As expected, UK has just announced that James Young will forgo his sophomore season and →
As expected, UK has just announced that James Young will forgo his sophomore season and enter the NBA Draft. From the press release, here are James’ remarks:
“My time at Kentucky has been special to me, something I’ll always treasure, but I feel that I’m ready to take the next step to the NBA,” Young said. “I’ve learned more this year, on and off the court, about life from Coach Cal and the staff and appreciate all of their guidance and support. I can’t say enough about my teammates; the journey helped us build a bond that we will always share for the rest of our lives. I would like to thank the best fans in the country, the Big Blue Nation, and I hope you guys will continue to support me as I move on. I will always bleed blue. Succeed and Proceed!”
Coach Cal says he’s excited for James, and thankful for his effort:
“I’m excited for James and his family and the decision he’s come to,” head coach John Calipari said. “From day one, the NBA people who came to our practices in the preseason raved about him. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him all season, investing himself in his brothers for the betterment of the team, and I think we all saw the end result in the tournament and Final Four. Whatever team drafts James is not only getting a superb athlete, they are getting the ultimate teammate.”
Best of luck to James. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.
After hints have been dropping the past few days, Willie Cauley-Stein just tweeted that he will return to Kentucky for his junior year. Willie cited the BBN, “the best fans in the USA,” and the void left empty by Kentucky’s loss in the National Championship game:
I'm proud to say I'm coming back for my junior year. I still have an empty spot to fulfill and in no rush to leave the best fans in the USA!
— Willie Cauley-Stein (@THEwillieCS15) April 14, 2014
COME ON GET HAPPY!
In case you missed this morning’s interview with Kentucky Sports Radio, the hardworking people behind the scenes (Shannon The Dude and Maria) uploaded the first hour of today’s podcast for your football-loving ears. Stoops gave a great interview, as he always does with KSR, giving us an in-depth update on how everything stands through six spring practices, including how the quarterback race is shaping up.
Excellent stuff from Stoops below to kick off the first hour:
After the excitement of the past three weeks, it was odd today to have a relatively normal day without any major news or electricity. While we all try to come down from the amazing high this team put us on, it is now draft decision time for these guys, as they try to figure out their NBA Futures. The players must make a decision by April 27, a deadline that gives them the time to gather information and make an informed decision. Unlike in past years, I expect that you may hear decisions drift out over the next couple of weeks as there is unlikely to be a unanimous decision by this group of seven as to their futures. I spent some of today on the telephone making calls and putting together my best stance as to where things are AT THIS MOMENT in the process for all of these guys. It is important to remember that it is still very early and everything may change. But I am confident that at this moment, here is where we are for each of the seven potential NBA Draft declarations.
All of the players spent today talking to John Calipari and collecting information about where they would stand in the draft process. As with everything, the information is surely varied and because of the run to the Final Four, for many of these guys this was the first time they have heard where they stand. I would suspect most will spend this weekend with their families talking about their futures and I would guess we will start to hear some news next week. For now, here is the rundown on each player:
JULIUS RANDLE: Almost assuredly gone. While the Jeff Goodman report today may have been premature, in the end I don’t suspect it will be wrong. Randle will be a top five pick and no one expects him to return and play for Kentucky. He is at that spot in the draft where he is so highly rated that my guess is Calipari would tell him he needs to go, even if he was considering a return. I can’t imagine a scenario where he ends up here for a second year.
JAMES YOUNG: Almost assuredly gone as well. Not quite the lock to enter the draft that Randle is, but very close. James will see himself go probably somewhere in the late lottery and he is a kid who wants to be in the NBA. Like with Randle, the working expectation in Lexington is that he will enter the Draft.
WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN: Probably the biggest news I found out today that surprised me a bit is that Willie is heavily considering returning to Kentucky. The scope of injury is enough that he probably won’t be able to work out during the Draft process and unlike with Nerlens Noel last year, that will hinder Willie. He will be unable to fix any concerns about his health and this could cause a drop in stock of some major degree. Plus, Willie likes being at Kentucky and enjoys his time in college, and isn’t in quite the rush that others are to get the NBA money. Most had assumed a couple of weeks ago that he was all but assured to enter the Draft, but apparently the last couple of weeks have raised some doubt in Willie’s mind and there is now a belief that me might decide to come back for his Junior year. I still think he will likely declare for the NBA, but now I think it is a very close call for Willie and he could be the surprise return that no one saw coming.
DAKARI JOHNSON: If Willie is the player that was almost certain to leave who is now having second thoughts, Dakari is the exact opposite. Before the Tournament, he was all but assured to come back to Lexington and nearly everyone was operating under the assumption that a second year was coming (one in which I think he will be dominant. But like Willie, Dakari is now having second thoughts, except in his case to look at the league. He is gathering information about his status, a decision that makes sense because…well what is the downside? He probably would find himself going at the end of the first round (at least this is what two NBA guys told me today), but most everyone thinks he would be better off coming back and being a force next year (and maybe a top ten pick). I still think he returns to Kentucky, but I do think the NBA is on the table now, whereas it was not just a couple of weeks ago.
