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Kentucky Squanders 14-Point Lead to Lose at South Carolina

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky got into the driver’s seat for an SEC road win, but missed opportunities sent the Cats back to Lexington with a 76-68 loss.

The Cats made the most out of an ugly game by building up a 14-point lead with 11:34 to play.  For the final eleven-plus minutes, Kentucky did a whole lot of fouling and not a lot of scoring.  The Cats closed the game by scoring just 11 more points.  They weren’t making shots and they weren’t much better at the free throw line either, knocking down just 3-8 form the charity stripe in the final four minutes.

Despite their faults down the stretch, UK had a chance to take an eight-point lead with just over four minutes to play.  Kevin Knox’s three-pointer bounced off the rim, right into Nick Richards’ hands, but he missed the dunk.  South Carolina turned that into an And One for a six-point swing to take games’  momentum for good.

Short-handed and in foul trouble (59 total fouls were called), Kentucky had an opportunity to win it, but the young Cats made too mistakes down the stretch to capitalize with a road win.


The Legacy of Stephen Johnson

The Legacy of Stephen Johnson

“What does my son need to work on to become a college quarterback?”

I get asked this many times a year. My answer normally varies depending on recent inspiration or viewing of a specific signal caller. But three traits remain constant: Selflessness, Toughness, and Courage.

Self·less

ˈselfləs/

adjective

concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own; unselfish.

On Tuesday, Stephen Johnson announced his retirement from football on Kentucky Sports Radio. He also said that he is awaiting surgery on both shoulders and a knee. Let’s think about that for a minute. So, Johnson played through the 2017 season requiring three major surgeries and still led his team to a 7-5 regular season record which included an inspired victory at South Carolina and a home win over Tennessee. Yeah, I know UT was bad; who cares. They’ve been bad before and still beaten the Cats so that argument has lost its merit in my book.

Back to selflessness. One of the many times that Stephen Johnson injured one or both of his shoulders in 2017 was during the Tennessee game. Below is an excerpt from his KSR interview in which he described a state of mind that was solely focused on the Big Blue Nation and his teammates, not himself.

“I was just sitting there, waiting to get my numbing shot for my shoulder and they told me we had a fumble during our last drive.  So I just said, ‘Put it in anywhere.  Let me run out there.’  As soon as the shot was lifted out of my shoulder, I grabbed my helmet and ran straight out of the locker room.”

Ran straight out of the locker room after getting a numbing shot. May not sound much to some, but to me this simple statement speaks volumes. In that game he completed six passes for 46 yards while rushing for 84 which includes a TD run with :33 remaining on the clock. Selfless.

Dalton Green is my nephew. Like his Aunt Jenny and Uncle Freddie, Stephen Johnson is his favorite Wildcat. Dalton unexpectedly and inexplicably became ill during the 2017 football season. I asked Mark Stoops to sign a football for him following the Eastern Michigan game. The coach obliged, then we began discussing why.

A few days later, Stoops and our family’s favorite Wildcat Stephen Johnson surprised us with a visit to the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital ICU. Dalton was sluggish, but perked up and appeared to process the goings on and even wanted to play catch with SJ during the visit. Of course, Stephen obliged. Dalton lacked the strength to hold the football. Johnson did the catching and throwing. Dalton smiled. A smile was nothing short of a miracle at that point.

As Jen Smith documented, the duo’s visit lifted spirits. Prior to leaving the room I observed Stephen leaning down and whispering words of encouragement to Dalton. I saw empathy and Christian love in Johnson’s eyes as he was talking to and praying for a very sick child. Months later, I’m happy to report that Dalton is much, much better. He’s still recovering and often speaks of Stephen’s visit. His little eyes gleam every time he asks a random stranger, “So, do you know who visited me in the hospital?” Oh yeah, his room is decorated with Stephen Johnson pictures. Selfless.

Tough

təf/

adjective 

(of a substance or object) strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling.

