By Drew Franklin on ©December 25th, 2018 @ 12:30pm
Rather than debating and ranking the best Christmas movies this year, why don’t we rewrite them? Here are five holiday classics reimagined for Big Blue Nation.
Miracle On Grove Street
Mark Stoops and Benny Snell lead the Kentucky Wildcats to a historic season.
The Kentucky Basketball team left town for a holiday road trip without its victory cigar, Sam Malone.
Frosty Lynn Bowden
There must have been some magic in the way he ran around; for when Missouri kicked a punt, he took it back for a touchdown.
After deciding to redshirt in the 2018-19 basketball season, Brad Calipari picks up a part-time job at Fayette Mall over the holidays to dodge Camp Cal.
It’s A One-And-Done Life
Every time a bell rings, a Wildcat gets a multimillion dollar contract.
The fourth Thursday in November is traditionally reserved for giving thanks, however, as the year nears an end, one becomes even more grateful. In the spirit of Christmas, I’d like to share my Thanks to the Kentucky football team for what has been an unbelievable ride.
Thanks, Mitch Barnhart…For having the patience to ride the wave with Mark Stoops. Instant gratification causes too many ADs to preemptively pull the trigger. It wasn’t always pretty in Stoops’ early years, but it was worth it.
Thanks, Big Blue Nation…For creating a few unbelievable atmospheres at Kroger Field this fall. Through the rain against Miss. State to the pregame buzz vs. Georgia, Football Time in the Bluegrass has never been more fun.
Thanks, Mark Stoops…For beating Florida. It was something we had to experience to move forward. Despite the doubters, you still did it, then kept winning. No matter what happens, you’ll forever be the guy who snapped The Streak.
Thanks, Bunchy…For killing that one guy. Pancakes taste best when served by an All-American.
Bunchy Stallings lives on a healthy diet of pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner pic.twitter.com/4jkOkPZENl
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) September 9, 2018
Thanks, Terry Touchdown…For turning down Florida and letting it rip against the Gators. The bomb to Bowden and third and long run to keep the drive alive are two plays I will never forget. Everyone played a part in snapping The Streak, but for a first-year starter to make those plays in just your second start, I’m forever grateful.
(P.S. Thanks for ignoring the haters and losers, which there were many. There were plenty of people who never lost faith.)
Thanks, John…For not taking a day off. Most would have taken a step back to focus on their health, but you fought cancer while you helped your players fight opponents. Inspiration comes in many forms. My favorite form is this picture.
Thanks, JP…For kicking cancer’s ass. Most people could not go through what you went through, but you aren’t most people. You taught me to never take anything for granted. To see you back on the football field warmed the hearts of everyone around the BBN. We can’t wait to see what you have in store for 2019.
Thanks, Lynn…For telling Coach Stoops, ‘I got this’ at Missouri. Few comebacks have been more improbable. That win couldn’t have happened without the amazing punt return.
Thanks, Ahmad Wagner…For drawing the most important pass interference of my lifetime to give C.J. Conrad the chance to beat Missouri with a walk-off touchdown.
Thanks, Missouri Athletic Director…For giving the BBN an opportunity to see me run like an idiot around Faurot Field. I’d say winning on an untimed touchdown was my favorite moment ever covering Kentucky football, but Kentucky won at The Swamp this year too.
Absolutely stunning loss for Missouri. Kentucky scores on TD pass, last play of game. Mizzou loses 15–14. Crushing defeat. pic.twitter.com/swo77ydf7M
— Rod Smith (@RodKRCG13) October 27, 2018
Thanks, Badger…For creating two turnovers in three plays against Middle. After a season of stressful games, it was good to get some breathing room in the first five minutes of Senior Day.
Thanks, Josh…For eating more sack lunches than any one human should ever be able to consume in a lifetime. I didn’t think it was possible to type “NOM NOM NOM” so many times, but you proved me wrong. Thanks for finishing your Kentucky career in the Citrus Bowl. Your contributions to the program are immeasurable. I can’t wait to buy a Josh Allen jersey on draft night.
Thanks, Kash…For just being you. The monotony of interviews has been broken. I appreciate the honesty, the big hits and the wrestling celebrations.
AND THAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE 'CAUSE KASH DANIEL SAID SO!
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 9, 2018
Thanks, Benny…For making Kentucky football cool. It’s one thing to break records, it’s another thing to do it in style. You’re knack for finding the camera at the perfect time and taking the mic to talk in third person made covering this Kentucky team the most fun I’ve ever had. It’d be even more fun to see 107 more yards.
Thanks for the Memories. I’ll never forget the 2018 football season. (I wouldn’t mind making a few more memories on New Year’s Day.)
