with trips to South Carolina and Texas A&M on the horizon, the Cats are still in control of their own destiny.

With that in mind, I spent the day ranking the last eight games in terms of difficulty. In addition to my own gut feelings and analysis, I factored in the Sagarin ratings for probability. Without getting too geeky, that means taking each team’s current Sagarin rating (Kentucky’s is 87.28, 21st in the country) and comparing it to their upcoming opponents using the “home edge” variable. Sometimes, I agreed with Sagarain’s predictions, other times I didn’t.

Here’s the rest of Kentucky’s schedule, ranked easiest to hardest…

alabama-meter

7 p.m., Rupp Arena, ESPN/ESPNU/SEC Network

Kentucky handled Alabama easily in Tuscaloosa, and, although Avery Johnson’s squad rebounded from that loss with a win over South Carolina, they’ve lost four of their last seven. We’ll know more about the Crimson Tide after they host Texas A&M on Wednesday, but for now, I feel very confident about Kentucky’s chances against them in Rupp.

Sagarin says… KENTUCKY by 13 points


tennessee-meter

7 p.m., Rupp Arena, ESPN

Yes, Tennessee beat Kentucky less than a week ago, but as we’ve discussed ad nauseam, the Cats’ collapse was due more to their own demons than the Volunteers’ strong play. No offense to Rick Barnes’ group, but before said collapse, Kentucky was up 21 points, and after seeing UK dismantle Florida, I’m willing to allow myself to believe the loss in Knoxville was just a fluke. Not only is the rematch in Rupp, something tells me the Cats will be out to avenge their most humiliating loss of the season.

Sagarin says… KENTUCKY by 13 points


georgia-meter

9 p.m., Rupp Arena, ESPN

Georgia beat South Carolina, but they also lost to Texas A&M by 34 points. At home. Yikes. Mark Fox’s team is led by veteran guards JJ Frazier and Kenny Gaines and they’ll use a zone against the Cats, but Kentucky’s guards are pretty decent themselves. With Isaac Humphries expected to play more, I have a feeling UK will build on a big win over Florida tomorrow night.

Sagarin says… KENTUCKY by 10 points


florida-meter

7 p.m., O’Connell Center, ESPN

Here’s where I start to disagree with the Sagarin ratings, which say Florida will win this game by two. While I’ve witnessed first-hand that the O-Dome is nuts, it’s hard to look past Kentucky’s 19-point shellacking of the Gators in Rupp. Yes, Kentucky is notoriously terrible on the road, but, as we saw on Saturday, the matchups are in the Cats’ favor. In my mind, it really is a toss-up as to which game is tougher between this and LSU.

Sagarin says… FLORIDA by 2 points


lsu-meter

2 p.m., Rupp Arena, CBS

The Cats fell hard in Baton Rouge, and even then, Ben Simmons only scored 14 points. Since then, LSU’s lost at Florida, at Texas A&M, and to Oklahoma after leading the #1 Sooners by as many as 14 points. If this game was in Baton Rouge, I’d give the Tigers the nod again, but in the friendly confines of Rupp on Alex Poythress’ Senior Day, I have to go with the Cats. Nine points seems like a pretty big margin right now, but we’ll see what happens over the next month.

Sagarin says… KENTUCKY by 9 points 


scar-meter

Noon, Colonial Life Arena, ESPN

The Gamecocks are out of the AP poll, but ranked one spot higher than Kentucky in the Coaches’ Poll. Similarly to Kentucky, South Carolina’s either looked great or atrocious this year, beating Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday a few days after losing at Georgia by 13. Another head-scratcher: their 23-point loss to Alabama back in January. If you follow of Kentucky’s (loose) pattern of great game, great game, dud, the Cats could be due for a clunker in Columbia, especially when you consider Drew Franklin will be in the house. In fact, that could make this the hardest game left.

Sagarin says… KENTUCKY by 1


vandy-meter

4 p.m., Memorial Gymnasium, CBS 

Yes, Kentucky beat Vandy by almost 20 points at home a few weeks back, but you have to take their stupid gym into consideration. As UK has learned over the years, they don’t call it “Memorial Magic” for nothing, and if there’s an environment in which this Jekyll/Hyde team could fall apart, it’s the opera-house-come-gym on West End. 

Sagarin says… VANDY by 2 points


texasam-meter

6:30 p.m., Reed Arena, ESPN

Texas A&M is the only team ranked higher than Kentucky (in the AP poll) left on the schedule, and as recently as two weeks ago, they were considered a top-five team. The Aggies have lost three of their last four games, the most puzzling being Saturday’s loss at home to South Carolina; however, Kentucky being Kentucky, you know the atmosphere at Reed Arena will be insane when the Cats come to town. Given Texas A&M’s talent and depth, I consider this Kentucky’s biggest challenge left in the regular season.

Sagarin says…TEXAS A&M by 3 points


Agree? Disagree? Rank UK’s remaining games from easiest to hardest yourself below:


Kentucky gets back on track with 80-61 romp of Florida

Kentucky gets back on track with 80-61 romp of Florida

CakNDXYWIAYil5P (1)

After blowing a 21-point lead at Tennessee, Kentucky needed a big performance today at Rupp, and the Cats delivered, putting a 19-point beatdown on the Florida Gators. Kentucky led by 18 at halftime and by as much as 26 in the second half. Jamal Murray led the way with a career-high 35 points, followed by Tyler Ulis with 18 and Derek Willis with 12.

“It was a great bounce-back win today,” Calipari said. “To do this against this team — and again, you have to understand, this team beat West Virginia by 20, and they had won five of six games. So they had been playing well. But this was good for us, good win.”

For most of the game, Kentucky looked as good as they have all season, helping erase memories from what was hopefully a fluke performance in Knoxville. Let’s break down the win.

Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis led the way

Kentucky’s guard play has always been its strength, and today, Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis stole the show. Murray and Ulis combined for 53 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, and only 4 turnovers, meaning they scored 66% of the Cats’ points. With his parents in the stands, Murray finished with a career-high 35 points, the most by a freshman in the John Calipari era since Terrence Jones against Auburn back in 2011. Murray had eight threes, another career high and just one shy of Tony Delk’s Rupp record of nine. Murray is now the first player in UK basketball history to have two 30-point games in his freshman season (he had 33 vs. Ohio State).

“It was okay,” Murray joked of his 35-point performance. “I missed a free throw.”

“Jamal Murray stole the show overall with his ability to make shots. I think he’s still open right now,” Florida’s Michael White quipped. “I’ve never been a part of anything like that. I’m very discouraged with our effort against him. It’s like we didn’t know he was a good shooter.”

Tyler Ulis wasn’t shabby either, scoring 18 points and dishing out a career-high 11 assists for his third double-double of the season. Before the game, Calipari told Ulis this should be a 15-assist game for him, and even though he only (!) got 11, he was tremendous, hitting his first seven shots. White told reporters that Ulis “put on a clinic” defensively, and when he and Murray are playing like that, Kentucky is hard to beat.

“They were incredible. If those guys play like this every day, they’ll have a chance every night. They were fantastic,” White said of Ulis and Murray. “When you let a guy like Jamal Murray really get going early and he’s got his mojo going and Ulis is playing as well as he played today, they’re capable of beating anyone in college basketball.”

That we know.

With Alex Poythress out, Isaac Humphries stepped up

Five minutes before the game, Calipari found out that Alex Poythress’ right knee (the non-surgically repaired one) was bothering him and he wouldn’t be able to play. With Alex out, Kentucky’s bigs needed to step up inside, and they did. Isaac Humphries’ performance was the most promising, the Aussie big man chipping in four points, six rebounds, and two blocks in eleven minutes.

“He earned his space, and I’m so happy for him because he has worked so hard and hasn’t had the opportunity, and what he did was he took advantage, and we all look and say, he needs to play. Let him play. And then you’ve got to stop waiting on some other guys, you’ve got to say, hey, he deserves it,” Calipari said afterwards. 