HARRISON TWINS: The mystery of the process right now. I could see either decision for these two and I do think right now it is 50/50. I am told that Andrew is projected towards the end of the first round and Aaron the beginning of the second, so from a draft stock standpoint, it would seem returning is the play. But the Twins are their own guys and I think they and their dad will keep the decision very close to the vest. At various times, my opinion on their future has drifted back and forth…right now I am in the very so slightly “return” camp, but ask me tomorrow and I may change my mind again. The best thing UK has going for it is that they love playing (and being) together and they may want to do it for one more year. Their experience is much better at UK after this run (and the fan adoration that was shown) than it was during the early part of the year. No decision would surprise me with these two, and as one person told me about them, “these guys tell no one anything…anybody who guesses between now and the time they decide will be doing just that…guessing.”
Alex is also gathering information on the draft and some think that his Tournament performance got him back on the minds of NBA teams. I am told that of all seven, he is the most likely to return but that it isn’t assured and the decision will probably be made over the next week. Poythress is scheduled to graduate next year (which is a plus for those who want to see him return) and if he has a big year, especially with no Julius Randle in front of him as a similar player, he could blossom and rise on boards. The smart money is on a Poythress return, but I wouldn’t put it yet at 100%
So there you have it…I assume Randle/Young are gone, think it very likely Poythress returns and the other four are somewhat of a mystery. If you made me pick, I would say Willie to the NBA and Dakari back to Kentucky…and I don’t even have an educated guess on the Twins, who will be a mystery. This will probably change a number of times as we go over the next two weeks and as it does, we will let you know what we here.
If somehow they get five guys back besides Randle and Young…well that would be quite fun wouldn’t it?
Count LeBron James among those who don’t think Cal will make the jump to the NBA anytime soon. James told the New York Daily News he thinks Cal enjoys the unique situation Kentucky affords him in helping players change their lives and get to the NBA, along with the challenge of molding a new team each year:
“I would be very surprised if he made the jump,’’ James said before playing the Nets. “Just because of the simple fact that he loves coaching kids and helping those kids out. Even if it’s for one year or two years or whatever the case might be. He loves the challenge of bringing in a group of guys and trying to turn them into a team. It’s almost like an Olympic style, the way he coaches. He doesn’t have much time because he has so many guys who can go one-and-done. And he brings those individual egos and turns them into a team. Obviously, does it work out all the time? No. They didn’t make the tournament last year. But his success rate is amazing.”
The popular thought is that if Cal ever went back to the pros, it may be when LeBron’s ready to leave Miami, so this quote is somewhat comforting coming from James hiimself.
(Image via @sportingnews)
As the seconds ticked down, the chilling reality that Kentucky’s miracle postseason run was coming to an end settled over AT&T Stadium. Aaron Harrison, college basketball’s darling, missed the three he’s been hitting the past three games, and instead of a dog pile at center court, the team walked slowly off, confetti drifting slowly off their jerseys. The saddest one of all? Aaron, who put his hands on his head and squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears.
The cruelest thing about tonight’s loss? Simple mistakes cost Kentucky the game. They were 13-24 from the free throw line, compared to UConn’s perfect 10-10 mark. Kentucky had been so reliable from the charity stripe in the postseason until tonight, a telling sign that they were mentally and physically fatigued. They couldn’t finish drives, got outrebounded, and lost most of those crucial 50/50 balls Cal preaches about. Even during their runs in the second half, Kentucky was unable to take the lead. Simply put, this team was done.
Even UConn’s Shabazz Napier (who was spectacular) said that he noticed UK was tired: “Them guys got a little winded, and we just took advantage.” Cal said fatigue and nerves were a factor, especially for Randle in the first half: “He’s a freshman and he was anxious. That was the National Championship in front of 17 zillion people and he ran up and down the court three times and he got winded. It’s normal.”
What went wrong? As much as we’d like to, we can’t blame the rumors that Cal was going to the Lakers. Cal shot them down in the postgame press conference, telling reporters he wasn’t even going to dignify that stuff with a response. Further, he said that he was not aware of Rex’s tweet until after the game, nor were the players. Mitch Barnhart confirmed that Cal will return, and there have been no talks about his job status.
Amid the tears (and there were plenty of tears), the players were asked whether or not they’d return next season. Most refused to answer and said they couldn’t focus on that at the moment, but Willie Cauley-Stein said that while he hasn’t decided about the NBA yet, part of him thinks “Why not stay until they make me leave?” The loss is doubly cruel for Willie, who could have had a huge impact in this game, but was forced to watch from the sidelines. He echoed his comments from after the Robert Morris loss last season, and said he can “definitely” imagine coming back: “To me, there’s still emptiness to fill.”
Before you get too hopeful, remember that Archie Goodwin said something similar last year.
Don’t let tonight ruin the run
Was tonight painful? Yes. But don’t let it ruin what has been a truly magical run. When everyone had given up on them, this team stormed back and proved them wrong, looking like a team of destiny until the final minutes. Calipari opened his postgame press conference by telling reporters that even in defeat, he is proud of this team, the best group of kids he’s ever coached:
“I’m proud of these guys, and we had our chances to win. That game stayed a one-point game. We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws and we hung in there. These kids never gave up.”
James Young agreed, saying that the thing he’ll remember most about this team was its fighting spirit:
“That we really fought, no matter what, no matter how much we were down. We just kept our heads up and just kept fighting for each other.”
Randle said this team is special, and he hates that it ended like this:
“This group of guys are special. We have been through a lot this season. How we kept fighting and we were able to make this run just says a lot about the guys. I just hate that it ended like this.”
It all comes back to Aaron, the star of the story who vowed the Cats still had left in them a month ago. With red and puffy eyes, Aaron told reporters that he is hanging onto the happiness that comes with being part of ”one of the greatest runs in college basketball history.”