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 24th, 2018 @ 3:00pm
As expected, beating North Carolina improved Kentucky’s tournament resume. The Cats jumped three spots in both polls and boosted their standing in almost all of the major ratings (what’s your problem, BPI?):
- AP Poll: 16 (Previous: 19)
- Coaches Poll: 15 (Previous: 18)
- Ken Pomeroy Ratings: 15 (Previous: 16)
- Jeff Sagarin Ratings: 22 (Previous: 25)
- NET Rankings: 22 (Previous: 29)
- ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI): 18 (Previous: 16)
How about Kentucky’s opponents? Here’s our weekly look at the Cats’ foes in the rankings and ratings:
|Team||Result||AP Poll||Coaches Poll||KenPom||Sagarin||NET||ESPN BPI|
|Southern Illinois||Win, 71-59||NR||NR||130||137||127||128|
|North Dakota||Win, 96-58||NR||NR||271||282||292||253|
|Tennessee State||Win, 77-62||NR||NR||300||309||330||281|
|UNC Greensboro||Win, 78-61||NR||NR||93||97||55||66|
|Seton Hall||Loss, 84-83||NR||NR||55||55||59||60|
|North Carolina||Win, 80-72||14||14||7||7||20||5|
|Texas A&M||Jan. 8||NR||NR||64||79||73||100|
|Vanderbilt||Jan. 12, Jan. 29||NR||NR||62||59||41||72|
|Auburn||Jan. 19, Feb. 23||12||11||13||12||24||13|
|Mississippi State||Jan. 22, Feb. 9||19||17||21||28||18||25|
|Florida||Feb. 2, March 9||NR||NR||27||29||49||28|
|South Carolina||Feb. 5||NR||NR||122||131||219||122|
|Tennessee||Feb. 16, March 2||3||3||11||11||8||10|
|Ole Miss||March 5||NR||NR||54||56||45||73|
— Despite Saturday’s game, North Carolina is still ahead of Kentucky in both the polls and metrics; that being said, the Tar Heels did take a hit, falling nine spots from last Monday in the NCAA’s NET rankings.
— Similarly, Kansas’ loss to Arizona State dropped them from No. 1 to No. 5 in the polls and down to No. 12 in the NET rankings.
— We still don’t know how the NET rankings work, but if we go by them, here are Kentucky’s best opportunities to improve their resume (obviously, road wins count more):
- 8. Tennessee (home and away)
- 12. Kansas (home)
- 17. Louisville (away)
- 18. Mississippi State (home and away)
- 24. Auburn (home and away)
- 26. LSU (home)
Louisville may not be ranked in the polls but the fact that they’re as high as No. 17 in the NET shows just how big Saturday’s game could be, especially since it’s at the Yum Center.
— Last week, I adopted winless Monmouth and I’m sad to report the Hawks didn’t beat Yale on Thursday. Knocking off Penn on New Year’s Eve will be a tall task, but I’ve got faith in King Rice’s squad.
The AP voters were impressed with Kentucky’s victory this past weekend over North Carolina.
In the latest edition of the AP Poll, the Wildcats moved up to No. 16 in the nation.
Following Kansas’ loss to Arizona State, the Jayhawks dropped to No. 5 while Duke reclaimed the No. 1 spot. Michigan (No. 2), Tennessee (No. 3), and Virginia (No. 4) rounded out the top five.
Within the conference, Tennessee holds the top spot while Auburn (No. 12), Kentucky (No. 16), and Mississippi State (No. 19) round out the SEC.
Interestingly enough, North Carolina (8-3) still sits ahead of the Wildcats at No. 14 overall.
Check out the entire poll below:
It’ll be nice to take away those four votes next to Louisville’s name next week.
The SEC Freshman of the Week trophy is going to Lexington for a second week in a row and a third time this season. This time it is Ashton Hagans bringing it home after his breakout performance in Chicago over the weekend.
Hagans tied the single-game school record for steals with eight in the Cats’ big win over the Tar Heels. He joins Wayne Turner and Rajon Rondo in the record book.
He also scored seven points, one shy of his career high, with a career-best four rebounds, three dimes and one very important block.
Two-time SEC Freshman of the Week winner Keldon Johnson said of his teammate, “Having him out there with energy, just doing what he does best — getting us all involved. His defensive presence is amazing. He was locking up, picking up, making big plays, making big stops. You could just see it rubbing off on everybody.”
By Jack Pilgrim on ©December 23rd, 2018 @ 11:00pm
November 6th was a frustrating day for the Big Blue Nation. It wasn’t the fact that Kentucky lost, it wasn’t necessarily the fact that it was Duke, and it really wasn’t even the point differential.
The frustration stemmed from the tremendous expectations everyone had coming into the year.
The Bahamas trip had fans genuinely believing this was a team capable of challenging the 2014-15 team in terms of overall depth, talent, and chemistry. They were two-deep at every position with a perfect mix of size, experience, and skill-set. They might not have run the table like that historic unit nearly did, but fans just knew this team could display absolute dominance over any given opponent in similar fashion.
When the Duke nightmare happened, Kentucky coaches, players, and the fanbase as a whole were dealt a heavy dose of reality. And it was a reality check that lingered throughout Lexington, a hangover that no one has truly gotten over… until last night.
On Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats we expected to show up to start the season finally arrived with a bang. And it may have been just enough to energize a fanbase that truly hasn’t been itself since Kentucky’s previous matchup with North Carolina in the 2017 Elite Eight when… Well, you know what happened.
Kentucky didn’t play the perfect game. They didn’t shoot the ball all that well (44 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from three), the bench only scored four points total, and they turned the ball over 18 times.
But it was still a performance the Big Blue Nation couldn’t help but fall in love with. It was an effort that is absolutely sustainable for the long haul, an underrated aspect of this game that fans need to get excited about.