In further proof that Tyler Ulis is half point guard/half coach, Ulis told reporters he’s been talking to Kenny Payne for a while about how he thinks Isaac can help inside, and Humphries said Ulis challenged him to play well before the game.

“Through the whole process of me not really playing a lot, I’ve kept in mind that Tyler does think I can be out there and every day, I really do think about that little thing that he says,” Isaac said. “That’s another reason that’s pushed me through mentally are his little comments to me. Today before the game when he said that, I got really fired up and I thought well, I’ve got to do this because you’ve been batting for me and now I’ve got to prove to everyone else that you’re right and I can do it.”

Isaac felt so good that he even flexed after a big block:

“It felt great. I’ve been waiting for a moment to do that little — I don’t know what you call it,” Isaac said of his flex. “I’ve been waiting for so long and finally I got an opportunity to do it.”

Rebounding: better

Calipari put his players through the wringer in practice this week to inspire more physical play, and for today, it seemed to work. Kentucky outrebounded Florida 37-28 and four players finished with six rebounds apiece: Marcus Lee, Jamal Murray, Derek Willis, and Isaac Humphries. Alex will get x-rays on that knee tomorrow, which was pretty much the only update Calipari had on the injury after the game.

“I don’t know, he’ll get checked out tomorrow,” Cal said. “I think it was swelled a little bit and they said don’t play.”

Dominique Hawkins’ ankle was also bothering him to the point he sat out. Has there been a game this season in which the entire team was 100% healthy?

Defense: better

After a meltdown in Knoxville, Calipari had his players “beat the crap out of each other for two days in practice,” and it resulted in a much better defensive effort. Kentucky held Florida to 36.7% shooting in the first half and 39.6% overall. Calipari was pleased.

“What we did Thursday, and literally the people, there were people in the building, we went for two and a half hours, and it was a body-to-body, mano-á-mano, rebound, defend, play. I was mean at times, but that wasn’t what it was. It was the bar was raised of what we were accepting. And I thought guys were terrific.”

The Cats are back in the hunt

With Texas A&M losing to South Carolina and a date with the Gamecocks on Saturday, Kentucky is now back in the hunt for first place in the SEC. Today’s win was further proof that when the Cats are clicking, they can be dominant, but before you get too confident, remember that with this group, even a 21-point lead can disappear in the blink of an eye. (Because of that, admit it, you were a little nervous when Florida cut it to 13 in the second half.)

Calipari said that while today’s win was encouraging, this team still has a long way to go.

“There’s just so many little things that you cannot be what you all want us to be until we can play 40 minutes of basketball, dig in and play. Every possession matters on defense. We’re not close to that right now,” Cal said.  “We’ve got a month, so within a month, I’ve got to get them convinced. They’re fighting me. They don’t think we have to, and I say, well, let’s think back to Tennessee.”

Yeah, yeah. Let’s just enjoy this for now, okay?

 


PHOTOS: UK’s new football and special-edition basketball uniforms

PHOTOS: UK’s new football and special-edition basketball uniforms

UK just unveiled their new football and special edition basketball uniforms. Here are the pictures, starting with the new secondary logo:

newuklogowildcat

Now, the new football uniforms:

IMG_1311 IMG_1312 IMG_1314 IMG_1315 IMG_1313 IMG_1316

Some pictures from the runway presentation:

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.50.35 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.51.05 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.51.23 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.51.34 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.52.13 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.52.47 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.52.53 AM

Here are the new basketball uniforms, which only be worn once, on the road vs. South Carolina next week:

IMG_1318

Here’s the shooting shirt, which features the new Wildcat secondary logo:

Thoughts?


Behind Enemy Lines: Thompson-Boling Arena

Behind Enemy Lines: Thompson-Boling Arena

IMG_9426

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 on Tuesday, I visited Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time. Before I give you my thoughts, here are my past reviews:

Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium
Auburn Arena
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena
Florida’s O’Connell Center
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum
Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum
Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena


Thompson-Boling Arena

Opened: December 2, 1987
Capacity: 21,678

IMG_9383

Exterior: 2

The first thing I thought when I saw Thompson-Boling Arena was “man, that looks like Rupp.” That will be a common theme throughout this review, but Tennessee’s arena has the same exterior paneling as Rupp Arena, albeit the building is a slightly more interesting shape.

IMG_9387

Interior: 4.5

In 2007, Thompson-Boling underwent an extensive renovation to replace all of the seats (which used to be orange) with black padded chairbacks, install a new scoreboard, and add luxury suites and loge seating. This took the capacity from 24,535 to 21,678, and I believe is a good blueprint for what could happen at Rupp Arena should the powers that be decide to renovate. Thompson-Boling was a similar capacity and has a similar feel, and in order to make room for the suites/loge levels, they took out the entire upper arena of seating on the bench side:

IMG_9404

The loge level (the third section down) consists of 166 seats, costing $4,000 each. There are interior lounge areas with flat screen TVs and catered concessions to go along with the premium seats outside.

IMG_9389

Thompson-Boling has 32 luxury suites on two levels, each varying in size from 10-16 seats. Each suite has a private lounge area, arena seating, and kitchenette with catered concessions. Ten-seat suites cost $35,000/year, while 12- or 16-seat suites cost $50,000/year. If you’re wondering, yes, you can drink alcohol in the suites and loge level. The catering company will stock the suite with booze of your choosing.

Here’s the Coke suite:

IMG_9395

IMG_9397

Here’s the view looking straight out from the inside of the suite:

IMG_9391

And the view of the court from the outside seats:

IMG_9398

There were some drawbacks to adding the suites and loge: some of the sight lines in the upper level corners are atrocious. Here’s a view from a seat on the aisle of a corner section:

IMG_9399

These are advertised as “obstructed view,” but still.

Flow: 3.5

The concourses were remodeled in 2007 as well and feature murals and signage of the UT men’s and women’s basketball programs, along with volleyball:

IMG_9384IMG_9443

The concourses feel a little narrow, but there never seemed to be any logjams. All in all, fine but not spectacular.

Concessions: 3.5

Standard fare of hot dogs, pretzels, Papa John’s pizzas, nachos, etc. I did appreciate the separate popcorn stands:

IMG_9440

That’s a one-stop shop for this gal.

Standard hot dog price: $4

Popcorn: 3.5

Good, but a little too buttery, which, for this OCD blogger, meant lots and lots of napkins and wiping before typing.

Signature food: 4

There were a few speciality concession stands, including Petro’s Chili and Chips and Calhoun’s, a popular Knoxville BBQ restaurant. The Calhoun’s pulled pork sandwich seemed to be the signature food, priced at $9 with a bag of chips or $16 with a souvenir UT soda (free refills). They also offered wings for $10, pulled pork nachos for $9, and a pretzel and beer cheese for $8.

Bathrooms: 1

I visited two and don’t care to relive the experience.

IMG_9385

Scoreboard: 5

Much nicer than ours, obviously. Installed in 2007, the scoreboard has large rectangular screens on four sides, circular boards at the top and bottom, and additional scoreboards on all four sides. I even like the “Tennessee” lettering.

PA System/announcer/music: 3

Nothing spectacular.

Fun stuff: 4

As a nod to running through the T in football, Tennessee’s basketball team had a large T to run through when the team comes on the court before the game. The intros were pretty decent, and Tennessee had lots of other things to keep fans entertained, including the always-popular Kiss Cam and a t-shirt gun in the shape of a Coke Zero bottle. They also encouraged fans to send in pictures to share on the jumbotron using a hashtag, something I hope Rupp also does when wifi is installed next season.

Tuesday was Groundhog Day and to celebrate, the folks at Tennessee made a fan dress up as a groundhog and go through an obstacle course. I didn’t understand it either, but the crowd seemed to like it.

Pep band: 4

Tennessee’s band is awesome, and in turn, their pep band is pretty great. I was entertained throughout the night, except during the endless playing of “Rocky Top.” In fact, as the game got closer and closer and the crowd got louder and louder, I actually felt ill every time they played it.