His brother Andrew sums it up best: “This loss, it hurts really bad. But it’s nothing compared to what we accomplished.”
For the second game in a row, Aaron Harrison hit the game winner.
For the third game in a row, he kept the Cats alive with a clutch three.
For the fourth game in a row, Kentucky has been part of an instant classic.
For the fifth game in a row, they’ve moved one step closer to the National Championship.
For the sixth game, they will play for number nine.
I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to properly describe what has happened with this Kentucky team the past month. There is no way to do it justice. With their fourth unbelievable win, Kentucky has entered into destiny mode, storming to the National Championship game without fear. The one with the least fear? Aaron Harrison.
When Aaron Harrison’s three sunk into the net with six seconds left, it had to be fate, right? For a freshman to hit that shot two games in a row, and this team to make this turnaround, it had to be destiny. After the second straight joyous dog pile, the team raved about Aaron in the locker room, crowing gleefully about his balls more than any man ever should in any other context. Cal called him “Aaron the Assassin,” and when he was asked about it, Aaron simply said, “I like winning.” Well, thank god for that.
Let’s not forget Alex
“But I’m telling you, he is a terrific player, and if we’re to do something special this weekend, you all will be talking about him this weekend.”
John Calipari said those words on Friday about Alex Poythress, and man, was he right. For the second game in a row, Alex roared the Cats back into the game, scoring four crucial points and grabbing two huge rebounds in the final five minutes. He also had a key offensive rebound and putback that was part of 15-0 run by the Cats early in the second half. With Willie out, Alex needed to have a big game, and he did.
Cal said that he thinks Marcus Lee’s big game against Michigan “woke [Alex] up” and gave him the confidence he needed to have a breakout game. Like he said about Marcus last weekend, Cal said he knew it was going to be a big day for Alex Poythress:
“I texted him before because I had a bunch of my friends say he’s going to have a big game. I texted him, This is what they’re saying, man, I love you. He said, I love you, coach, let’s go have some fun.”
Afterwards, Alex got stuck at the bottom of the dog pile and limped off the court, but insisted in the postgame presser that he was okay: “I’m fine.” You better be.
Wisconsin hit everything, but Kentucky still didn’t back down
For a moment there, it looked like it was going to be a sad night in Dallas. After Kentucky’s big run, Wisconsin responded with one of their own, and just. couldn’t. miss. from the outside. However, whereas Kentucky used to shrink from these moments, they now seize them. All those losses UK suffered during the regular season have transformed from the burden they shouldered to the foundation they stand on. Right, Cal?
“Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win, and part of that has come from how they have been treated all season. They have been ridiculed, criticized.”
When I heard this quote played over the speakers in the press box, I literally started crying.
This was an unbelievable moment, but it will in no way compare to what happens on Monday
if when the Cats win. And while no one can wipe the smile off their face tonight, Julius Randle says there’s no satisfaction for him yet: ”I’m definitely not satisfied, We’ve got one more game to go.”
Hampered by cramps/tweaked ankle (conflicting reports), Randle wasn’t able to turn in his usual double-double, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds. However, he did hit some of the biggest shots of the game, and continues to be Kentucky’s most reliable threat down low. Dakari Johnson did his part, too, scoring ten points and pulling down seven rebounds in 18 minutes. All that worrying we did about Frank Kaminsky? Kentucky shut him down, holding him to only eight points and five rebounds.
As the lights go off around me, it’s good to know they’re still on for the Cats.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©1:00 pm
Josh Hutcherson and his mother called into Kentucky Sports Radio this morning to talk about the Cats, causing tweens across the Bluegrass to collapse in front of their radios in a heap of emotions. Hutcherson, one of the stars of “The Hunger Games” movies, was born in Union, Kentucky, and is a lifelong Cat fan, “going back generations.” Hutcherson was the celebrity “Y” at the Kentucky/Louisville game in December, and told Matt that it was the highlight of his career:
“That was my single most proud moment that I’ve had as a side effect of my acting career. Absolutely. That’s bigger than any award that I’ve won, anything. That’s literally, it’s always been an absolute dream of mine,” Hutcherson said. “And it was at a Louisville game, too. It was against Louisville! It was a dream.”
By now, you’ve heard that Hutcherson’s Hunger Games co-star Jennifer Lawrence is a Louisville fan. You’ve probably even seen the picture of her in Louisville shirt throwing up the L. (From that day on, we were no longer pretend BFFs.) Matt asked Josh what if he and Jennifer talked a lot of trash during the Kentucky/Louisville game last week, and he said no because Jennifer isn’t a true fan like him, you, and me: ”She’s not a fan like I am. She’s a fan by association.”
In fact, Jennifer got so tired of hearing Josh talk trash that she gave him her dad’s phone number so he could banter back and forth with him, the true Louisville fan in the family. That makes me love him even more.
Josh said that he’s not worried at all about Wisconsin: “I’m not so scared of Wisconsin. I don’t know why exactly, I think we’re playing really good right now and I feel Wisconsin’s not going to be a big problem for us.” He added that he thinks Kentucky can also knock off Florida to win #9: “With all the momentum we have coming into in now, we have a good shot at winning it all. I really do believe that.”
We do too. Thanks to Josh (and his mother) for taking the time to call in. Enjoy the entire podcast below.
(Photo © Bob Donnan | Getty)
Throughout the year, the preseason talk of Kentucky going 40-0 haunted this group; they couldn’t escape it, and in the worst times, it became a punchline for the national media. Instead of rolling over, this group grew up in the postseason and refused to let their failures define them.