A quarterback’s success can be measured by achievement throughout unsettling situations. He led the Cats into Columbia, South Carolina and beat a surging Gamecock team 23-13 by completing 16 of 25 passes for 169 yards to go along with 74 yards on the ground. The story goes that Carolina refused to shake hands before the game. A game captain, Johnson used that disrespect as encouragement to lead his team to a comfortable win while playing in highly uncomfortable, road conditions.

cou·ra·geous

kəˈrājəs/

adjective

not deterred by danger or pain; brave.

Johnson’s courage should have never been questioned prior to enrolling at the University of Kentucky. He suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome until at the age of 13. Through his family’s prayer and faith, he’s been free from the disorder ever since.

I took this picture of Stephen Johnson at SEC Media Days. For a young man to overcome Tourette’s Syndrome to stare down a horde of media and flashing lights while maintaining this stern and focused appearance…at the moment this picture was taken, I didn’t give a darn about anything he did on the field. I was in tears thinking about a kid who suffered from an incapacitating disorder but was now standing tall on a national stage. Courageous.

Fast forward to today. Stephen revealed that he is to undergo surgeries on both shoulders and a knee. A throwing shoulder that he couldn’t feel after being hit late and out of bounds by a Northwestern defender. Yet another in-game trip to the locker room ensued. In typical SJ fashion, the senior led his team back from a scoreboard deficit and nearly won the Music City Bowl while battered and torn. Toughness.

What does all this mean?

I never held back on my support and affinity for Stephen Johnson. There were times that many questioned what seemed to be blind support of the quarterback, I never wavered. You see, there’s so much more to leading a football team than a completion percentage.

Did he complete 100% of his passes and lead the Cats to back to back 12 win seasons? No. Did he miss on some passes in 2017 that he connected on in 2016? Yes. But after Tuesday’s KSR interview you now you know why. Kentucky’s starting quarterback was suffering from significant injuries yet he never flinched, never backed down. But after revealing the extent of his injuries, the BBN has as explanation as well as an indication of the man that overcame staggering odds to lead his team to consecutive bowl games and .500 seasons within the conference.

Winner is a subjective term. Johnson completed his career as the Wildcat signal caller with a 14-8 regular season record. He is the only Kentucky quarterback since 1966 with four career games of at least 224 yards passing and 44 rushing yards. SJ was the first quarterback since 1993 to win four of his first six career true road games. I could go on with statistical data that would paint the picture of an accomplished quarterback, but I won’t. Not necessary. Not now.

Throughout the hour-long interview, Ryan Lemond and Drew Franklin accepted phone calls during which multiple callers became emotional when speaking to the former Wildcat. I think that’s all you need to know about the legacy of Stephen Johnson. The afterthought signee from Rancho Cucamonga, California captured the hearts of the Big Blue Nation. He’s Selfless, Tough, Courageous, a Winner, and my all-time favorite Kentucky Wildcat. It’s been an absolute honor to cover his career in Lexington. I’m going to miss seeing #15 on the field.


10 Things To Know About The South Carolina Gamecocks

10 Things To Know About The South Carolina Gamecocks

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky will do battle in South Carolina tonight against a Gamecock team coming off a huge win on the road at Georgia. Frank Martin’s team is now 2-3 in SEC play and 11-6 overall, and looking to grab a second straight resume-building win tonight against your University of Kentucky Wildcats.

But before the ball is tipped in the electric Colonial Life Arena, you need to know these 10 things about the Gamecocks…

 

1. South Carolina has only lost once at home.

Missouri is the only team to take down the Gamecocks on their own court this season. The other losses came at Alabama, Ole Miss and Clemson, and on a neutral site to Illinois State and Temple.

2. South Carolina is undefeated when it scores 70 or more points.

A perfect 10-0 this year when hitting the 70-point mark.

3. The Gamecocks are ranked second in the SEC in scoring defense.

South Carolina’s strength is its defense, which ranks second in the SEC and 33rd nationally, as opponents average just 65.1 points per game. Nine opponents have been held below 65 points so far this season, including Georgia this past Saturday.

4. Chris Silva is the team’s leading scorer.

South Carolina’s best weapon is its sophomore forward, Chris Silva, who is averaging 14.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. His numbers are even better when limited to SEC play as he has scored an average of 17.8 points in the five league games. Contain him and Kentucky will likely escape with a victory.