Halftime show: 4

No Quick Change, which automatically vaults this higher than most of my halftime show reviews. Tennessee brought in the Air Elite Dunkers, who showcased some impressive acrobatics while jumping on trampolines towards the goals. It was fun.

Souvenirs: 1

No t-shirt night! And they actually won.

Ticket price: 3

Tickets are $15 for uppers, $30 for lower, and $40 for sideline lower. Not too bad, although it definitely wasn’t a full house. The announced attendance was around 19,295, but I don’t think it was that full. Attendance has been really bad at Thompson-Boling this season, to the point they’ve had to lower the curtains surrounding the upper bowl at times to make it look better on TV. (Those curtains are usually down for all women’s games.)

Ushers: 5

Incredibly helpful and nice, especially while navigating the confusing media/behind-the-scenes areas, which are basically rooms created with lots and lots of curtains.

Press area/meal: 4

IMG_9434

The work room was pretty big and what’d you’d expect at an SEC arena. The food area was a curtained off section that was PACKED, and with good reason. The meal — fried chicken, green beans, mac and cheese, and cornbread — was fantastic.

(more…)


Big Blue Nation crushed by the Cats’ devastating loss in Knoxville

Big Blue Nation crushed by the Cats’ devastating loss in Knoxville

cal-tenn

It was going so well.

Kentucky jumped all over Tennessee in the beginning, taking an early lead in Knoxville and then stretching that lead out to as many as 21 points with a 34-13 score through 15 minutes of action. At that point in the rout, the unstoppable Alex Poythress had 12 points, Tyler Ulis chipped in with eight and the Cats were rolling without any sign of slowing down.

But Kentucky did slow down over the final five minutes of the half, allowing Tennessee to crawl back — in part because of foul trouble to Poythress — and before we knew it, the Vols were within six at the break.

Uh oh.

The Cats were still in control in the second half, though not nearly as dominant as in the first, until an Armani Moore three-pointer leveled the score at 63-63, the game’s first tie since the opening tip. Ulis missed a jumper to regain the lead on UK’s next possession and the Vols capitalized with a two-pointer from Robert Hubbs III to give the home team its first lead of the game with 9:42 on the clock. Kentucky would not lead again from there.

Ball game, Tennessee.

Final score: Vols 84, Cats 77.

Pathetic.

 

The blown lead is inexcusable. So is the loss in general.

Losing in Knoxville to an 11-loss Tennessee team is embarrassing no matter how you try to spin it. But when you factor in the fact Kentucky led by 21 and was playing an entirely different game than the Vols in the beginning, the loss goes from embarrassing to repulsive.

No sugar coating this one, folks. Kentucky is the superior team (so we thought) but Tennessee wanted it more and it showed. Tennessee played to win a basketball game and Kentucky was unable to match its toughness. The winning plays John Calipari always talks about? They didn’t happen. The Cats simply didn’t play to win and it falls on all of them, not just one or two guys.

Cal told Tom Leach the loss was a team effort.

“You had them, now just bury them.”

That’s what Cal said of his team, while admitting he doesn’t have the kind of guys that are capable of putting games away. Kentucky squandered away a lead for a second consecutive game, only this time it doesn’t have Allen Fieldhouse and a top-10 team to blame.

Again, those winning plays aren’t happening. Execute. Finish. Win.

Foul trouble cost the Cats again.

There were some very questionable calls, yes, but there’s no blaming the officiating in Knoxville. Kentucky fouled itself out of the game with five apiece for Poythress and Ulis, four on Isaiah Briscoe and three on Derek Willis and Marcus Lee.

Tennessee shot 19 free throws in the second half to Kentucky’s nine, and 34 to Kentucky’s 23 in the game. That’s not a reflection of the officiating but of UK’s inability to defend. It didn’t help that the Vols connected on 30 of those 34 attempts, either.

That being said, I will disagree with the officiating on these two particular plays:

But in no way are those remotely responsible for the outcome.

The timing is heartbreaking.

Admit it. You had high hopes for the Cats after the three convincing wins since the Auburn loss, and the way they played in Allen Fieldhouse against fourth-ranked Kansas. They were finally starting to look like a team that very well could make a run for the Final Four.

But right as we got wide-eyed and hungry to take this thing to the next level, the team took a gigantic step backwards against a sub-.500 team in the conference. All that momentum, gone. We’re back to wondering what Kentucky is.

Jamal Murray scored a team-high 21 points while playing absolutely no defense.

Murray’s defense was at its worst (and that’s saying something) in this one. As good as he can be offensively when he is on, he is the exact opposite on the other end and he’s become a defensive liability. Whoever Murray is matched up with, that person is scoring — take it to the bank. Kentucky is switching everything and opposing teams are going right at Murray with whoever is lucky enough to draw him.

When he wasn’t letting his man score, he went 3-for-12 on three-pointers. I don’t mean to pour it on the kid, but if he’s not defending and he’s not making shots, he’s REALLY hurting the team. He’s gotta do something.

20 points and five assists for Ulis again.

It was an off shooting night for Ulis but he made up for it by hitting 12 of his 14 free throws. He’s now had at least 20 and five in nine of the last 11 games.

He finally cooled off, so I guess he is human. Although I’m still not completely sure of that.

You can’t get out-rebounded by Tennessee.

The Vols have a negative rebounding margin on the year, having been out-rebounded by several teams, including five of its last six opponents.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is among the nation’s best in rebounding margin, but somehow found a way to lose the battle on the glass in Knoxville.

And this is a game we all thought UK would dominate with its height. Pretty said it didn’t considering Tennessee played only one guy over 6-7 in the entire game.

What now?

Kentucky will need to win out to have a shot at a three-seed or come close to winning out for a four-seed to be in play. But this team is too inconsistent to be looking that far ahead. It’s not a discussion we should even attempt right now. Saturday’s game with Florida is no cupcake and the Cats need a good win there to get back on the right track.

This loss hurts because it seemed UK had turned the corner over the last couple of weeks, but it turns out that wasn’t the case. Just remember: the 2013-14 team lost five regular season conference games and played for the championship. There is still a lot of basketball ahead and everyone in the country is losing. Kentucky can beat anyone, and like we learned tonight, Kentucky can also lose to anyone.

 

But really. How the hell did that happen? What did we just watch?

wildcat-fall


A Saturday In “The Phog”

A Saturday In “The Phog”

the-phog

There is a reason Allen Fieldhouse labels itself as “The Best Home Court Advantage in College Basketball.” It’s because Allen Fieldhouse is the best home court advantage in college basketball.

With all due respect to Duke’s Cameron Indoor, Indiana’s Assembly Hall, Michigan State’s Breslin Center and any other venue you want to throw out there, including our own Rupp Arena, Allen Fieldhouse is the best environment in the sport. It makes Rupp feel like a funeral or a hungover Sunday morning at church — and I say that with love, Big Blue Nation.

I have now made two trips out to Lawrence to see the Jayhawks play at home and both times I was blown away by the insanity inside “The Phog.” Students surround the court on three of the four sides and they’re as rowdy as any students in America. It’s the way it should be in the college game: the loudest and most rambunctious sit the closest to the action.

Then again, at Kansas, students aren’t necessarily the loudest and most rambunctious in the stands. Everyone in the building is on their feet and making noise; from the middle-aged man sitting with his two kids, to the 65-year-old woman at the top of the bleachers with a turtleneck under her free t-shirt. There’s not a calm soul in sight.

This past weekend, the excitement in Allen was heightened with the 20th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in town, as you well know. Kansas saw a record crowd of students fighting to get a seat for the marquee showdown between two of college basketball’s most storied programs.

One arena employee told me she had never seen anything like it as we stared out the window at the impatient crowd prior to the game.

ku-fans

A small glimpse of the crowds outside waiting to get in

Once that impatient crowd was allowed inside, students sprinted toward the court’s first-come, first-serve general admission seating, ignoring the “WALK!” and “NO RUNNING!” pleas from arena personnel.