Since Sunday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how special this tournament run has been because of Kentucky’s regular season struggles. Would the highs of the past few weeks seem so high without the lows? Say Kentucky was 38-0 going into the Final Four. Would the wins feel as thrilling and unexpected? I don’t think so. Here are my five reasons 28-10 is sweeter than 38-0.
The program had reached the lowest of the lows under Calipari
Before you say “NIT,” let me stop you. Last year, the Cats at least had an excuse for not making the tournament in Nerlens Noel’s injury. After UK lost to South Carolina one month ago, the only thing Cal could point to was youth, and even then, that’s just the nature of the program at this point. Cal has talked a lot about his personal failures coaching this team lately, and I think in South Carolina, his frustrations boiled over, as shown by his absence in the postgame press conference. Under normal circumstances, an SEC road loss is not a huge deal, but for a group heralded as the greatest recruiting class of all time, UK’s eighth loss was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many fans and, of course, the national media. I’ll never forget that depressing drive from Columbia to Nashville, and being unable to shake the feeling that I’d seen something really, really bad go down that night. It was after that game that Aaron Harrison and James Young bravely met reporters and Aaron said that he still knows this team had a great story in them. Little did we know then that it was a story of redemption.
The vultures had to eat crow
No one was happier when UK lost to South Carolina on March 1st than Pat Forde. Forde and all the other reporters who dislike Cal finally got to open their pandora’s boxes of hate on him, with column after column flying out about how his one-and-done culture doesn’t work, and 2012 was just a flash in the pan. For Cal, who has been battling a whole other kind of pain this season because of his hip, it was hard to stay quiet any longer. Cal went on his radio show the Monday after the loss to try to calm down the Big Blue Nation and go after some of those reporters, who he said had been waiting “years” to get the chance to write those stories.
UK’s transformation in the past few weeks has been so remarkable that those reporters have been forced to eat crow, most notably Pat Forde in his column Sunday night. For a guy like Cal who thrives on proving people wrong, that’s one reason this season may be the sweetest of all.
There has been more growth
While 40-0 would be the ultimate conquest, I think this season has taught us that it’s nearly impossible with a team of freshmen. Juniors and seniors, maybe, but freshmen just have too much growing to do not to stumble along the way. I really don’t think this team would have been able to make their incredible postseason run if not for their losses in the regular season. After each of their big wins in the tournament, Calipari has said that this team’s struggles have only made them stronger, instilling a “never give up” mentality that otherwise, may have not been there. Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle were hyped as the team’s “alpha beasts” heading into the season, and both have struggled at times to live up to that moniker. Seeing them grow into the players they need to be has been especially heartwarming given those dips in the road. Besides, 40-0 may be immortal, but winning the title with a freshman starting five would be an historic accomplishment in its own right.
The road has been tougher
Kentucky’s road in the tournament hasn’t just been hard, it’s been really, really hard. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg argues Kentucky has had the most difficult path to the Final Four of any team in NCAA Tournament history. They’re only the sixth 8-seed to ever make it to the semifinals, and they had to beat three teams from last year’s Final Four to do it, including undefeated Wichita State and the defending National Champs in Louisville. If UK were undefeated coming into the tournament, they would most certainly be the number one overall seed, meaning their path to the Finals would be much easier. With few expecting UK to get past Wichita State, let alone all the way to the Final Four, these past few weeks have been so sweet because they’ve been so unexpected. After a regular season of regression, they’re peaking in the postseason. If you listen to Cal, they haven’t even reached the top of that mountain just yet.
Can you imagine how stressed out we would be if Kentucky were 38-0 right now? The pressure would be indescribable. I’m firmly in the “sometimes a loss helps” camp, not only because coaches can use it as a teaching tool, but because it can help motivate a squad (case in point: Indiana in 2011-2012). If Kentucky was rolling into the Final Four undefeated, that storyline would dominate everything, and would be close to impossible for the players to tune out. In contrast, the pressure has been off the Cats throughout this tournament, to the point that they’ve actually been considered an underdog by Vegas in two games. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by the team, who is playing with a very sharp chip on its shoulder. There’s less pressure on fans, too. After Kentucky beat Louisville, the season was made for me. Some could argue the same for the win over Wichita State. The rest of the run is on house money, which has made it that much more enjoyable.
The only thing sweeter than the Cats’ run right now? Number nine as the cherry on top.
We knew this day would come. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua has accepted the job as head coach at South Florida.
Coach O has been on Cal’s staff since 2008 at Memphis, and since then, his career has soared. Last summer, Antigua took over as head coach of the Dominican Republic National Team, and his name has been thrown around for several head coaching vacancies. It was only a matter of time before he got his shot.On a personal note, not only is Antigua a brilliant coach, he’s an unbelievably kind person who has always treated KSR well. He will be missed.
Congrats, Coach O. Go make us proud.
Kentucky is going back to the Final Four! The Cats defeated the hot shooting Wolverines of Michigan, 75-72, on Sunday to earn one of the four spots in “North Texas” next weekend. As always, UK got off to a slow start out of the gates but prevailed in the end thanks to a last second three-pointer from Aaron Harrison. Now Wisconsin awaits in the second-to-last game of the season and the folks out in Las Vegas have the Cats as a 2.5 favorite over the Badgers and 5/2 to win the national championship.