5. Chris Silva takes a lot of trips to the line.

Many of Silva’s team-leading points come from the charity stripe. He goes to the line over 10 times per game and ranks eighth nationally in free throw attempts.

He is hitting over 75 percent of those attempts this season.

6. They’re going to try to “rough it up.”

Kentucky’s toughness will be challenged tonight. “They’re really physical. They’re going to try to rough us up,” UK assistant coach Kenny Payne said yesterday. “First of all on rebounding, who’s hitting who first? Are they hitting you? Are they attacking you? Are they pushing you under the basket? Well, if that’s happening then they’re going to get offensive rebounds. Second thing is defensively, they’re going to try to take you out of offense. They’re going to try to rough you up off screens. They’re going to try to get up inside of you when you’re handling the ball. They’re going to deny passes. They’re going to play physical.”

Payne noted this could be a tough game for Kevin Knox because he tends to shy away from contact.

7. Louisville’s $100K recruit is on the team.

I wonder if he’ll be on the bench tonight.

8. Frank Martin thinks Kentucky is missing veteran leadership, which is true.

During his Monday press conference, Frank Martin said Kentucky has “go-to guys,” but lacks upperclassmen. He named Isaiah Briscoe and Tyler Ulis as two leaders from Kentucky’s past. He also mentioned “that one guy who got all the offensive rebounds and transferred to Washington,” referring to Marcus Lee, who transferred to California. Same thing.

9. South Carolina has only beaten Kentucky twice during the John Calipari era.

The first one came after the undefeated 2009-10 team took a call from the president prior to the game. (Thanks a lot, Obama.)

Kentucky lost again at South Carolina in 2013-14.

10. Ken Pom predicts the Gamecocks will lose a close one.

It’ll be a 71-68 victory for the Cats, according to Ken Pom’s magical sabermetrics machine. If that prediction holds true, we’ll be more than happy with the outcome.


Two Kentucky signees named McDonald’s All-Americans

Two Kentucky signees named McDonald’s All-Americans

Two Kentucky signees were named McDonald’s All-Americans this afternoon. Point guard Immanuel Quickley and shooting guard Keldon Johnson will represent Kentucky at the all-star game in Atlanta on March 28.

Quickley will be on the East team, along with Zion Williamson, who will announce his decision Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. Johnson will be on the West team. Unfortunately, Tyler Herro did not make the cut despite late consideration. Here are both rosters:

Kentucky’s two representatives bring John Calipari’s total number of McDonald’s All-Americans over ten recruiting classes to 32.

2009 DeMarcus Cousins 6-11 C Mobile, AL (LeFlore)
2010 Terrence Jones 6-9 F Portland, OR (Jefferson)
2010 Brandon Knight 6-3 G Fort Lauderdale, FL (Pine Crest)
2010 Doron Lamb 6-4 G New York, NY (Bishop Loughlin)
2011 Anthony Davis 6-10 F Chicago, IL (Perspectives Charter)
2011 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 6-7 F Somerdale, NJ (St. Patrick)
2011 Marquis Teague 6-2 G Indianapolis, IN (Pike)
2011 Kyle Wiltjer 6-9 F Portland, OR (Jesuit)
2012 Archie Goodwin 6-5 G Little Rock, AR (Sylvan Hills)
2012 Alex Poythress 6-8 F Clarksville, TN (Northeast)
2013 Aaron Harrison 6-6 G Richmond, TX (Travis)
2013 Andrew Harrison 6-6 G Richmond, TX (Travis)
2013 Dakari Johnson 7-0 C Brooklyn, NY (Montverde Academy (Montverde, FL))
2013 Marcus Lee 6-9 F Antioch, CA (Deer Valley)
2013 Julius Randle 6-9 F Dallas, TX (Prestonwood Christian Academy)
2013 James Young 6-6 G-F Rochester Hills, MI (Rochester High)
2014 Devin Booker 6-6 G Grand Rapids, MI (Moss Point (High), MS)
2014 Trey Lyles 6-10 F Camby, IN (Arsenal Tech)
2014 Karl-Anthony Towns 6-11 C Metuchen, NJ (St. Joseph)
2014 Tyler Ulis 5-9 G Matteson, IL (Marian Catholic)
2015 Isaiah Briscoe 6-3 G Union, NJ (Roselle Catholic)
2016 Edrice Adebayo 6-9 C Little Washington, NC (High Point Christian)
2016 De’Aaron Fox 6-3 G Katy, TX (Cypress Lakes)
2016 Sacha Killeya-Jones 6-10 F Chapel Hill, NC (Woodberry Forest)
2016 Malik Monk 6-4 G Lepanto, AR (Bentonville High)
2017 Quade Green 6-0 G Philadelphia, PA (Neumann-Goretti)
2017 Kevin Knox 6-9 F Tampa, FL (Tampa Catholic)
2017 Nick Richards 6-11 C Kingston, JM (The Patrick School (HIllside, NJ))
2017 Jarred Vanderbilt 6-9 F Missouri City, TX (Victory Prep)
2017 P.J. Washington 6-7 F Frisco, TX (Findlay Prep)
2018 Keldon Johnson 6-6 G-F South Hill, VA (Oak Hill Academy)
2018 Immanuel Quickley 6-3 G Havre De Grace, MD (John Carroll)