On both ends of the court, the Wildcats implemented the think less, act more mentality Calipari has been begging for since the season began. He has told the media on numerous occassions that this team will reach its true potential when they just play on instinct, and the numbers show they did just that.
For starters, the Wildcats outrebounded the No. 1 rebounding team in America by a tally of 43 to 33. A North Carolina team that grabs an average of 46.1 total rebounds and 12.7 offensive per night finished with 33 and five in those categories. The Tar Heels have not had an offensive rebounding percentage that low since February of 2016. On the Wildcats’ end of things, no player finished with more than ten rebounds and no one in the eight-man rotation failed to grab a board. It was a balanced effort across the board.
To put it simply, Kentucky just flat-out outworked the most dominant rebounding team in the nation on the glass.
In other effort-focused statistics, Kentucky finished with 24 assists on 28 field goals, 11 steals, and nine blocks. On offense, the ball movement was impeccable, working the ball inside and out and waiting through the shot clock until they found the open shot. And when those opportunities came, there was zero hesitation from anyone on the floor, with the entire unit finishing with a season-high 65 field goal attempts and 26 three-point attempts on the day. If shots weren’t falling, and they weren’t for a while in the first half, they trusted their efforts on defense to make a stop for another shot opportunity the next time down the floor.
In specific player efforts, Ashton Hagans was the epitome of this mindset, having a methodical recklessness to his game that resulted in seven points, four rebounds, three assists, eight steals, one block, and five turnovers. He’s a technician on the defensive side of the ball and a facilitator on offense, playing both by just hitting the ground running. When the opponent showed even the slightest bit of space while dribbling or bringing the ball across their body, Hagans made a play. He’d wait for even the slightest mistake by a North Carolina ball-handler or passer and pounce at the perfect opportunity, reminiscent of former Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo. It was an effort that actually tied the school record held by Rondo and Wayne Turner for steals in a single game (eight).
Hagans was the heartbeat of the team, and everyone followed suit in their own ways.
Reid Travis was an absolute bully down low, finishing the day with 20 points on 6-15 shooting, seven rebounds, and three assists. And frankly, there wasn’t a Tar Heel defender that could stop him in the paint. He’d outwork his opponent and either score, draw a foul, or have defenders collapse on him to create open opportunities elsewhere on the floor. He was the anchor for the team on offense. As John Calipari told CBS after the game, Travis is a flat-out “beast,” and this program is lucky to have him. When all else fails, you can rely on the graduate transfer to make big plays and put the ball in the basket.
Finishing with a team-high 21 points on 7-11 shooting (4-7 from three), Keldon Johnson also proved once again why Calipari called him the team’s most consistent shooter this offseason. He didn’t necessarily have the highlight-worthy plays we’re used to, but the team didn’t need that last night. They needed a player with the ability to knock down big shots in crunch time to create cushion on the scoreboard and put pressure on North Carolina on the other end of the floor. At the 7:55 mark in the second half, Johnson drilled back-to-back threes to push Kentucky’s lead to 11, ruining any momentum North Carolina felt they had. It never felt like UNC could claw their way back, an obvious change from what we’ve seen from the team thus far.
Unlike what we saw in the Seton Hall game, the Wildcats drew first blood and forced the Tar Heels to respond, not the other way around. They were proactive and forced the reaction.
After a cold start to the game, Tyler Herro found his groove by finishing with 15 points on 6-17 shooting and 3-8 from three. He also added four rebounds and five assists. It felt like he was learning on the fly this game after overthinking a bit in the first half.
PJ Washington also flirted with a triple-double, adding 11 points (5-9 shooting), ten rebounds, and eight assists in 30 minutes of action. It was the perfect example of Washington letting the game come to him without forcing the issue. Hitting one of three shots from deep, the sophomore forward missed only two shots from within 15 feet. He was efficient and went out of his way to facilitate his teammates. He may not have been the team’s most dominant scoring threat, but one could argue it was one of Washington’s best performances in a Kentucky uniform.
Beyond individual contributions, the overall team chemistry was the best we’ve seen since the season began. The smiles were back and the overall enjoyment of the game was there. For the first time this year, the “fun” aspect of Kentucky basketball was back.
It’s a happy locker room after the Cats beat North Carolina. pic.twitter.com/SiBZP7OKR7
— CoachCal.com (@CoachCalDotCom) December 23, 2018
This is the blueprint John Calipari can use to make this team reach its potential. No one on the team did anything they can’t do on a regular basis to help win the game (obviously eight steals a night isn’t sustainable for Hagans, but maximum defensive pressure certainly is). No one shot lights out or had a few more lucky bounces than usual, and with 18 turnovers, there were obviously mistakes made. But their relentless effort on both ends compensated for some of those mistakes and allowed for a dominant victory against a truly elite basketball coach and team.
If Kentucky plays the way they did last night, they can beat anyone in the nation. They can look like the team we saw down in the Bahamas this summer based solely on grit and hustle. Points will come, but intensity is the key for this team to become the Final Four squad they are capable of being.
And by the looks of things, they realized that last night.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 23rd, 2018 @ 9:37am
How great was Ashton Hagans last night? He wrote himself into the history books.
While you were sleeping, Kentucky sent out an updated box score that credited Hagans with another steal, bringing his total vs. North Carolina to eight, tying Rajon Rondo and Wayne Turner for the Kentucky single-game record. Rondo had eight steals against Mississippi State on Feb. 19, 2005 and Turner had eight steals against George Washington on Nov. 24, 1997.