It was a great day to be a Wildcat, now let’s talk about it before we get in Final Four mode on Monday.
Aaron Harrison with the dagger, again.
Less than 48 hours after hitting one of the biggest shots you will ever see, Aaron Harrison hit the biggest shot you will ever see. With the game tied and the clock winding down, Aaron stepped back and hit a three-pointer over Michigan’s Caris LeVert to give Kentucky the lead with two seconds remaining. It was Kentucky first basket in two minutes, since Aaron hit another three-pointer in a tight game.
Watch the magical moment below:
Stone cold killer, anyone?
Ryan and I turned around immediately after the shot to see how Papa Harrison reacted. My man was on a high-five spree in the aisle behind Kentucky’s bench, getting love from everyone in sight.
Marcus Lee had a coming out party.
No Willie, no problem for the Cats on Sunday. With an injured Willie Cauley-Stein in street clothes, Marcus Lee played 15 big minutes off the bench to give Dakari Johnson a rest. Lee made the most of those minutes too, scoring a career-high 10 points with a career-high eight rebounds and two blocks. His string of putback dunks in the first half led to a tweet from the official ESPN Twitter accounted tweet that read, “If UK misses, Marcus Lee does not.”
Coach Cal knew it was coming, he claims. He told Lee two days ago that he was going to have a big day. “Knowing us, none of us believed him,” Lee said.
When Lee was announced as an All-Midwest Region player after the game — yes, that happened — Coach Cal looked to Aaron Harrison and screamed, “DID THEY SAY MARCUS?!” Cal then ran to Lee and gave him a huge hug.
Double-double for Julius Randle because that’s what Julius Randle does.
Randle’s 16 point, 11 rebound day was his 24th double-double of the season, the most by anyone in America in 2013-14. He also joined Gene Banks of the ’78 Dukies as the only freshmen to record a double-double in the first four games of the NCAA tournament.
Randle was named Most Outstanding Player in the region after the game and no one has ever been happier to receive a free hat.
“I’m going home to my mom,” Randle said of Kentucky’s upcoming trip to Dallas. Get the red velvet cake ready!
Dakari Johnson’s quote about Aaron Harrison’s nuts was fascinating.
Kentucky’s starting center got pretty personal when asked about Harrison being clutch in back-to-back games. Johnson told reporters, “He’s got big nuts, to be honest. He can’t even walk right now.”
TMI, Dakari. TMI.
More of that Poythress, please.
Alex Poythress was making plays late in the game yet again. At one point in the second half, Calipari yanked James Young out for Poythress and screamed, “We can’t win with you in the game!”
Young was hot in the beginning, though, so it wasn’t all bad for him. He hit his first five shots, three from deep, and scored all 13 of his points in the first half to keep UK in it.
When you have the opportunity to take a selfie with a killer, you do it.
Willie Cauley-Stein wants to play again this season.
“I really don’t know,” Willie said of his status for next weekend. “I hope so. I really hope so. I’m going to go back to Lexington and get a bunch of treatment. Lot of ice, and lot of standing. Maybe, just maybe this weekend I can suit up or something.”
And if not, Marcus Lee will be pretty well-rested.
Coach Antigua tweeted that photo and said, “Marcus Lee, he earned this nap , so proud of him!”
Wanna be a baller.
Kentucky and Wisconsin will tip off at 8:49 ET on Saturday.
Plan accordingly. Couches beware.
When Willie Cauley-Stein went down at the 12:27 mark in the first half, it started to look like it could be a very, very bad night for Kentucky. Not only was Louisville up 18-5, they were dominating every part of the game, leaving the Cats lost, listless, and looking for answers. Willie limped to the sideline and down the stairs, telling his coaches “I heard it pop.” The trainer worked on Willie on the sideline, and Willie’s face crumpled with pain as he tried to focus on how the game was going. After a few minutes, it was too much, and Willie was helped to the locker room, and only after he got past the curtain, stopped putting weight on his left leg completely. At that point, although Willie’s injury wasn’t a tenth as gruesome as Kevin Ware’s last year, you couldn’t help but feel that the court at Lucas Oil was cursed.
Officially, UK is saying Willie has a left ankle injury. Calipari said after the game that it’s “not a good ankle injury,” leaving it at that, and leaving the Big Blue Nation to sit, worry, and pray. We found out at halftime that Willie wouldn’t be back for the rest of the game, and afterwards, I asked several players in the locker room how they reacted when Cal shared the news with them.
Alex Poythress said that hearing Willie wouldn’t be able to come back in the game meant one thing to the players: Win it for Willie.
“Yeah, that’s what we did at halftime, we said that. ‘Let’s win it for Willie, he’s probably not coming back in the game. Let’s do it for him,’ so we got a little motivation for somebody to do it.”
James Young echoed those thoughts, and said that even though losing Willie was devastating to the team, it was time to step up and lay it all on the line. “Once Willie went down and we knew he wasn’t coming back, it was kind of hurtful for us,” James said. “When we came back in during halftime, and when we were going up, we all just went to the room and said we were going to win this one for him. We all just showed him love and played our hearts out.”
Aaron Harrison said you could see the disappointment in Willie’s face when he knew he couldn’t come back out on the court, and the team went in and shook his hands before they went back out for the second half:
“At halftime, you could see it on his face. He was down because he couldn’t go out there with us. But we all went in there and shook his hand and said we got him and we just went out there and played this game for him.”