This year’s McDonald’s All-American Game will take place on March 28 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. It will air at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.


LISTEN: Five Highlights from Stephen Johnson’s KSR Interview

1. Stephen Still Loves this Sh*t

Johnson entered Kentucky folklore for out-dueling Heisman Trophy Winner Lamar Jackson.  His legendary performance began before he even took a snap.  Today Johnson confirmed exactly what we thought he said — “I love this sh*t” — and explained why.

“After they scored, that place erupted.  It was just so loud, I could barely hear what are coaches were telling us the play was, even though I knew what it was.  Going out there, having the atmosphere like that and seeing the defense that they were in, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s on. They’re about to shut up reeeeally, really fast.'”

And shut up they did.

Johnson confirmed that he did see Lamar do the Heisman pose and he did see Lamar fumble.

2. Johnson Loved the Two-Point Conversion Call

After running in the final touchdown at the Music City Bowl with about 30 seconds left to play, Stephen Johnson was happy the Cats decided to go for two.  It wasn’t just because he had two bad shoulders and a bum knee.

“I loved the call.  Just having the momentum, going and scoring the last touchdown of the game, knowing it would be in our hands.  We kinda worked that play out the whole week.  It was good defense on the release of our receiver to where we couldn’t get the natural pick.  It was just me kinda trying to throw the ball up at that point and it didn’t fall our way.”

After the ball fell to the ground, many fans wished Johnson had the opportunity to roll out and run into the end zone.  Even though it worked for the touchdown, Johnson does not regret the coaches’ decision-making.

“I really liked the way how it all unfolded at the end right there,” Johnson said.  “We had great playcalling.  I don’t play for Kentucky anymore so I can really say what I want to.  It’s the truth.  We had great playcalling, that two-point play just didn’t fall our way.”

3. Chester was Right

After the Southern Miss game, Chester called into KSR to share a grievance: he believed Johnson’s helmet didn’t fit properly onto his head.  After a lengthy investigation, Mrs. Tyler Thompson could find no hard evidence of Chester’s claim, only a GIF.

It turns out that Chester was correct.  When UK heard Chester’s call, the equipment managers called Johnson into their office to assess the situation.  His large hairdo was in fact too much for his helmet.  To fix the problem, the managers removed some of the padding at the top so the helmet could fit tighter around his head.

Lesson learned — never doubt Chester.

4. Football wasn’t Stephen’s Best Sport

It was actually baseball.  A shortstop and a pitcher in Little League, Johnson said it was best sport, but it was too boring for his taste.  As a kid he dabbled in just about every sport except rugby and water polo.  That’s not an exaggeration. “I was the only black kid in Southern California playing ice hockey.”

5. What Happened in the Locker Room vs. Tennessee

Arguably the best moment of the 2017 season happened on the sideline.  With the Border rivalry game hanging in the balance, Johnson was forced to the locker room with a shoulder injury.