It did not take long for them to fill each end zone with well over an hour to spare before tip-off.

ku-student-section

Meanwhile, I used my early arrival to tour the area and take it all in. I arrived almost three hours before tip, which is very unlike me, so I could share the scene on Periscope and SnapChat with everyone who couldn’t make the trip. (Because I’m a man of the people and I didn’t drive nine hours each way to be selfish with my findings.)

I began in the neighborhood surrounding Allen Fieldhouse, where the streets were lined with students, many of them tailgating in their front lawns. I was amazed to see an overwhelming amount of female students on my way in, dominating the male population at a 5-to-1 ratio, at least where I was. I wondered if KU had any male students at all.

One lawn had around 15-20 girls drinking from a keg and not a guy within two blocks either direction. Needless to say, I was very… we’ll say… ‘intrigued’ by what I was seeing and couldn’t believe such social settings exist in the world. I was quick to text everyone back home:

ku-text

It may be time to look into grad school in the Midwest.

ku-girls

@haley_jennison

After fighting the urge to quit my job, buy a Kansas t-shirt, join the party and never go home, I made my way to the correctional facility that is Allen Fieldhouse.

allen-fieldhouse

The Fieldhouse turns 61 next month and it looks every bit of it. That’s kind of why it’s so awesome, but not as awesome as the Kentucky fans I found outside:

uk-fans-kansas

 

My first stop inside Allen was the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, a museum located in the concourse area of the arena. It is a 26,000 square-foot shrine to University of Kansas athletics, with a heavy emphasis on college basketball.

Tons of good SnapChat material in there, too.

museum-snapchat

And a place where you can search for great moments in Kansas history:

The University of Kentucky even has a presence in the museum with this photo of a young Adolph Rupp. Rupp is a “special admittance” into the Hall.

Look at that ladykiller!

young-rupp

Reading all about James Naismith and the Morris twins worked up an appetite, so I headed toward the media room for a free meal.

On the menu: BBQ ribs and baked beans…

Mmmmmmm...

Mmmmmmm…

I took two bites, tossed it, then went to the court to watch Kentucky warm up and get ready for the game.

At that point the place was packed with fans watching both teams get some final shots up before tip. Tyler Ulis couldn’t miss, which was a telling sign of what was to come. After watching him hit shot after shot, I walked up to my seat in the bleachers as the teams headed back until game time.

 

Things got real with about 10 minutes on the clock, when Allen Fieldhouse broke out into the Rock Chalk, Jayhawk chant. It’s a really eerie chant, like being in an old monastery, not in arena about to host one of the biggest college basketball games of the season.

Isn’t this creepy?

The mood quickly changed from slow and haunting to complete mayhem when Kansas was introduced to the home crowd. It hit 120 decibels in there, if you’re to believe the meter on the video board. A jet takes off at 100 decibels.

Then came the tip.

Of course, Kansas went on to win the game in overtime in an instant classic. It was the closest thing you’ll ever see to a ‘moral victory’ for Kentucky. How they were able to stay composed in that environment, especially right out of the gate, is beyond me.

Alex Poythress said afterward, “It was crazy. Loudest atmosphere I’ve ever been in.”

I’m going to agree with him.

The Best Home Court Advantage in College Basketball indeed.


Kentucky gives its all, but it’s not enough

Kentucky gives its all, but it’s not enough

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

For the first 39 minutes and 58 seconds of this game, Tyler Ulis showed the world why he’s one of — if not the — best point guards in the country. Ulis was stupendous, scoring 14 points in the first half and 26 overall. He dished out eight assists, making this his ninth 20+ point, 5+ assist game this season, the most by any player in Kentucky history since they started recording assists back in 1972. Every time Kansas attacked, Ulis responded, either by putting up points himself or putting his teammates in the right positions to score. He practically moved 7-foot Skal Labissiere to all the correct spots, reasoned with referees, and orchestrated the game. When the lights got bright, he got brighter.

For the last 5 minutes and 2 seconds of this game, Tyler Ulis showed he’s human. Ulis had two uncharacteristic turnovers late in the game, the ball inexplicably flying out of his hands as he raced down the court for the game-winner. Anyone who watched the game could tell Tyler was exhausted. With almost all of UK’s post players fouled out, options for scoring became limited, and more than once, Ulis took it upon himself to drive the lane, even if it was full of white jerseys. Ulis is great, but even great players can only do so much.

Even though he gave everything, after the game, Ulis shouldered blame for the 90-84 loss.

“Yeah, those late turnovers weren’t needed,” Ulis said. “I should have just gave the ball up late. Turned it over in regulation at the end, and then late in overtime. That’s just not something I normally do.”

Ulis then asked to be excused because he felt like he was going to throw up. Like I said, he gave everything he had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. 

The story of the game? Fouls

Kansas was 30-47 from the free throw line tonight, while Kentucky was 13-22. That’s your game right there. Kansas attempted TWENTY FIVE more free throws than Kentucky, and when that happens, it’s kind of hard to win. Derek Willis, Marcus Lee, Skal Labissiere, and Alex Poythress all fouled out, the first three within regulation. Tyler Ulis can do a lot of things, but even he can’t compensate for two giant holes in the middle. With all of the bigs with experience either fouled out or in foul trouble, Kentucky had to play small ball, relying on Dominique Hawkins in his first game back from injury and a cramping Isaiah Briscoe. Kansas outrebounded Kentucky 42-31, a crippling statistic that ranks right up there with the fouls. The Jayhawks’ 47 free throw attempts were its second most in a game in the last 20 seasons.

“We just gotta learn how to play without fouling. That’s something we’ve been struggling with all year,” Alex Poythress said. 

If you wanted to pinpoint the minute the momentum shifted to Kansas’ side, it occurred at 4:51 when Derek Willis fouled out. Both John Calipari and Bill Self mentioned that as a pivotal moment in the game, especially when, upon further review, it didn’t really look like a foul. Kentucky held Kansas scoreless from the field for over six minutes, but once Derek fouled out, the Cats became vulnerable, breaking down on defense and stalling on offense.

I digress…

Wayne Selden, Jr. was unstoppable

…or, at least, Kentucky couldn’t stop him. Selden scored a career-high 33 points tonight, leading Kansas’ rally in the second half. If you had told me that Selden was going to score 33 tonight, I would have predicted a 20-point win for the Jayhawks. So, there’s that.

We got “Good Alex” tonight

We knew going in that, for Kentucky to have a chance, Alex Poythress had to play well, and he did for the most part. Alex finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block. More often than not, he held his own in the post and provided a valuable veteran presence when younger players’ tempers flared on the court. It’s easy to rag on Alex at times, but tonight, he helped more than he hurt.

Heck, even Skal chipped in, providing some crucial points at crucial times; however, he. still. cannot. rebound. ZERO rebounds from a seven-footer. Ugh.

At the free throw line, Briscoe giveth and Briscoe taketh away

Who would have guessed that Briscoe would hit four consecutive free throws to start the game? Not me. Unfortunately, for as good as Briscoe was from the line at the beginning the game, he was bad at the end, missing some crucial free throws in overtime; however, Briscoe was battling cramps and showed some real grit, so I’m not going to pile on him.

There’s still more to learn and time to learn it

Judging by his postgame remarks, Calipari was not happy with tonight’s loss. No coach is ever happy with a loss, of course, but tonight’s game clearly meant a lot to Cal, who used to coach at Kansas and had a chance to knock off the #4 team in the country and almost did it. Calipari refused to accept the moral victory afterwards, telling reporters he was “hacked off” about the loss, which was further proof his team still doesn’t know how to win games.

“No because we’re still doing the same things,” Calipari said when asked if he thought his team took a step forward despite the loss. “It’s losing basketball, it’s Auburn all over again. It just wasn’t the entire game. At Auburn, it was for 15 minutes. Here it was about for five minutes. It was about five or six minutes of losing basketball. All we’ll do is just go possession by possession, is that losing or winning basketball?”