Here’s what Ashton’s coach and teammates had to say about his game-changing performance.
“I’m putting the ball in his hands and he’s making the right plays,” John Calipari said. “It was a small tweak we made about a week ago and when we watched it I said, okay, we got this now. He’s making the game easy for everybody.”
“His defensive presence is amazing,” Keldon Johnson added. “You seen it all, he was locking up, making plays, big stops and you could just see it rubbing off on everybody.”
“When Ashton’s doing that, being hectic on defense, we’re going to be tough to beat just because what he puts on the team when we’re playing like that,” Tyler Herro said. “He played great tonight and we expect that from him every night.”
Enjoy Ashton’s highlights below:
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 22nd, 2018 @ 10:30pm
It’s been a bleak few months for Kentucky Basketball, but tonight, the Cats gave the BBN the best Christmas present we could ask for: a dominant win over a top-ten blue blood with the nation watching.
Kentucky’s 80-72 win over No. 9 North Carolina hit the reset button of the season. This week, John Calipari said he believed the Duke loss still lingered over the fanbase and he was right; that’s why Kentucky’s performance tonight was so great. Not only did the Cats look like they were having fun for the first time since the Bahamas, they won because they were doing the things right that they did wrong earlier this season. Good defense created opportunities for the offense. Proper spacing in the post allowed Reid Travis and PJ Washington to work together. And, most importantly of all, Ashton Hagans controlled the game with pesky defense and impeccable court vision. In a phrase that should sound familiar, Ashton had the fifth most points, but his performance was the most important of all.
Hagans finished with seven points, four rebounds, three assists, seven steals, and three blocks, but numbers can’t properly capture his impact on the game. Hagans has lived up to his reputation as a defensive stopper at times this season, but tonight, he really changed the game. According to Corey Price, Ashton is the first player in school history with seven steals and three blocks in a game, a stat that’s even more impressive when you consider he turned his ankle with seven minutes left in the first half.
“The amazing thing to look down and Ashton Hagans is 2-for-6, seven points, and I thought in some ways he was more dominating in the game than anybody,” Roy Williams told reporters afterwards.
Ashton had already asserted himself as Kentucky’s point guard moving forward, but today’s performance proves that, with him at the helm, the Cats really can be a title contender.
Ashton’s performance at point made everyone better, especially Reid Travis, who did exactly what Kentucky needed him to do to win: own the post. Reid finished with 20 points off 6-13 from the floor, 7-11 from the free-throw line. He only had six rebounds, but that’s where PJ Washington came in. After a bad first half, PJ bounced back in the second and almost ended up with a triple double. PJ finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists, an incredible stat line that shows you just how effective the PJ-Reid tandem can be down low. Old PJ would have disappeared in this game; this PJ regrouped, a huge sign of maturity. As a result, Kentucky outrebounded North Carolina, the best rebounding team in the country, 43-33.
The fact that I’ve gotten halfway through this recap and am just getting to Keldon Johnson, Kentucky’s leading scorer, speaks volumes. As we knew he would, Johnson had his moments in the spotlight, finishing with 21 points in 23 minutes, including two clutch back-to-back threes with eight minutes left to push the lead to eleven.
There is so much praise to go around. Tyler Herro is still having issues on the perimeter, but in the second half, wisely shifted to midrange. He also had four rebounds and five assists and made some huge hustle plays. Even Nick Richards looked good, coming in and getting a big bucket and five rebounds in the second half. The shots didn’t fall for Jemarl Baker like they did vs. Utah, but he still played 15 minutes and held his own, especially on defense.
We knew North Carolina would run. Kentucky not only kept up with them, but thrived with the up-tempo pace. A lot of that credit goes to Hagans, and I find the fact that North Carolina played 16 players and Kentucky only nine extremely telling.
Above all, it was just good to see the Cats go toe-to-toe with a worthy opponent and win because they wanted it more. The team needed that, Kentucky’s resume needed that, and the fans needed that. There will be slip-ups ahead — a team this young with a brutal schedule is not above that — but the fact Kentucky went out and whopped up on the Tar Heels is the shot in the arm we all needed. Let’s go.
By Nick Roush on ©December 22nd, 2018 @ 7:35pm
Kentucky earned its first signature win of the season by outgunning the North Carolina Tar Heels 80-72 in the CBS Sports Classic.
As expected, the game was an up and down affair as soon as the ball was tipped. Each got their fair share of easy buckets in transition. Kentucky found its early advantage inside.
P.J. Washington and Reid Travis could not be contained in the paint. When the defense collapsed on Washington, he found Travis for an easy bucket. After scoring 15 in the first half, Travis finished with 20 points and 6 rebounds. Washington flirted with a triple-double, scoring 11 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists.
North Carolina made things interesting with an odd second half exchange. Shortly after Luke Maye banked in a three, John Calipari was assessed a technical foul. It cut the lead to five, a lead that would grow, thanks to Keldon Johnson.
For the second consecutive game, the freshman wing got hot. Johnson nailed four threes to score a game-high 21 points. Ashton Hagans was equally incredible defensively. The sneaky freshman stole seven North Carolina passes.