“I was just sitting there, waiting to get my numbing shot for my shoulder and they told me we had a fumble during our last drive.  So I just said, ‘Put it in anywhere.  Let me run out there.’  As soon as the shot was lifted out of my shoulder, I grabbed my helmet and ran straight out of the locker room.”

Johnson did not expect to hear the crowd erupt in applause.  “It was insane…That gave me a boost.” Not long after his dramatic return, he ripped out the hearts of the Vols with this amazing, game-winning score.

In the hour-long interview, Stephen shared a ton of funny, insightful stories, like which lineman talks the most trash.  Johnson also apologized to Freddie Maggard for kicking him out of the Media Guide by surpassing him in the all-time passing ranks.  It’s an interview you can’t miss.


Stephen Johnson announces retirement from football

Stephen Johnson announces retirement from football

Breaking news: Stephen Johnson just announced his retirement from football on Kentucky Sports Radio. 

Johnson said he’s stepping away from the game because his body just can’t handle it anymore. After being injured in the Music City Bowl, Johnson said he’s about to have surgeries on both shoulders and his left knee.

“I am completely done with football,” Johnson said. “That is the big news. I really don’t have the fire or desire or drive to keep on playing it. To have these surgeries on top of it, it would shut my body down.”

Johnson said he’s still upset how his career ended, specifically the late hit that wasn’t called vs. Northwestern, which forced him to leave the game.

“I was pissed,” Stephen said of the no-call. “I was definitely ticked off, just because I knew I didn’t have a throw so I tried to draw a foul…It ended up being at my cost.”

Amazingly, Stephen was able to come back in and finish the game despite not being able to move his right arm, a testament to his toughness and heart. What’s next for him? Johnson says he wants to stay in Lexington and work with UK Athletics.

“I’m excited to see what the future holds,” he said.

So are we. Thanks to Stephen for sharing his big news on KSR and giving us some incredible memories.


Zion Williamson to announce decision at 8 p.m. Saturday

We’ve known for a few weeks that Zion Williamson will announce his decision on Saturday, January 20. Now, we know what time. According to The State, Zion will announce his decision at 8 p.m. ET Saturday night at Spartanburg Day School, 15 minutes before tip of Kentucky’s game vs. Florida. The public is invited to attend. There’s still no word on whether or not the announcement will be televised, although with ESPN’s College GameDay leading into the game, it’s certainly a possibility. Talk about a giant mood swing one way or the other at Rupp.

Saturday is his mother’s birthday. A public announcement at his high school in South Carolina certainly suggests he’ll make her happy and stay home and play for Clemson, his stepfather’s alma mater. What should we read into the fact that it’s happening 15 minutes before Kentucky vs. Florida? Just that the live blog will start earlier and KSR’s servers will most definitely crash.

Thankfully, we’ll know soon enough.

Immanuel Quickley remains hopeful Zion Williamson commits to Kentucky


Wenyen Gabriel’s play “an example of what we need every player to do”

Wenyen Gabriel is Kentucky’s hardest worker right now, to the point Kenny Payne says the coaching staff is using him as an example of what the rest of the team needs to do to succeed.

“We just had a staff meeting and I told [John Calipari], [Wenyen’s] energy, his effort, what he’s giving us on the floor, just the fight of it, is an example of what we need every player to do,” Kentucky’s associate head coach said this morning.

Gabriel may only average 6.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, but his energy and effort are a big reason Kentucky’s won some games they probably should have lost. After disappearing in the second half of his freshman season, Gabriel has rediscovered his game, which Payne says makes him the perfect role model for a historically young squad.

“This kid came here with a bunch of expectations and it’s easy to get lost in what you are and who you are as a player. He’s finally getting back to being the player that he is: an energy guy, a tough guy, a rebounding guy. Obviously, we’d like him to make better decisions handling the ball. He has some unforced turnovers at times, but his energy, his fight, his determination to play winning basketball, is really good right now.”

Gabriel’s hustle was a big part of Kentucky’s win at Vanderbilt; Payne said they’re using his film to show the younger guys what they must do to go on the road and win in an ever-improving SEC.