Fans got in on the movement, too. After Willie went down, the hashtag #WinItForWillie (started by yours truly) trended nationally:
Where does the team go from here? Although Rick Pitino said he doesn’t think Willie is a difference maker for the Cats, losing him is a major blow to Kentucky’s post presence. However, in what has become their trademark, the Cats showed that although they may bend, they refuse to break. Dakari Johnson was huge, scoring a career-high 15 points and six rebounds. Alex Poythress, once so scared of the spotlight, took his game to new heights in the final five minutes, finishing with six points, four rebounds, a block, and a steal. Alex said that he believes the team is capable of continuing their championship run without Willie if they have to. “If we’ve gotta do it without him, I think we’re capable of doing it,” Alex said, telling reporters earlier on that he and his teammates tried to “imitate” Willie’s actions in the post. “We just tried to imitate him. It’s hard to do that with him being the great shot-blocker he is, but we have people capable of doing it like me, Julius, Marcus Lee off the bench is capable of doing it. We just tried to fill in for him.”
Calipari said that although Willie couldn’t leave the locker room during the second half, he was “absolutely going bonkers”:
“The doctor told me he was absolutely going bonkers in the locker room for game, like for the team, cheering. They had to hold him down, he was going crazy.”
Us too, Willie. Us too.
It’s really late, Ryan Lemond is bouncing off the walls, and I think we’re the only four people left in Lucas Oil Stadium. But Kentucky just sent the Louisville Cardinals home from the 2014 NCAA Tournament and it’s a party in Big Blue Nation.
After trailing throughout the entire game, UK dug deep and found the will to win the game in the end, 74-69. Cats fans had to sweat it out (so much sweat) but it’s over now, survive and advance. And since it’s just us talking here, I think I peed a little in my britches bit during the second half.
Join me for a few notes from the evening before we get kicked out of here for taking selfies on the court. (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Tyler.)
Willie Cauley-Stein’s status in unknown, but it’s not looking good.
Calipari said Willie suffered a “bad left ankle injury” and left it at that. We had hoped to get another update before leaving the arena but that’s all we get tonight. We should know something early Saturday and KSR will be on top of it so stick around.
“Bad ankle injury” suggests he’ll be out against Michigan. The best case scenario is probably a bad sprain and he might be available if the Cats have a trip to Dallas in their future.
Aaron Harrison’s three-pointer is one we’ll be talking about for a long, long time.
A Big Blue Nation rejoiced when Aaron Harrison drilled a triple from the corner to give UK a two point lead with 40 seconds remaining. That “stone cold killer” mentality Matt preached about in the preseason? We saw it with Aaron’s shot, the bucket that won the game and blew the roof off Lucas Oil Stadium.
Not to be forgotten on the play, Julius Randle made the unselfish pass out to Aaron to set it up. A couple weeks ago Julius forces a shot in that situation. But it’s not a couple weeks ago.
Did James Young win the game by fouling out?
Some food for thought: When James Young picked up his fifth foul, it forced Coach Cal to go to Alex Poythress, who he said “won the game for Kentucky.” The Cats were down seven when Young went to the bench with 10 straight Louisville points from Luke Hancock, Young’s defensive assignment. Poythress came in and shut Hancock down for the rest of the game and scored six big points in the comeback. If Young doesn’t pick up that fifth foul, who knows how the game would’ve ended.
Russ Smith visited the UK locker room after the game.
We’re told Russ Smith paid a visit to the Kentucky locker room after the game to congratulate the Cats on the win. Smith shook hands with the team that just ended his career and wished them luck in the Elite Eight against Michigan.
Yet another reason to love Russdiculous, one of the best guys to ever play for Louisville.
Kentucky is favored by two on Sunday. Tip-off at 5:05 pm.
The Cats get the Midwest region’s two seed in the Michigan Wolverines and they are favored by two points in the game. Winner goes to the Final Four. Let’s do this.
This has to be the first time an eight seed enters the game as a favorite over the second seed.
Best Louisville fan photo ever or BEST LOUISVILLE FAN PHOTO EVER?
Shut it down. Game over.
Things got a little crazy in Lexington.
Luckily no bad news from the mayhem that I’m aware of, although some poor, unfortunate couches met their death.
You should listen to the pregame show. It was one for the ages.
Clear Channel set us up in a bar full of Louisville fans for the pregame show and the packed house didn’t give us the warmest of welcomes, as you can imagine. Matt, Ryan and I fought through “C-A-R-D-S” chants for an hour of radio before the game, and we used the hostile environment to roast the Louisville fan base right in their faces. It was one of the better shows I can remember and, somehow, we escaped without taking a single punch.
Have a listen to the podcast here. I really think you will like it.
Rick Pitino had won 68 straight games after leading at the half before the loss.
But as always, a 69 did Rick Pitino in.
That’ll do it for now, folks.
Let’s get one thing straight: Kentucky is going to win Friday night. I refuse to believe otherwise. But for the sake of website fodder, let’s pretend hell freezes over and Louisville somehow escapes Lucas Oil Stadium with a win over our beloved Wildcats. (Excuse me while I throw up.)
Here are 10 things you can expect to happen if the Cats are sent home, which isn’t going to happen:
1.) Twitter will be unbearable.
Only during the True Detective finale and occasionally during terrible shows like the The Bachelor do I refuse to get anywhere near Twitter. If the Cards somehow manage to defeat Kentucky on Friday, I’m logging out for at least the weekend. There are a handful of Louisville fans who like to wish ill-will on the KSR writers — I was once told to “get AIDs and die in a car wreck” — and I can’t imagine what they’ll have to say if Louisville advances. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be shutting down and enjoying my weekend away from social media. Twitter will be unbearable.