Until tonight, Kentucky’s non-conference schedule lacked fireworks. By dismantling North Carolina, the Cats earned a signature win and lit a spark under the Big Blue Nation. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect Christmas gift.
After the blowout victory over Utah last weekend, Camp Cal is in full force. The Wildcats have had another very long week of practice and today they’ll play a game on a neutral floor for the third time this season. The previous two meetings were suboptimal to say the least. In the United Center with CBS on the call, the Wildcats will look to collect their biggest win of the season.
The Tar Heels are off to another solid start under Roy Williams and they’ll be bringing a top 1o ranking into the United Center. Luke Maye is still there (expect to see that Elite Eight last second shot 800 times today) and UNC is getting some excellent play from two freshmen to start the year.
In recent big time games against blue blood type programs, the Wildcats have struggled. With Louisville and SEC play bearing down, getting a huge win over a top 10 opponent would be a great booster for a team still trying to find themselves.
Nuts and Bolts
There’s no doubt about it, North Carolina is one of the premier programs in the sport of college basketball. The Tar Heels have won six national titles, 20 Final Fours, 40 regular season conference championships, and 26 conference tournament championships. UNC has had numerous All-Americans and some hall of fame coaches. They’ve been playing high level college hoops for a very long time and are showing no signs of slowing down.
Roy Williams is a UNC alum and a former assistant for a decade. This will always be Dean Smith’s program, but the success that Williams is having is nearly unmatched in college hoops. The former Kansas head coach has won three national championships in 14 seasons, has 432 wins, five Final Four appearances, and eight conference championships in Chapel Hill. That’s not even including what he did at Kansas.
He’s been as good as advertised in for Carolina and he’s one of the best coaches this sport has even seen. He just signed another extension with UNC and it’s clear that he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
This will be the 40th meeting between these two powerhouse programs and Carolina currently owns the series lead by a count of 24-15. In neutral sites, Kentucky is 5-12 against the Tar Heels. Since John Calipari’s arrival in Lexington, there have been eight previous meetings with Kentucky owning a 5-3 mark. These two squads have met four times in the NCAA Tournament with each game occurring in the the Elite Eight.
Out in the desert, North Carolina is 2.5 point favorite with a total of 165.5. That’s a projected final score of 84-81.5. This will be Kentucky’s first game as an underdog this season. For the year, North Carolina is 5-3-2 against the spread while Kentucky is 4-6. Against power conference opponents, the over has hit in every game for these two squads.
With the loss of stud point Joel Berry, UNC had some very big shoes to fill on the perimeter. The McDonald’s All-American was a three-year starter at point guard and received some All-American honors last season. Replacing him was going to be a tall task.
There were very big expectations for two freshmen entering the season. Both Nassir Little and Coby White were significant recruiting wins for Roy Williams and the two rookies have produced at a high level right away.
White is second on the team in scoring, has been efficient from three, and plays some point for the Tar Heels. Little, who many project as a top five pick, has been the best sixth man in the country. The Florida native is putting up 11.5 points per game off the bench and is hitting over half of his shots. The supreme athlete is outstanding at attacking the rim, crashing the offensive glass, operating in the post, and he’s dangerous in Carolina’s up-and-down scheme.
Kenny Williams has been a steadying force for the backcourt all season. The senior leads the team in assists and is second on the squad in minutes. He has been struggling with his jumpshot, but is doing everything else well.
Off the bench with Nassir Little, Seventh Woods is the only other perimeter player used for double-digit minutes. Williams loves to go 10 deep and this team is no different.
Yes, Luke Maye is still enrolled at the University of North Carolina. The former lowly rated recruit turned into a superstar last year. Building off the game-winning shot against Kentucky followed by the national championship in 2017, Maye put up monster numbers as a junior. The North Carolina native averaged 17 and 10 on his way to some All-America honors. Seemingly overnight, he became one of the best bigs in the country.
This year he is back to his old tricks through nine games into his senior season. Maye again is averaging a double-double with a 14 points and 10 rebounds. The three-point shot has been shaky to start the season, but he’s been very solid. The most dangerous weapon for UNC, however, is a very familiar name that plays next to Maye.
Cameron Johnson was a grad transfer from Pitt who Kentucky desperately wanted. The Wildcats missed and he’s made a significant impact in Chapel Hill.
After putting up 12 points per game and shooting less than 40 percent from three last year, Johnson’s numbers have taken a big step forward this season. The 6-foot-9 wing is playing a lot of stretch four for the Heels and he leads the team in scoring. From deep he is lighting it up by pouring in nearly half of his 53 three-pointers. Johnson is currently one of the most efficient offensive players in the country.
At the five spot, the Heels use sophomores Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. Each is very good at protecting the rim. Brooks has started every game for UNC, but Manley is used quite a bit. As a duo they are putting up over 15 points and 10 boards per game.
Keys to Victory
- North Carolina, by a very large margin, will be the best offensive team Kentucky has played since getting trounced by Duke in the Champions Classic. The Wildcats were overwhelmed in Indianapolis and quickly got bulldozed. Kentucky must survive the early onslaught and play their game. North Carolina is going to go on some runs. UK must stick together.
- UNC is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation. Cameron Johnson is lighting it up from deep and both Luke Maye and Kenny Williams are proven shooters that are off to a slow start. Kentucky, meanwhile, is still one of the worst three-point defense teams in the country. The Wildcats cannot get outclassed from deep.