“One of the things we’re trying to do, we’re trying to be a great road team. A team that can go on the road and fight and get a win; that starts with guys like Wenyen. That kind of fight, that kind of determination to fight for a rebound. That kind of determination to block a shot at a pivotal time in the game. Take a charge. Dive on a loose ball.”

“When you’re playing road games, every little situation on the court, every possession matters. We need that from more than Wenyen, but he’s an example of why we show film and why we show players, the younger guys, ‘Look at what he’s done. Look at how he fought to get that offensive rebound and he was outside of the three-point line.'”

Look at how he swatted and saved the ball on this badass play:

From liability to leading by example, Wenyen is proving that hard work pays off.


5 Notes from an insightful Kenny Payne press conference

By now, we all know what John Calipari thinks of this squad, which is why today’s press conference with Kenny Payne was so refreshing. Kentucky’s associate head coach shared his insights on this group, specifically the big men with whom he works.

Nick Richards is over-thinking everything

Richards’ struggles are well-documented by now. The freshman big man just can’t translate his hard work in practice to games. Payne, the big man guru, said it’s all in Nick’s head right now.

“Nick Richards is a very good basketball player who has made the pivotal mistake that all young players make and all players that struggle make: They begin to process. They begin to think too much. They begin to have self-doubt.”

Payne echoed Kevin Knox’s comments from Saturday that Richards works harder than anybody in practice and Calipari’s comments that they’re willing to keep giving him chances…to an extent.

“You have to be the guy that makes first contact and attack that basketball. Once he gets back to that and reacting and doing that in games, he’s going to be fine. We have not lost any faith in him. We believe in him. We just can’t afford to leave him out there and try to figure it out and he continues to make the same mistakes.”

Jarred Vanderbilt is guarding Kevin Knox in practice to toughen him up

After giving us yet another Jarred Vanderbilt update, Payne said they’re using Vanderbilt in practice to help toughen up Kevin Knox in anticipation of another physical showdown tomorrow night.

“[South Carolina is] going to try to make it hard for guys like Kevin Knox because Kevin has shown a tendency to shy away from contact. Well, every day in practice that’s why we’ve got Jarred Vanderbilt guarding Kevin Knox. Jarred, as much as you can, push him. Bump him. Be as physical as you can with him because when he gets that.”

If you missed Payne’s comments on Vanderbilt, click the link below:

Jarred Vanderbilt Update: “We’re leaving it up to him”

Caliapri’s motto for Sacha Killeya-Jones

We’ve already shared Payne’s comments about Wenyen Gabriel, but he also had plenty of praise for fellow sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones, who is producing valuable minutes thanks to some valuable advice from Calipari.

“Sacha’s been really, really good. He’s grown up a lot. He’s bringing us unbelievable energy. He’s becoming more secure and not just looking for the ball. Want him to be a jump shot shooter and Coach Cal has a great motto for him. ‘Every time you look for shots, you miss every shot that you look for. Every time you just play within the offense and set great screens and dive, the ball finds you and you put the ball in the basket.’ He has to embrace that more, and the more he does it the more success he’ll have.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been “unbelievable” in Quade Green’s absence

Shai finally won the SEC Freshman of the Week award for his performances last week, which give Payne confidence Kentucky can survive another game without starting point guard Quade Green.

“I think [Quade] has done a good job at the end of games of making big shots and making free throws, but to be honest with you the way Shai (Gilgeous-) Alexander is playing right now, I mean the kid has been unbelievable. He’s been great. He’s been our best player by far. He’s putting unbelievable pressure on the defense. He’s living in the lanes, he’s making free throws, he’s defending, he’s filling up the stat sheet. Can’t argue with that.”

No, you can’t.

“Don’t put me out there with these puppies”

John Calipari has a history of being thrown out of games at South Carolina, leaving Payne to run the show. Payne said he’d rather not be put in charge of “these puppies” should Cal get tossed again.

“Cal told the team after the last game that ‘Kenny coached the team, and we won by 30.’ He gave all the credit to Tyler Ulis. I yelled out to him, I said, ‘Cal, don’t put me out there with puppies. Don’t put me out there with these puppies.’“

How can you not love Kenny Payne?