(I love you Cal, but let’s not compare tonight’s performance to the Auburn game, please.) Ultimately, the silver lining in tonight’s storm cloud is time. Forty-six days until the NCAA Tournament, in fact.

“We fought like heck, had our chances to win on the road in this building, and really should have,” Calipari said. “You take an ‘L’ and you go from there.”

The fouls were bad, yes. There were some fatal errors, yes. But taking the #4 team in the country to overtime in their house in January two weeks after one of the most embarrassing losses in recent memory? That makes me excited about March.


NEXT FIVE: Malik Monk glimpses future under the spotlight

NEXT FIVE: Malik Monk glimpses future under the spotlight

MALIKheadersepia

Over the next month, KSR is traveling across the country to interview the “Next Five,” UK’s five signees in the 2016 class: Malik Monk, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Wenyen Gabriel, Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, and De’Aaron Fox. While in Arkansas last week to cover Kentucky’s game, I made a side trip to Bentonville to check out Malik Monk’s game vs. El Dorado.


It’s Friday night in Bentonville, Arkansas, and ESPN is in town. In a packed gym under lights brought in specially for the broadcast, Malik Monk waits on the bench during Bentonville’s introductions, wiping his palms on his shorts while his teammates run out onto the court. Malik is the last to be announced, and, as the crowd stirs in anticipation, he gives one of his coaches an embarrassed look before bouncing out of his seat. As the announcer draws out his name, the fans roar. At the end of the intro line, Malik “dabs” with one of his teammates, another reminder that, even though the lights are shining bright on the nation’s fifth best player, he’s just a kid.

For Malik, this is the end of a crazy week and a glimpse into an even crazier future.


Five days prior to his game on ESPN, Malik was selected for the McDonald’s All-American Game, one of four future Kentucky Wildcats to receive the honor. He found out the news while in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Hoophall Classic, and, although his team lost their only game in the showcase, Malik couldn’t hide his excitement in an interview with ESPN’s Phil Murphy.

“I’m just excited because I’ve been watching the game for a long time,” Malik said of the 39th annual All-American Game, the most prestigious of the high school all-star games. “There are a lot of greats that have come through there and I’m just trying to be one of them, and I have my opportunity to do it now.”

Interestingly, Malik says the same of attending Kentucky. After putting up 29 points and 15 rebounds in Bentonville’s win over El Dorado last Friday, he compares the stage at the McDonald’s All-American Game to the stage in Lexington.

“It’s Kentucky. There’s a bunch of greats going there. I’m just trying to be one of the greats.”


malik-pass

Back in his high school gym, Malik takes a while to get going. His jump shot’s not falling, but he’s doing his best to create for his teammates. He’s a shooting guard first, but his passing is extraordinary.

“If you’re open, he’ll find you. Nothing more than that. I’ve just gotta move off the ball and he’ll find me,” Malik’s teammate Asa Hutchinson (#30) says. “It’s awesome, he’s super unselfish. If you’re hot, he’ll get you the ball.”

When his jumpers still don’t connect, Malik drives the line, blowing by his defenders and laying the ball in the bucket with ease. His brother Marcus, always present, pumps his fist quickly before standing up to give advice.

“Weak side! Better be on him in the lane!” Marcus shouts, pointing to an El Dorado defender.

Malik is on him in the lane. Whereas some elite high school prospects don’t bother with defense, Malik thrives on it, probably another reason John Calipari likes him so much.

“Defensively, Malik has a chance to be great,” Scout.com’s Evan Daniels says. “He really excels defensively. He has all the tools to be an elite on-the-ball defender.”

At the end of the first half, Malik only has six points, but Bentonville is leading El Dorado by five. Marcus jumps up to go talk to his younger brother.


Marcus Monk is a big man. During his days playing football and basketball at Arkansas, he was listed at 6’4” 212 lbs., but at age 29, he seems even bigger, his presence filling the 1,700-seat gymnasium. After being selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL draft, Marcus spent a few years in the league before playing basketball professionally in Europe. Two years later, he returned to Arkansas to get his MBA, and while in business school, served as a graduate assistant under Mike Anderson. Now, he’s getting into the business world, managing high school basketball tournaments and hosting a local sports talk show.

Mostly, Marcus is focused on his younger brother; he’s a constant on the Bentonville sideline, taking stats for the team and tracking Malik’s every move. If Malik messes up, Marcus lets him know. If Malik does well, Marcus quietly thumps his fist. Malik looks to Marcus when things happen, anticipating feedback. Marcus isn’t just a brother; he’s a mentor.

Because of Marcus’ ties to Arkansas, it was widely assumed Malik would stay home and play for the Razorbacks; so, when Malik committed to Kentucky on November 18, there was inevitably some backlash from Arkansas fans. Interestingly, most of the ire was directed at Marcus after a report came out that Malik wanted to commit to Arkansas, but Marcus “wouldn’t let him because of distractions.” Whether that’s true or not, Marcus is very protective of his little brother. To get to Malik, you have to go through him.

Although Arkansas fans still “hate” on Malik on Twitter, he handles it well.

“They’re really not hating, they’re just being loyal to Arkansas,” Malik says when asked about Razorback fans sending him messages on social media. “I expected that. They’re real loyal Arkansas fans, and I’m just fine with it.”

Besides, Kentucky is Kentucky, and even though Malik probably chose not to attend the Cats’ game in Fayetteville for the reasons listed above, when I ask him what he thought of their performance, he glows.

“It was fun having them home in Fayetteville,” Malik smiles. “They played good.”


malikthree

When Malik’s first three falls at the four minute mark in the third quarter, the Bentonville gym erupts. Malik bounces on his feet and he’s off. With each shot that falls, the momentum builds and he barrels down the court like a train. On one play, he freakishly flies at the basket over two defenders, and, even though his layup misses the mark, you can’t help but marvel at his athleticism. Now that he’s rolling, he showcases a wide variety of shots: jumpers, floaters, layups, and, of course, dunks.

“Malik is very gifted offensively,” Evan Daniels says. “He’s got a good basketball frame, at 6’4” 180 lbs. He’s a very good athlete that excels in transition.”

mm-floater

The floater is a new addition to Malik’s arsenal, one he says came about after long hours in the gym with — who else — his brother.

“Me and my brother are in the gym every day, we work on — not even full speed — we just work on shooting touch shots around the rim,” Malik tells ESPN after the game.

Malik’s final two points are the ones everyone’s been waiting for; the reason why ESPN came to town. Malik gets the ball on a high pass on a fast break, and lets it bounce while the crowd revs up. With the stage to himself, he dribbles once before launching into the air and throwing down a windmill dunk:

malik-dun

Malik finishes with 29 points and 15 rebounds, 23 of those points in the second half. At one point, he scored 14 straight. He tells ESPN that when he’s in the zone, “it feels like nobody’s in the gym.”


Once the ESPN cameras are gone and it’s just a pack of parents waiting for their kids outside of a locker room, it’s hard to believe that an exceptional night at the end of an exceptional week will soon be the norm for Malik; however, he claims he’s ready.

“You’ve gotta get used to it if you’re a basketball player,” Malik says. “I mean, this gym is not as big as Kentucky’s arena, but it gave me a taste.”

Given his explosiveness on the court, Monk is a soft spoken guy off it, humble and laid back. His teammates say he’s a really funny guy who’s always ready with a joke or to celebrate a big shot. Asa Hutchinson says he’s confident Malik can handle the big stage at Kentucky because he’s already the one who keeps them calm when the lights go up.

His best quality? Leadership, definitely. Playing in front of TV, ESPN, he stays calm, keeps everyone calm. He’s a great, great teammate,” Hutchinson says. “I think he’ll be ready for sure. He’s very mature. He’s been around basketball for a long time.”

Once he gets to Lexington, Malik will have a hell of a supporting cast. He grins when asked about his fellow 2016 signees De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones. He says they have a group text in which they talk every day, especially during games. Fox started the text and keeps it going “nonstop.” (By the way, Malik’s favorite emoji, according to Hutchinson? “All of the ones that are blue.”)