- The Tar Heels have been solid on defense to start the season, but they have had some foul issues. Meanwhile, UK has been great all season at getting to the charity stripe. Due to the three-point battle most likely going to go UNC’s way, Kentucky must win the battle at the free throw. Cats must stay aggressive and attack.
- Kentucky’s offensive rebounding has been excellent to start the season, but North Carolina isn’t far behind. The Tar Heels have been excellent on the offensive glass. It’s no secret that UK has some serious offensive issues so it will be essential to eliminate extra possessions. Kentucky’s P.J. Washington has been one of the nation’s best defensive rebounders and he must keep Garrison Brooks, one of the nation’s best offensive rebounders, off of the glass.
On A Heater
Throughout this series, we’ve seen some great individual performances. Tayshaun Prince hitting five consecutive threes before the first media timeout, Anthony Davis with the crazy game-winning block against John Henson, and the big three by DeAndre Liggins in the 2011 Elite Eight. However, no one had a bigger moment than Malik Monk.
On that day in December 2016, the bucket-getter from Arkansas put up 47 points and hit eight treys. The Wildcats won a thriller in Las Vegas and it was another North Carolina-Kentucky classic. Will we get another one today in Chicago?
By Jack Pilgrim on ©December 22nd, 2018 @ 10:00am
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Last Saturday, Kentucky got back on the right track by defeating Utah 88-61, impressing on both ends of the floor. It didn’t erase the Seton Hall loss for the Big Blue Nation, but it was at least a step in the right direction.
Today, the Wildcats will face their stiffest competition of the season since their blowout loss to Duke to open the year: the No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels.
The 8-2 Wildcats will be facing the 8-2 Tar Heels in a clash of the blue-bloods in Chicago, Illinois.
Here is everything you need to know to get you prepared:
North Carolina’s only two losses came against Texas (92-89) six games into the season and Michigan (84-67) just two games later. Their biggest win came in the team’s most recent matchup with No. 8 Gonzaga, taking home a 103-90 victory over the fourth-best team in the nation at the time.
Kentucky leads North Carolina 5-3 during the John Calipari Era, but North Carolina leads the all-time series 24-15. The Tar Heels won the most recent matchup following a Luke May buzzer-beater in the Elite Eight back in 2017.
Kentucky originally opened as 4.5-point underdogs, but that line has since moved down to 2.5. The over-under has been set at 166.
For those keeping track at home, the Wildcats are 4-6 against the spread this season.
Prepare on the KSR Pregame Show
Before the Cats tip-off in Chicago, listen to the KSR crew preview the matchup between the Cats and the Heels. All of the action begins on 630 WLAP or online at 2:45.
How to Watch and Listen
Tip is set for 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS with Brad Nessler, Bill Raferty, and Jamie Erdahl on the call. If you’re stuck on the road and can’t watch, there are multiple ways to listen to the Voice of the Wildcats.
- AM: 840 WHAS, 630 WLAP
- FM: 98.1 WBUL
- Satellite: XM-190 and Sirius-94
- Online: iHeart Radio
Can’t find a TV or radio and need to watch on a laptop or mobile device? Depending on your TV service provider, a live stream of the game will also be aired on CBSSports.com.
Kentucky vs. North Carolina history
Nick will have a post on the site this evening highlighting all of the greatest moments in UK vs. UNC history, but it’s only right to open the morning with a few highlights between the juggernaut schools.
First, Malik Monk’s 47-point game in 2016:
Anthony Davis’ “Block Heard ‘Round The World” in 2011:
Four-seed Kentucky’s upset over two-seed UNC for a trip to the Final Four in 2011:
We’ll have much more on the game throughout the day leading up to tip-off.
In other news…
Dontaie Allen has another 50-plus point game
Just one night after becoming Pendleton County’s all-time leading scorer, Kentucky signee Dontaie Allen managed yet another 50-plus point game on Friday night.
In a 93-81 victory over Bryan Station, the 6-foot-6 small forward finished with a career-high 57 points, Allen’s sixth 50-point game of 12 total this season. He also added 18 rebounds and six blocks.
He also adds 18 rebounds and blocks 6 shots. He has scored 50+ points in HALF of his 12 games this season. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/EYMPZGbdNh
— Alex Walker (@AlexWalkerTV) December 22, 2018
Vince Marrow claps back at a Louisville fan
Back on Signing Day, Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow made headlines by saying it “wasn’t a hard sell” to steal away talent from the Cardinals in the city of Louisville this season.
A couple of UofL fan accounts posted on Twitter that this is “bulletin board material” for their beloved Cardinals:
Vince Marrow on getting four Louisville kids to play at UK, "It was just getting these guys here to play for the best school in the state…..It wasn't a hard sell." (Video from @wave3news)
— Louisville Sports Live (@LvilleSprtsLive) December 20, 2018
When one Louisville fan got a little too cocky on Twitter, Marrow went out of his way to bring him down to earth a little bit:
Sic ’em, Big Dog.
DeMarcus Cousins dunks on Kevin Durant in practice
Former Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins is working his way back to the floor from a torn Achilles, and judging by the practice footage that was released yesterday, Boogie is looking pretty darn good.