Transcript after the jump…

(more…)


Jarred Vanderbilt Update: “We’re leaving it up to him”

Jarred Vanderbilt Update: “We’re leaving it up to him”

The Jarred Vanderbilt question came up during Kenny Payne’s press conference today, and though Payne’s answer was thorough, we did not learn anything new.

We’re leaving it up to him,” Payne said, reiterating what John Calipari has said many times already.

“First of all, I think when you talk about a kid coming off an injury and getting healthy, there is a mental thing there that he has to get over. ” Payne added, when asked to elaborate. “It’s been a long time since he’s played basketball. He’s going to have some aches and pains. He has to be able to practice and get through those aches and pains, and feel comfortable. He’s getting to that point. I don’t know if he’s there yet. Coach Cal doesn’t know if he’s there yet. But I do know he’s getting to the point where he is feeling more comfortable. Hopefully it’s soon.”

Payne also said, “It’s wrong for adults to force a kid to do anything when they don’t feel like they’re ready yet. Coach Cal is never going to do that to a kid. That’s not what we do here.”


Quade Green still not practicing

Quade Green still not practicing

Kentucky starting point guard Quade Green missed the last two games with a back strain, and it sounds like there is a good chance he’ll be out at least one more when UK travels to South Carolina tomorrow.

Kenny Payne said today that Green still hasn’t practiced, but he is getting close to a return.

“He has not practiced yet,” said Payne. “I think he’s any day now. I don’t even know if he’s going to practice today, but I know he’s getting close.”

“He’s been watching and observing, and hopefully he’s seeing a different side of the game that he didn’t see from playing, that he can watch and see exactly what we’re trying to get our guards to do.”

If Green doesn’t rejoin the team today, it’s hard to imagine he’ll play against the Gamecocks.


Shai Gilgeous-Alexander named SEC Freshman of the Week

The Southeastern Conference finally came to its senses and named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the SEC Freshman of the Week.

With Quade Green out, Gilgeous-Alexander stepped into the starting lineup in Kentucky’s wins over Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. He played 39 minutes in each of those games, while leading the Cats in scoring at 19 points per game in the two wins. He also dished out a team-best 5.5 assists per game and shot 61.9 percent from the field.

It’s Gilgeous-Alexander’s first time winning the award, but probably not his last.


Kentucky Cheerleading wins 23rd National Championship

Kentucky Cheerleading wins 23rd National Championship

Photo: Mont Dawson

They did it AGAIN.

The Kentucky cheerleading team just won their 23rd National Championship in school history.

Here is the team posing with the trophy:

Six titles in eight years, 14 since 2000, and 23 overall. The dynasty continues.

We have never seen dominance like this. Ever.

Congratulations to the National Champion Wildcats!

GO BIG BLUE!


Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

10 Takeaways From Kentucky’s Win At Vanderbilt

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky is now 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference and 14-3 overall after traveling down to Nashville to beat Vanderbilt, 74-67, on Saturday. The Cats played with only seven scholarships available for a second straight game; and for a second straight game, they made the plays down the stretch to escape with a tough victory.

Ten takeaways from the W:

 

Riley LaChance choked at the foul line.

Of all the storylines from the game, the one that sticks out most is Vanderbilt’s reliable senior missing three consecutive free throws while down four late in the game. LaChance is an 89-percent shooter from the stripe and he was gifted a trip to the line to potentially cut his team’s deficit to one. If he makes those, who knows how everything plays out? Maybe Vandy wins it in the end. But he didn’t, and Hamidou Diallo’s inexplicable foul (after UK’s inexplicable turnover) is forgotten. Diallo owes LaChance a thank you card — as do I for other reasons, of the gambling nature.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander solidified his spot as the best player on the team.

I don’t think it’s up for debate any longer: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the best player on Kentucky’s roster. He led the team in scoring once again with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, plus four rebounds and six assists, in 39 minutes played. It was assumed Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo would be the two most important players on the team, but Gilgeous-Alexander is that guy. He’s always been the best defender, and now he’s the best weapon on offense too.

Wenyen Gabriel is the unsung hero once again.