Some players flourish when surrounded by such great talent; others flounder. Evan Daniels is confident Malik will be the former.

“It’s not like this will be the first time he’s played alongside big talent,” Daniels said, bringing up how Malik and De’Aaron Fox played with each other in the EYBL Select Team Training Camp in the Bahamas last August. Fox actively recruited Malik to Kentucky, going as far to tell Ben Roberts that he thinks the two could be an even better backcourt tandem than John Wall and Eric Bledsoe.

“Fox and Monk will be the most athletic backcourt in the country,” Daniels said. “They may also be the best defensive backcourt in the country.”

Until then, Malik will be in the gym with his brother, getting ready.


Jared's proposal at Super owl Media Day was definitely brought up. (Gary W. Green, McClatchy-Tribune)

Looking Back at Super Bowl XLII in a Pre-NSD KSR Football Podcast

Jared's proposal at Super owl Media Day was definitely brought up. (Gary W. Green, McClatchy-Tribune)

Jared’s proposal at Super Bowl Media Day is one of many highlights. (Gary W. Green, McClatchy-Tribune)

No matter how much I plan for a KSR Football Podcast, it usually goes wherever the discussion takes us.  Freddie and I did get to some of the prospects that will sign with Mark Stoops next Wednesday, but that wasn’t the fun part.

When talking about next Sunday’s Super Bowl, Jared took a stroll down memory lane.  He went day-by-day, giving us a candid look at what players are going through leading into the biggest game of their life.  The X’s and O’s of preparation are intriguing, the in-game behind-the-scenes is better, but nothing can top what happened AFTER the Giants defeated the (almost) undefeated Patriots (HINT: it involves the Lombardi Trophy).  You will not be disappointed.  Other highlights:

—  Jared has a special surprise for Freddie.

—  A change-up in theme music, just for Freddie.

—  Our initial thoughts after interviewing the Early Enrollees.

—  What’s crazier: Freddie learns to Periscope, or Jared’s conspiracy theory?

Subscribe to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or stream on Podbay here.


© Mark Zerof

Kentucky’s confidence blooms in 88-54 rout of Missouri

© Mark Zerof

© Mark Zerof

For the first 58 seconds, Missouri led Kentucky, but Derek Willis quickly dashed the Tigers’ dreams with a three, the first of four for him on the night. From there, the rout was on, and Kentucky didn’t let its foot off the gas until the very end, winning by a stunning score of 88-54.

From start to finish, tonight’s win was an incredible performance by the Cats, who, sure were playing a bad Missouri team, and yes, expectations should be tempered going into Saturday’s game at Kansas, but for now, let’s just enjoy this beatdown, because we haven’t had a lot of them this season.

How about that start?

“They played great. We didn’t play very well.”

That’s how Missouri’s Kim Anderson summed the game up afterwards to reporters, and he’s right. Kentucky did play great, holding Missouri to 20 points in the first half. After Missouri’s opening layup, Kentucky went on a 20-0 run until the Tigers finally hit a free throw with 14:29 left in the first half.

“I don’t want to say we didn’t compete, but I think we just got run over by a truck early in the game,” Anderson said. “From the start, I thought they played with an incredible amount of energy. It reminded me of last year’s game, to be honest with you, when we came in here.”

Considering last year’s team, I don’t think you could ask for bigger praise, but Anderson kept doling it out. He was so gracious that when a reporter forgot his name, calling him “Ken,” he said, “It’s okay, I’d forget my name too.” Ouch.

“We had no answer. We had no answer to anybody for a long time. I think you have to give them credit. They played great. They seem to be playing better and better,” Anderson said. “But when they’re playing like they’re playing tonight, they’re really, really good.”

John Calipari admitted Anderson and Missouri caught Kentucky on a bad night.

“They got the buzz saw today,” Calipari said of Missouri. “This, we played as well as we can play. And we did it the entire time.”

Derek is the difference

After being just a blip on the stat sheet, Derek Willis has broken out in the past four games, averaging 12.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Tonight, he had a career-high 18 points and 12 rebounds, only the second double-double of his career. He looks like a totally different player in every possible way.

“I just said after the game, I said, Derek, you’ve taken minutes from people in this room, do you want to give anybody back minutes? And he’s even being honest. He said, Coach, I just want to win. He’s playing desperate,” Calipari said. “He’s made us a different team.”

I mean, just look at him:

To Derek’s dad, girlfriend, and whoever else lit a spark under him, thank you.

Skal flexed them bones

After sitting out most of the Vanderbilt game because of mismatches, Skal Labissiere burst back on the scene tonight, scoring 12 points off 6-8 shooting and blocking a career-high 5 shots. After a few of them, he actually flexed at the camera:

“Skal certainly was a factor and is obviously one of the best players in the country,” Kim Anderson said afterwards. “Unfortunately for us, he kind of really started to find himself tonight.”

At halftime and after the game, Calipari accepted blame for trying to make Skal a big like Karl Towns or Shaquille O’Neal when he clearly is not.

“I probably screwed Skal up, I’m trying to make him Karl Towns. He’s not Karl Towns. Can’t play like Karl Towns. He probably shoots better than Karl Towns. Karl will love hearing that, but he’s not Karl. Karl had a nasty beast streak in him.”

The one bad part of Skal’s stat line that Calipari was fine pointing out during his postgame show?

“He’s got to rebound or I cannot leave him in the game!” Cal exclaimed. “How many rebounds did he have today? None! Now, listen. We’re going to play Kansas. What if he doesn’t defend and rebound, can I just leave him in the game to shoot shots? You can’t be in! I mean, I love you, stay with me tonight at my house, I don’t care, but I can’t leave you in against Kansas unless you defend and rebound.”

Odds Skal is on his way to the Calipari’s with his sleeping bag right now?

Tyler Ulis, as always, was amazing

Again, it speaks volumes that Tyler had 20 points and 8 assists tonight and I’m just now getting to him in the recap. If you’re keeping count, that’s Tyler’s eighth game this season with 20 or more points and 5 or more assists, a historic feat that I’m not sure we can ever appreciate enough. Tyler isn’t just leading this team, Calipari says he’s coaching it.

“Tyler was ridiculous,” Cal said. “He’s basically coaching the team. I mean, he’s making comments at halftime or telling, where are they playing, how are they playing this, and he’ll go tell his teammates, and he’s on the board.”

Isaiah Briscoe had himself a night, putting up 15 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers. How good was he feeling? He hit back-to-back free throws, earning an enthusiastic round of applause from Rupp Arena. After spending time trying to teach Briscoe and Jamal Murray to play “winning basketball,” Calipari couldn’t have been prouder, calling him “the best defensive guard and rebounding guard in the country.”

Calipari also added that Tyler and Briscoe have started the “Breakfast Club” up again, following in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s footsteps from 2012. If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.

Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee still struggled

Alex Poythress did okay tonight, scoring eight points and pulling down seven rebounds, but Marcus Lee was missing in action, finishing with two points, three rebounds, and three blocks in nine minutes. Towards the end of the game, Lee finally got rolling, but Calipari was disappointed in both veteran big men after the game.

“Our team, we’re playing desperate now. We’re playing with an attitude. Refuse to lose. That’s their — now Alex didn’t today. Instead of saying I’m getting 25 today, Alex didn’t. I don’t know why,” Cal said. “Marcus Lee, not enough energy.”

I’m all for Derek and Skal playing well, but you have to think that for Kentucky to make some serious noise in March, they need Alex and Marcus playing well. But for now, Derek’s play is putting them on the bench.

“Now they got to fight to get minutes back, which means our practices will be better or they will give up,” Cal said of Alex and Marcus. “They got a choice. You can give up or fight.”

Bring on Kansas

A few weeks ago, I dreaded Saturday’s game against Kansas. After three incredibly promising performances, I’m not expecting the Cats to go in there and win, but I feel a hell of a lot more confident about their chances.