Matched up with NBA superstar Kevin Durant, Cousins worked his Warrior teammate down in the post before going up for the vicious poster slam.
Check it out:
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) December 21, 2018
“He beat me today,” Durant said of Cousins after practice. “But I live to fight another day.”
The future Hall-of-Famer had high praise for his newest teammate, saying he has high expecations for the former Wildcat when he does eventually find his way to the floor.
“We all know what he can bring to the table,” Durant. “He’s still going to be a high usage guy, he’s still going to be effective with the ball in his hands but not as much. Just like it is for Steph [Curry], myself, Klay [Thompson], we’re still who we are but our opportunities – instead of 20 opportunities a game, it might be 13 or 14 and that’s how it’s going to be with Cuz.”
By Nick Roush on ©December 21st, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Kentucky and Penn State have met on the gridiron just five times, and only once since 1978, yet the Nittany Lions look like a familiar foe.
“They’re a really good defense,” said UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “In a couple categories, they’re top five in sacks, tackles for loss. They move around well and remind you of an SEC-type defense. They’re really physical and they do a hack of a job. We’ll have to play really well and make sure we’re physical. We’re going to have to finish and strain.”
To be exact, who is the SEC defense Eddie Gran is talking about? “Mississippi State,” Mark Stoops affirmed without hesitation.
There’s a good reason why the two look similar. The top dog in Starkville, Joe Moorhead, called the Penn State offense for two years before landing the job at Miss. State. Moorhead’s current defensive coordinator, Bob Shoop, served in the same position for James Franklin at Vanderbilt and at Penn State for two years.
“They’re a lot like Mississippi State in a lot of ways,” said Kash Daniel. “They’re really big and athletic. Their offensive line can move good, quarterback can move good. They’ve got really powerful backs. The tight ends can move and block well. It’s kind of like Mississippi State, with their own twist. There’s a couple things that are not exactly how Miss. State attacked us. There’s a couple things in there that are a little bit different, but the concepts are the same.”
Schematically, the two teams don’t look so different. What makes them mirror images is their personnel.
Penn State doesn’t have a Jeffrey Simmons or a Montez Sweat in their front four, but Yetur Gross-Matos isn’t far behind the future first round NFL draft picks. Gross-Matos has recorded eight sacks (7th in the Big Ten) and 20 tackles for loss (2nd in Big Ten). Penn State’s powerful front four is largely responsibly for their top 20 scoring defense. They rank fourth nationally in sacks and seventh in tackles for loss.
Offensively, it’s hard to look at Trace McSorley without seeing a lot of Nick Fitzgerald. Each quarterback can move the offense down the field using their arm and legs. Fitzgerald is five inches taller, but aside from that, they are eerily similar on paper.
Passing Yards (YPA)
Rushing Yards (YPC)
Kentucky has prepared for quarterbacks like McSorley before. Even when they aren’t preparing for one, they see one everyday in practice.
“The fact that Terry puts pressure on you with his arms and his feet obviously helps us,” said defensive coordinator Matt House.
There is one outlier between Penn State and Mississippi State: rush defense. The Nittany Lions rank 70th nationally at stopping the run, surrendering 168.4 yards per game. The number is comparable to Florida’s rush defense, a unit that surrendered 303 yards to Kentucky. It’s music to Benny Snell’s ears.
“It’s all going to start off on our edge, how we approach the game. It’s going to be a big game,” Benny Snell said. “They got some NFL guys. That’s a fact. It’s definitely going to be a battle, but it’s very similar to Mississippi State on who’s their game-changers on defense, where their weakness are at, so it’s going to be exciting.”
Kentucky’s most dominant performance of the year was a rainy 28-7 victory over Mississippi State at Kroger Field. Benny’s most memorable moment from his time as a Wildcat, the UK running back scored four touchdowns and rushed for 165 yards in the statement win. To replicate that kind of performance, it all starts up front.
“What we did against Mississippi State is we out-physicaled them. That’s something that’s going to be a huge emphasis for us,” said C.J. Conrad. “We have about a month to get healthy. I think that was a big importance. People asked us if we lost our edge offensively. I think a lot of it just had to do with us being beat up. Throughout the year that happens. For us to have this break, get healthy and get back into the weight room, I think we can replicate that kind of performance.”
If Kentucky brings a Mississippi State-like performance to the Citrus Bowl, 2019 will be a very Happy New Year for the Big Blue Nation.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©December 21st, 2018 @ 3:30pm
It’s Christmas week on Top Chef: Kentucky (even though I’m pretty sure they filmed this during the summer). Most of the action takes place indoors this episode, meaning we don’t get to see a lot of our Old Kentucky Home, but there are still plenty of desserts and drama to drool over. To the recap!
Quickfire: The worst gift exchange ever
Top Chef Season 14 winner Brooke Williamson and Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais help Padma out with this week’s Quickfire Challenge. The chefs will have 30 minutes to create a holiday dish but only two minutes to choose their ingredients. Of course, there’s a twist. Once the chefs return from the pantry, Padma tells them they must swap their ingredients in a White Elephant gift exchange. Brian gets really excited about the “Yankee Swap,” yelling out, “I’m from Boston, you know what I mean!” Yeah…we know that apparently you don’t realize that White Elephant gift exchanges happen everywhere, not just in the Northeast. Also, the ingredients you chose suck, so you’re really lucky.