Gabriel did what he does in every game: he scrapped, clawed and battled to come up with some of the biggest rebounds, loose balls and defensive stops in the game. The shot wasn’t falling again in this one, but he’s not going to leave the court when he is doing everything else.

“Wenyen was ridiculous again today,” Coach Cal said on his postgame show. “His energy and him going and battling for balls and what he does… I told the kids after the game, he was unbelievable.”

Nobody on the team has listened to Calipari’s toughness message more than Gabriel. He’s a fighter and a hustler, and he’s getting more and more confidence in himself with his good play.

Do we give up on Nick Richards?

I don’t know what to make of Nick Richards. The big man started off with more energy than we’ve seen from him in over a month, but then he quickly disappeared before having any kind of an impact on the game. This was the perfect opportunity for him to put up some numbers and find some confidence against a weak Vanderbilt frontcourt; instead he took a seat in the second half and never returned to the game, playing only 12 minutes the entire evening, 11 of which were in the first half. How much longer until we say ‘see ya next year’?

Quade Green needs to return soon.

The Cats survived two huge challenges without their starting point guard, but they can’t be expected to keep doing it. With Green on the bench in street clothes, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has had to play 39 minutes in each of Kentucky’s last two games, while Hamidou Diallo played 34 against Texas A&M and then 39 against Vanderbilt. That’s too much to ask of the backcourt, although they’ve handled it well. Come back soon, Quade.

Late game mistakes still a problem.

However, it’s not enough of a problem to cost them the game. As they did against A&M in Rupp, the Cats handed their opponent an opportunity when the game should’ve been out of reach for good. And again the opponent didn’t capitalize as UK was able to close out a victory in spite of freshman mistakes.

We’ll take it.

Hamidou Diallo made a HUGE three-pointer.

Diallo still had his Diallo moments, but he hit the dagger in the corner to stretch the lead to eight points with a little over a minute to go. If not for that shot I’d probably be crushing him for playing too much Hami-ball and that horrible foul on LaChance.

Kevin Knox got back to his old ways.

Knox was second in scoring with 17 points for Kentucky. He made some big baskets when Vanderbilt was climbing back and he was perfect from the line in the game. It seems he’s over whatever bug bit him when he looked lost and unconformable during his minor slump, and it’s great to see him back.

P.J. Washington flirted with a double-double.

Washington had 10 points and eight rebounds against the Commodores, but not enough to earn praise from his head coach because Calipari called it an “off-day” for Washington.

Not a bad off-day, huh?

I have Washington up there with Gilgeous-Alexander in the importance rankings, ahead of Knox and Diallo.

Road wins are good wins, especially this year.

With the SEC beating each other up this season, any road win in the conference is a good one. For Kentucky, they won another hard-fought test in a hostile building, and they did it without their starting point guard.

On to the next one…


Calipari’s latest comments on Jarred Vanderbilt most puzzling yet

Before the game, Jarred Vanderbilt went through pregame warmups and even the layup line in his uniform, leading to wide speculation that today would be the day he’d return to the court. That did not happen, and when asked afterwards, John Calipari gave his most puzzling comments yet about the freshman forward, who has been medically cleared to play.

“I don’t,” Cal said when asked when Kentucky would be back to a full rotation. “I didn’t even ask him. I didn’t know if Jarred [Vanderbilt] was going to play before the game. I was doing the board and just acting like he’s not here. If he is, he is. If they are, they are.”

This is where it gets a little weird.

“The problem with being injured if you’re on my teams is, I really spend no time with you. Sometimes — I’m going to say this out loud — I forget names. I even forget who he is because I have to focus on the guys that I’m coaching now. They’ve got to be healthy and ready to go. Jarred has to be the same.”

When asked what Jarred has to do to let Cal know he’s ready, Cal replied that he has to at least come up and talk to him, which he didn’t do today.

“I hope he would give me more than I got today because I didn’t see him all day. I hope. I don’t push kids. They know their pain. They also know their bodies. I’ll tell you what also happens when you’re injured; it’s not physically, it’s as much mentally. And conditioning. Those are the two things that get you. When he’s ready, he’ll be here with us.”

Hmm. Challenge extended?