Behind Enemy Lines: Bud Walton Arena

Behind Enemy Lines: Bud Walton Arena

IMG_9136

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 last week, I visited Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena for the first time. Before I give you my thoughts, here are my past reviews:

Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium
Auburn Arena
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena
Florida’s O’Connell Center
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum
Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum


Bud Walton Arena

Built: November 29, 1993
Capacity: 19,368

IMG_9080

Exterior: 4

Bud Walton Arena, nicknamed the “Basketball Palace of Mid-America,” was built in 1993 thanks in large part to a very generous donation from James “Bud” Walton, the co-founder of Wal-Mart. Walton gave the school $15 million — half of the total cost — to build the arena in hopes of making the Razorbacks a real competitor in the SEC. The arena features a brick facade with a glass atrium on the south side. It’s not as stunning as some SEC gyms I’ve been to, but the brick pattern is unique.

IMG_9105

Interior: 4.5

The goal when designing Bud Walton Arena was to put more seats in less space then the Razorbacks’ former gym, Barnhill Arena, which held 10,000. As a result, even though the capacity of the arena is 19,000+, it feels cozy, much less cavernous than Rupp Arena. There are 47 luxury suites in the area just above the lower arena, each with an inside seating area and an outside seating area. Near the entrance is a museum dedicated to the school’s various sports programs and a merchandise store.

One major plus at Bud Walton: all of the seats have chair backs and are padded.

IMG_9113 IMG_9117

Flow: 4

Throughout the main concourse are giant murals featuring special moments in the program’s history, each of which serve as a great backdrop for selfies, as does this display:

IMG_9119

(That’s the happiest Dusty Hannahs looked all night.)

IMG_9127

Concessions: 5

This is where Bud Walton shined. In addition to standard concession stands, there were several premiere food stands, serving everything from Prime Rib sandwiches to gourmet grilled cheeses. At the Grilled Cheesery, you can get a Grilled Tomato Florentine sandwich for $6, or at Chef’s Razorback Carvery, you can get a Prime Rib Quesadilla for $10. There was also a Chick-Fil-A stand, which understandably had the longest line.

Standard hot dog price: $3

Popcorn: 3 (incomplete)

I got so distracted by the taco bar in the media room (more on that later) that I totally forgot about the popcorn, so I’ll give it the industry standard 3 points.

IMG_9125

Signature food: 5

Appropriately, the signature food at Bud Walton Arena seemed to be pork in all sorts of variations. For $8, you can get a “Hog Dog,” which is a hot dog topped with Rowdy Dow pulled pork. What is Rowdy Dow? According to their website, they’re America’s BBQ, so it must be good. For $9, you can get a “Sooie Sundae,” which, as you might guess, is a pork sundae: “layers of BBQ pork and mashed potatoes in a parfait glass topped with BBQ sauce, bacon, and chives.” That sounds both disgusting and delicious to me.

Arkansas loves BBQ so much you can even get BBQ seasoned popcorn, but why mess with a good thing?

Bathrooms: 4

Nothing groundbreaking. Clean and spacious.

Scoreboard: 5

Bud Walton Arena’s new scoreboard is big and beautiful and, unlike its predecessor, does not hold the ball that Aaron Harrison flung in the air at the end of Arkansas’ upset in 2014. The new $4 million scoreboard is made up of four flat screens and resembles a smaller version of the famous scoreboard at Cowboys Stadium. It would look really pretty in Rupp Arena next season.

PA System/announcer/music: 3

Other than the PA announcer pronouncing Skal’s last name “La-brassiere,” nothing noteworthy. Like Alabama, the student section had a DJ, which was cool. During the intro, fans were encouraged to turn on their cell phones so the screens lit the arena, a neat touch:

IMG_9137

Fun stuff: 4

There were lots of giveaways, including gift cards to a local optometrist that dropped from the rafters via little parachutes.

Pep band: 4

Good blend of old favorites and new stuff. It wasn’t part of the band, but I was a huge fan of “Boss Hog,” the inflatable mascot:

Halftime show: 3

Quick Change, again. I lost track of how many times I’ve seen the duo perform, and honestly, their act gets stranger and stranger as the years go by. People seem to really enjoy it, though. Here’s their act at a Milwaukee Bucks game a few years back:

Souvenirs: 3

Free t-shirts to promote the white out.

Ticket price: 3.5

Single-game tickets range from $15 to $25, pretty decent prices when compared to Kentucky’s.

Ushers: 5

No complaints, nice and helpful.

IMG_9084

Press area/meal: 5

Taco bar with all the fixins, TWO different types of salad, cookies, and popcorn?! Arkansas treats its media right.

Student Section: 3.5

The student section is mostly behind one of the baskets, and the students were pretty loud. “Calling the Hogs” (“Woo Pig Sooie!”) was just as cool as everyone told me it would be:

Hell hath no fury like fans scorned, and the crowd went after the refs repeatedly, to the point the trio of officials had to get a police escort off the floor at halftime. Let it be known that Arkansas fans sure love to cuss.

BBN Effect: 2

There weren’t a ton of UK fans at the game, likely because of the winter storm and the fact that Arkansas is very far away; however, the fans that were there were loud. Props to them, including Tyler Ulis’ dad, who I don’t think sat down the entire game.

GBB chant count: 3

Campus/town: 4.5

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what to expect from Fayetteville. I was pleasantly surprised by the charming little college town tucked into the Ozarks. The downtown is small, but had plenty of bars, restaurants, and quirky shops within walking distance of campus. It’s very hilly, and more than once, I was grateful that the snowstorm didn’t hit that part of Arkansas because driving around the curves and tall bridges on I-49 would have been a nightmare.

IMG_9166

I had lunch on Friday at Hugo’s, a hole-in-the-wall diner in the basement of a building downtown. My soup and salad were delicious, as was the Ozark IPA I tried out. The place was packed, clearly a popular lunch spot.

Arkansas’ campus was nicer than expected as well. The football stadium is clearly the focal point of not only the campus, but the town, an enormous structure that dominates the landscape. I’d love to come back and see Fayetteville during the fall for a football game, I’m sure it’s crazy. On Friday, I traveled to Bentonville — home of Wal-Mart — to watch Malik Monk play, and was floored by the Crystal Bridges Art Museum, which I’ll write more about in tomorrow’s wakeup post.

Overall atmosphere: 4

As Kentucky fans, I feel like we have a kinship with Arkansas fans because, unlike the rest of the conference, they’ve got a proud basketball history and care about the sport. For that reason, I went in to Bud Walton Arena with high expectations, which were mostly met. The arena is impressive, and, as always, made me yearn for an upgraded one of our own. The Arkansas fans I encountered were nice, albeit very vocal when it came to the refs. Had the game been a little closer, I’m sure the atmosphere would have been even crazier.

Total score: 79/100

Previous scores:

Auburn Arena: 84/100
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena: 77.5/100
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum: 76.75/100
Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum: 75.5/100
Florida’s O’Connell Center: 74/100
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium: 71.5/100
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum: 69/100
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum: 68.5/100


Tyler Ulis leads Kentucky to big win over Vanderbilt

Tyler Ulis leads Kentucky to big win over Vanderbilt

robic-ulis

Mark Zerof | USA Today

No. 23 Kentucky moved to 15-4 and 5-2 in the conference today with a very convincing win over a good Vanderbilt team. The Cats cruised past the Commodores to a 76-57 finish in a game many predicted would be close throughout.

That was not the case, however, thanks to yet another outstanding performance by Tyler Ulis and many members of his supporting cast. It was an all-around good game for Kentucky and one it really needed with a road trip to Kansas only a week away.

But before we look forward to Wednesday’s game at Mizzou and that trip to Lawrence, let’s chat a little bit about what we saw today in a surprisingly packed Rupp Arena.

 

‘Nother 20-point game for Tyler Ulis.

Ulis scored a game-high 21 points in the win for his sixth 20-point performance in the last eight games, dating back to his Card-killing afternoon against Louisville in late December. He is averaging 19 points, seven assists and under two turnovers per game in that stretch, while shooting almost 50 percent from the field.