2.) The city of Indianapolis will suffer.
A weekend with the good people of Big Blue Nation or a weekend with the filth that is the Louisville fan base? The city of Indianapolis is pulling for the Wildcats, no doubt. The economy will thrive with three days of UK fans taking over the city, as does every city we infiltrate during March. Louisville fans will just litter it with their empty malt liquor bottles and scratched up vinyls from K-Dogg’s victory set.
3.) Chane Behanan will have the munchies…
And if Kentucky wins, Chane Behanan will have the munchies.
4.) The media will destroy Coach Cal and Kentucky.
The national media hoped to write the story last weekend in St. Louis, but the Cats’ win over Wichita State pushed it back at least one week, if it still exists at all. From preseason No. 1 to out in the Sweet 16, Kentucky’s hypothetical failure will be better than porno for the Jeff Goodmans of the world. Their fingers can’t wait to hit the keyboard to crush Calipari for not reaching the Final Four with a roster full of eventual NBA talent.
5.) Calipari will land a top recruit…
Coach K recently took a page out of John Calipari’s book by picking up a commitment from Luke Kennard immediately after Duke’s crushing loss to Mercer to rescue the ailing fan base. Last year Kentucky landed Julius Randle one day after the loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT. This year Calipari will find a way to put a smile on our faces as quickly as possible.
But, again, Kentucky isn’t losing.
6.) Fourth Street Live will be full of stereotypical Louisville fans, strung out on percocets and oxycontin, buying up all the bottom shelf liquor in the bar, throwing up Ls on the dance floor and polluting the air with knock-off designer cologne.
Also known as: any other Friday night on Fourth Street.
7.) Calipari to NBA rumors…
Every. Single. Year.
8.) UK leg tattoo guy will need a touch-up…
He’ll want to make an appointment before Rick Pitino gets there for his neck tat.
9.) UK Spring Football!!!!
What? Basketball? What are you talking about? It’s football season!!!!! DREW BARKER!!!!!
10.) Pat Forde will be the happiest man in America…
But, for the last time, it ain’t hapnin’.
Cats by 6.
Three weeks ago in South Carolina, a teary-eyed Aaron Harrison told reporters that this season was still going to be a “great story.” His words rang a bit hollow during the low point of the season, but tonight, after one of the greatest basketball games I’ve ever witnessed, I’m not only seeing that story, I’m believing it.
Everything was set up for Wichita State to win. Despite going to the Final Four and being a number one seed, the mid-major darling still got the Cinderella treatment, and at halftime, the media had their recaps written. “36-0 vs. the team that was supposed to be 40-0.” Even with all the talent in the world, Cal’s one-and-done’s were just freshmen, and would never stay in school long enough to develop the maturity and experience like Ron Baker’s, or Cleanthony Early’s. The leadership just wasn’t there, and because it’s Calipari and because it’s Kentucky, it never will be. Right, national media? Right?!?
Wrong. Kentucky came out in the second half and tore those recaps into confetti, not only withstanding Wichita State’s punches, but delivering ones of their own. The freshmen were no longer freshmen–down the stretch, they played with the poise of seniors, sinking free throws and tightening the noose on defense. A very good Wichita State team gave Kentucky their best shot, and unbelievably, Kentucky responded, coming together as the team we always knew they could be.
After the game, Willie Cauley-Stein said that three weeks ago, Kentucky would not have won this game. Since the regular season ended, the Cats have undergone an unbelievable transformation, bouncing back from their mistakes faster, and creating plays instead of waiting for them to happen. Suddenly, all those struggles Kentucky went through are actually helping them, as Cal said in the postgame press conference:
“You have to understand again, they have been through so much. They have been attacked, they have been bludgeoned, they can’t play, they’re not a team, you can’t do it this way. But they stayed together. It makes you strong. It makes you tough as nails. And we just hung around.”
It all starts with the player that many thought wouldn’t even play tonight. Sore elbow and all, Andrew Harrison stepped up and led the team, sinking shots and crucial free throws with the poise of a pro. Andrew admitted that he was close to not playing because of the pain, but fought through it because he “just had to”:
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to play at first, but I felt like I just had to. And I fought through it. The elbow, once you get your adrenaline flowing, it felt fine, but it was still a little painful.”
You couldn’t tell by his actions. Andrew finished with 20 points off 6-9 shooting from the floor and 7-9 from the free throw line. His brother Aaron wasn’t too shabby either, nailing some threes when the Cats needed the most. Those two have endured enormous scrutiny since coming to UK, and only in the postseason say they’re finally having fun. Had Andrew not played today, this would be a very different recap. He’s the leader this team needs.
Andrew’s leadership was essential, but Julius Randle’s presence in the second half was huge. After scoring only two points in the first half, Randle went to work, finishing with 13 points and ten rebounds. He had more offensive rebounds (5) and second-chance points (6) than the entire Wichita State team. He also had a career-high six assists, a very encouraging stat and one that speaks to how well Kentucky played down the stretch. Cal admitted that he’s struggled with coaching Andrew and Julius at times this season, but now, we’re finally seeing what happens when they buy in.