Anyways, the chefs make do with what they have. The judges praise Sara’s take on fried chicken livers and Nini’s cream cheese chutney with apples, but it’s David’s leek noodles that get the win and immunity in the elimination challenge. Back-to-back Quickfire wins for David! Considering he only had leeks to work with, that’s pretty impressive.
Elimination Challenge: Too many cooks in the kitchen
The chefs return to the mansion (aka “The Avish” in Prospect, if you missed last week’s recap), where they’re greeted by Tom Colicchio, Graham Elliot, and OMG IT’S ERIC RIPERT. Everyone’s favorite French chef is joining the gang for a “Réveillon de Noël,” or traditional Christmas feast. Some of the chefs almost wet themselves with excitement, but to be fair, it would be like Freddie Maggard crashing your Citrus Bowl watch party. Eric Ripert is a big damn deal!
Just as the chefs are starting to relax, the realization dawns on them that of course this isn’t just a magical Christmas feast in the middle of May with Eric Ripert; this is also the elimination challenge. The chefs have two hours to make one of the 13 desserts that are part of a traditional Réveillon de Noël. The extra twist? They have to do it in the kitchen at the mansion. All 13 of them.
Since I watch both Top Chef and The Great British Baking Show, I know that “cooking” and “baking” are two entirely different things, so naturally, some of the chefs are worried, with Brian going as far to complain, “I cut meat, I don’t bake.” In fact, Nini and Kelsey are the only chefs with pastry experience. Nini, an intense little thing, threatens to kill anyone who opens the bottom oven while her pastry is inside, and then Sara goes and opens it. Given the ominous music that plays when this happens, I thought it was going to be a much bigger deal than it ended up being. Phew.
At judging, the chefs present their dishes. The judges don’t hold back, comparing Adrienne’s almond daquoise to “frozen orange juice” and swearing off biscuits after tasting Brian’s sweet and savory offering. Pablo’s dark chocolate tart is too boring and Kevin’s ricotta cake is too salty, which Brandon tried to warn him about in the kitchen.
In the end, Kelsey’s chocolate pot de crème, Nini’s blackberry and lemon vacherin, and Eddie’s strawberry shortcake crumble are the top three dishes. Nini wins her second straight Elimination Challenge, but it was nice to see Eddie get some praise. He was still beating himself up over last week’s lamb debacle. IT’S OKAY, EDDIE!
Kevin’s salty ricotta cake, Pablo’s basic chocolate tart, and Brian’s vinegary biscuit make up the bottom three. While all three dishes were gross, Kevin is the one who goes home because his dish was “so salty it was inedible.” But it’s all good, guys. He got to eat with Eric Ripert and someone’s going to water his garden for him.
My Old Kentucky Home Takes
— Again, aside from the wild turkeys outside the mansion at the beginning of the episode, we didn’t get to see much of the Bluegrass State; however, I am all for the budding bromance between Brian and Brandon. The bonding moment over Brandon’s hair straightener was kind of awesome.
— Kentucky girl Sara had a good week after coming off as a bit cocky in the last episode. We got to hear a little bit more about her childhood as “the only Jewish kid in Kentucky” and her biscuit with coconut “whooped” cream looked great to me. It is more fun when you say “whooped”!
— I wonder who ended up having to clean the kitchen the next day? Did they make Kevin do it before he left?
Next week: Restaurant wars, bubble baths, and hopefully more of the Bluegrass State.
By Drew Franklin on ©December 20th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Rick Pitino is reportedly on his way to Greece to coach Panathinaikos B.C. of the EuroLeague. It’s the perfect job for Pitino if you ask me.
He has a winning record in Athens.
Pitino went 6-2 against Georgia as the head coach at Kentucky.
He’ll be coaching several players who couldn’t make it in the NBA.
So, not much different than the talent he had at Louisville.
He can pay players and the FBI won’t care.
This is a two-parter: (1) Panathinaikos plays in a professional league, so Pitino can (and is expected to) pay his players; and (2) he can do so without concerns of conversations being recorded by the federal government of the United States, which has no jurisdiction or authority in Athens — or anywhere else in Greece, for that matter.
He can’t ruin what is already in ruins.
To borrow a joke from my good friend Corey on Twitter: It is hard to leave a program in ruins if it is already surrounded by ruins.
He’ll be at The Derby every year.
Not the Kentucky Derby, but the “Derby of the Eternal Enemies,” the name given to Panathinaikos’ game against rival Olympiacos. It’s also called the “Mother of all Battles.”
He’ll get to coach Antetokounmpo after all.
Shortly after losing his job at Louisville, Pitino reached out to the Milwaukee Bucks about its head coaching vacancy. The Bucks were not interested, therefore Pitino missed out on the opportunity to coach Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the stars of the NBA.
But now he can coach Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ older brother, who is currently on the Panathinaikos roster.
The Greeks don’t like Trojans either.
But hopefully Pitino doesn’t go around leaking little soldiers out of his wooden horse. He, and Greece, did enough damage by doing that already.
Prostitution is legal in Greece.
According to a Google search and not my own personal experiences, prostitution is legal in Greece. This would allow Pitino to maintain his recruiting strategies from his time at Louisville.
See? It’s the perfect job.