There’s no doubt Ulis is the best point guard in the country right now, regardless of what Dan Dakich says, and we’re damn sure glad to have him in Lexington. He is just an unbelievable basketball player with a basketball IQ unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time. Calipari realizes that more than anyone; he said he consults Ulis like he would an assistant coach. Ulis is such a special, special point guard.

Point God!

Jamal Murray added 18 of his own.

Murray hit seven of his 13 shot attempts for 18 points in a very efficient game offensively, which isn’t always the case with his game. Afterward, Coach Cal said Murray played winning basketball and made winning plays, something the coaching staff really stressed throughout the week.

These two were pretty nice:

Derek Willis led the team in rebounding. Again.

Willis was Kentucky’s star on the glass for a third consecutive game, hauling in nine rebounds to lead the Cats in that category. He couldn’t get his shot to fall, but the way he defended and rebounded will earn him even more playing time and, possibly, a permanent spot in the starting rotation.

Calipari told him the missed shots are okay as long as he continues to do well in the other, more important aspects of the game, as he did today. He has really stepped up to the challenge since Cal blasted him for his poor defense in the week leading up to Auburn.

Vanderbilt’s bigs could not stop Alex Poythress.

Poythress scored 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field in one of his better offensive games of the season. He fought for buckets inside and even knocked down a midrange jumper to force Vandy’s bigs to respect his shot.

With Poythress providing a scoring threat down low, it really made things easier on Murray and Ulis. One of Kentucky’s major problems this season has been being too reliant on guard play when there is no help in the frontcourt. Today we saw how good they can be with a legitimate weapon inside.

Skal Labissiere was a non-factor.

Two days after reaching double-figure scoring at Arkansas, his first time in double digits in a month and a half, Skal Labissiere reverted back to his former self. Labissiere did not have single point or a single rebound in only four minutes.

Calipari explained Labissiere’s limited action, saying, “I just didn’t think this was the right game for him because of how these guys play. They’re older inside. They’re bigger, they shoot threes… but he’s fine.”

Kentucky shot 55 percent from the field.

That’s the best in SEC play. UK is 9-0 on the season when shooting at least 50 percent.

“Anybody that thinks this team is not getting better, you’re not watching.”

The full quote from Calipari:

Anybody that thinks this team is not getting better, you’re not watching. Dickie V came in and talked to me, said you know this is one of your teams that’s not getting better. I said, so you’re not watching college basketball that much. Like, what are you talking about?

Well, the Duke game. The Duke game, they spread the court out. It was a different game. You got a lot of people packing and I’m trying to figure out when they do certain things how do we play. This team is getting better. Derek Willis is better. Tyler better. Jamal’s better. Isaiah’s better. They’re all better. Skal is better. Alex is better. Marcus Lee’s got to get back to where he was, but he’s now starting to get better.

The win was Calipari’s 100th in the Southeastern Conference.

Cal is the second-fastest coach to reach 100 wins in the league at 125 games. Only Adolph Rupp did it faster, reaching the 100-win plateau in only 119 games.

 

Go Cats.


@Ryan_hoots

Cats’ Complete Game Gives Cal His First Win in Fayetteville

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

After an awful loss at Auburn — an all systems failure — Cal’s Cats bounced back with authority, defeating an aggressive Arkansas 80-66.

Saturday’s game was lackluster on all accounts, especially in the frontcourt.  With Derek Willis and Alex Poythress starting in the posts, the Cats came out of the locker room in each half with a fiery passion.  The guards weren’t hitting, but the posts were cleaning up all of their trash.

When Alex Poythress went to the bench at the first media timeout, he had 6 points on 3-3 shooting and 4 rebounds with a 10-3 UK lead.

Poythress, along with Derek Willis and Skal Labissiere, provided second chance points to keep Kentucky’s momentum while the guards struggled to find their stroke.  Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis kept grinding, until they found a hot streak in the second half.  In a span of 2:19, Murray scored 9 straight to extend UK’s lead to 18.  Tyler Ulis would finish the night with a career-high 24 points.

There was plenty of hype in Fayetteville entering today’s game, but the White Out at a packed Bud Walton Arena proved fruitless.  The SEC’s leading 3-point shooting team only took three attempts in the first half and didn’t hit one until the 15:23 mark in the second half.  To compare UK’s defensive performance to the last game, Auburn hit 12 three’s and Arkansas finished 2-12.

At times it wasn’t pretty, but it was arguably the best we’ve seen this team play.

A Spectacular Frontcourt Performance

We were wondering if Kentucky could win with the guards carrying the team. For most of the first half, it was the exact opposite.

Derek Willis played an energetic career-high 35 minutes, nearly mistake free.  He wisely chose his shots, making 5-8 (2-4 from 3) on his way to 12 points.  He rebounded with great positioning, finishing with 7 boards.  His hands were active on the defensive end, blocking 4 shots and stealing a pass.

Alex Poythress dealt with tacky-tack fouls, but fought through it and continued to attack the glass.  His stat line (7 points, 6 rebounds and a block) was not as meaningful as his play on the defensive end.  Primarily playing small with Derek Willis in the lineup, he was forced to defend the paint.  His presence was felt whenever he was on the floor.

Nobody grabbed the eye quite like Skal.  For the first time in 8 games he hit double figures, finishing with 11 points, 3 blocks, 3 rebounds with a +10 while he was on the court.  For a guy who’s been non-existent in 2016, I’d consider it a success.

But the stats he produced aren’t the reason tonight was his best game as a Wildcat.

The Skal Labissiere We’ve Been Waiting For

For the first time in months, the phone lines for radio shows won’t be filled with people ready to complain about the play of Skal Labissiere.  He was fantastic, and it wasn’t just because he scored in the double-digits or threw down ferocious dunks.  For the first time all year, Skal looked like he knew what he was doing.  

Skal has always looked like he was physically capable of making the right plays, but he didn’t possess the intangibles to play competent basketball.  Tonight he was in the right position on defense, helping off to block shots and disrupt passing lanes.  He set solid screens and rolled to the basket with purpose.  He played with an aggressiveness that had not been seen, the kind of aggressiveness the Big Blue Nation was begging for.

Skal may never be the kind of player to dominate a basketball game from start to finish, but if he can do the little things right, it can lead to great big things, like this.

Perseverance Prevailed

Even though Kentucky controlled the game throughout, it was tough sledding to start.  Murray, Ulis and Briscoe shot a combined 3-20 for 12 points in the first half.  Luckily the front court was their to keep things stable while they struggled to find their shot, scoring 15 of the team’s first 17 points.

The guards never lost their cool, despite their cold hands.  They attacked the basket and took “good” shots, until they finally began to fall later in the second half (Ulis and Murray would combine for 43 points).  After hearing Calipari preach about making “winning plays” all week, it paid off through the tough times.

The Little Things

A pressing team, Arkansas tries to mentally rattle their opponents to create turnovers and build momentum.  Kentucky was never phased by their press, and rarely gave them an opportunity to even set it up.  They committed a season-low six turnovers.  

On the opposite end of the floor, their defense was exponentially better.  I already mentioned how the guards shut down their three-point shooters, but the posts kept the paint clear, blocking a season-high nine shots.

You combine the two together and what you get is more positive possessions.

In case that isn’t good enough, they also figured things out at the free throw line knocking down 23-30 free throws (76.7%).

Cal Spoke with Eddie Sutton after the Game

Calipari was late to speak with the media because he was busy visiting with Eddie Sutton.  Calipari said he looked good, so good they posed for a picture.

@UKCoachCalipari

@UKCoachCalipari

Even though this Arkansas team is only .500 and has some bad losses on their resume, tonight’s game was at a critical juncture.  At this point in the season, tonight’s game could have either started a slow and steady plunge, or catapulted Kentucky to a strong finish heading down the stretch.

We received the latter tonight, and their complete performance shows signs of promise for tomorrow.