All season long, this team has been burdened with unreasonably high expectations, and only in the postseason, when it’s either win or go home, have they been able to focus on what matters. Willie Cauley-Stein said that when the buzzer sounded this afternoon, “it felt like five million pounds came off our shoulders.” Kentucky didn’t just beat a good team tonight, they beat a great one, and with that, confidence will continue to grow. Andrew said that the win was big because it was a validation of all the hard work they’ve done. Julius said it was proof that what they’re doing is working:
“All of the adversity we have been through all season, just to see us coming together as a team and getting better each game, and finally get a big win like that, just enjoyed it. Everybody was happy and we just have to keep building on it.”
One of Cal’s most popular phrases lately has been how far this team still has to go. Before today, that comment terrified me. After today, it excites me. Kentucky went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country today and won. You’re telling me this story gets even better??
What better twist than playing your arch rival in the Sweet 16? When the brackets came out, we saw the matchup with Louisville looming, and now it’s here. Defending national champs against last year’s defending champs. The last team to beat Louisville in the tournament? Kentucky. For the second game in a row, the pressure may be off the Cats again; they’ve beaten the Cards once this season. The matchups are still in our favor. As Willie Cauley-Stein said after the game, “I feel like we were a lot better than them then,” and this team’s ten times better than they were on December 28th. The Cats are riding a freight train of momentum into Indy, and with this win, I’m not sure they can be stopped.
It’s gonna be one hell of a week, folks.
The Cats defeated ninth-seeded Kansas State, 56-49, late Friday night in the the second round of the NCAA tournament. Kentucky showed some flaws and struggled to put the game away in the end, but in March, it’s all about surviving and advancing to the next round. And that they did.
Julius Randle led the way for UK with 19 points and 15 rebounds, his 21st career double-double of the season, while Aaron Harrison backed him up offensively with 18 of his own. Andrew Harrison was a little turnover prone at the point but he did dish out five assists and, luckily, still has a functional right arm.
Let’s run through some quick takeaways before we call it a night and move on to the next opponent, the 35-0 Shockers of Wichita State.
First and foremost, Andrew Harrison is going to be OK.
It was all rainbows and butterflies in the final minute until Andrew Harrison ran to the Kentucky bench holding his right arm. A replay showed a a nasty bend at the elbow as he swiped at a Kansas State player attempting a late, meaningless bucket. Everyone in Big Blue Nation collectively held their breath, wondering if he was squinting from the pain or squinting because he’s Andrew Harrison.
In the locker room he told reporters it’s pretty sore but he believes he’ll be fine. “I think I hyperextended it,” he said.
Willie Cauley-Stein is a game-changer when he’s on.
We learned in the comeback against Florida last Sunday just how important Willie Cauley-Stein is to this team. When he’s active defensively and protecting the rim, opposing teams struggle offensively. That was the case tonight as the big man blocked four shots and altered no telling how many more, forcing Kansas State to rely on jumpers from the perimeter instead of penetrating.
After the game Willie took ownership of his midseason slump, saying he briefly lost focus as leader of the team, a role he accepted at the beginning of the season. Now he’s back and it’s the difference in how the team plays, he says.
I don’t disagree. This team will go as far as Willie will take them. No team in the tournament has an answer for him when he is at his best.
And did you know he played wide receiver in high school??? I swear!
Dakari Johnson: 0 points, 1 rebound
We can live with it when Willie is beasting.
UK held Kansas State well below its season average.
The Wildcats, the purple ones, entered Friday night’s game having scored almost 70 points per contest on the year. With one minute and 14 seconds to go in the game against Kentucky, a free throw by Wesley Iwundu gave K-State its 41st point of the night.
Kentucky wasn’t a whole lot better offensively, though, posting a similar percentage from the field with 38% to State’s 35.8%. Kentucky also turned the ball over more with 15 to State’s 10.
Survive and advance.
Julius Randle now has the UK freshman record for double-doubles.
With his 19 points and 15 rebounds, Julius Randle surpassed Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins for most double-doubles by a freshman. Randle caught a little flak in the first half for a bad sequence or two, and at times the offense runs better with him on the pine, but the kid has 21 double-doubles in 35 career games. Yes, his spin is frustrating, and yes, those two three-pointers early in the game were hideous, but he finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds. That’s a man, people.
Not a great night for James Young.
I blame the Wanda Sykes hairdo for Young’s cold shooting night in St. Louis. The freshman took a team-high 13 shot attempts and connected on only three of those, and made a few bonehead plays throughout the night. (That inexcusable offensive foul really stands out.)
Young said he didn’t have a lot of confidence in his shot tonight. He noticed he was leaning back, an old habit, and he couldn’t get it going. That’ll need to change by Sunday.
Watch the players discuss the game…
From our friends at Kentucky Wildcats TV, of course.
Up next: Wichita State
I’ve been on the Wichita State bandwagon all season and I won’t lie to you, friends: the Shockers terrify me. They need to be respected. Kentucky will certainly have its hands full Sunday and we’ll have to hear all about the 40-0 talk leading up to the game. This may be the storyline the NCAA looked forward to the most when it drew up the bracket, and now it’s here. Time to take down the one seed and move on to Indy for that game we won’t speak of yet.
Beat the Shockers.
Goodnight and Go Cats.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©6:27 pm
The brackets are rolling out, and the Cats are an 8-seed in the Midwest bracket, and will face 9-seed Kansas State in St. Louis on Friday, with a potential game against Wichita State in the round of 32.
Even better, Louisville is the 4-seed in that region, which means that the Cats could face them in Indianapolis in the Sweet 16. Wow.
The entire Midwest bracket: