Good morning and happy Monday to you, my friend. It’s always a lot more fun to get the week started together when there’s been a weekend full of good news and high fives around the University of Kentucky and that’s certainly been the case since we last did this Friday. From the win over Georgia to the arena talk to the notes from the football program, the weekend provided a lot to smile about. And that makes this a little easier. There’s a similar feeling of overwhelming positivity surrounding Kentucky junior Darius Miller, who seems to now be finally growing into the player that so many people, including John Calipari, have implored him to be. Saturday’s win over Georgia, in which Miller scored 14 points, marked the fifth-straight game he’s scored in double-digits this season after never doing so in consecutive games in his entire career. Though it was his worst game of the streak in terms of shooting percentage, you could make the argument that it was his most complete of the season as he did exactly what he hasn’t seemed to do for much of his career – make an impact when he’s on the floor. Miller started the game with a three and helped finish it with a rebound and two free throws, but in the time between, he rebounded (one short of the team lead), attacked the basket with uncharacteristic aggression and even spent some time guarding Trey Thompkins. We could analyze all the ways he made a difference in the game and try to correlate his surge in performance with UK’s record, but that seems unnecessary right now. Instead, let’s just give him a salute. He’s found his way into a lot of criticism here and a lot of other places in two and half years of being a Cat. It only seems fair that we take time to recognize him for turning it on. So, here’s to Darius Miller. May he continue to make a difference for the Cats and may he continue to dominate fools on Call of Duty.
Now onto some other UK notes…
– Before the weekend got going, the arena situation seemed to take a step in the right direction with Lee Todd and Jim Gray getting together to discuss where they both stand on the issue. After we wrote Thursday that there could be a potential battle on the horizon if the city simply wanted to make renovations to Rupp Arena, the meeting between Todd and Gray is a positive sign, though likely one that produced little progress or resolution. It would appear that the option that presents the best chance for a mutual agreement between the two parties is a new downtown arena, but the city’s ability and desire to make that a reality will not be known publicly for quite awhile. When Gray’s task force returns their findings from their studies, that’s when things will get interesting. Any talk before then is purely speculative and, to be honest, pretty awesome. So, keep your ideas coming.
– After a win against South Carolina on the road that saw that Cats let the Gamecocks creep back in the game, the question of whether this young team can handle a hostile road environment remains a valid one. It’s also one that they’ll look to answer emphatically this week as they travel to Oxford and Gainesville for a pair of games against two very different teams. The Rebels sit just half a game ahead of Auburn in the SEC West cellar and likely don’t pose any sort of threat to the Cats. The Gators, meanwhile, could potentially give the Cats their most hostile road environment yet on Saturday when a GameDay crowd packs into the O’Connell Center for a late night game. It will be important for the Cats to start both games like they did at Rupp Saturday and suck the emotion out of the crowd. It will be equally as important for them to finish it the same way. These next two games – particularly the one in Gainesville – can go a long way in creating a winning mentality for the remainder of the season, which is heavy on the SEC’s better teams.
– After the game Saturday, Coach Cal spent some time talking about the maturity of his team and trying to answer the media’s questions about why the Cats again let a team slowly get back into the game after appearing to be put away. Coach Cal said that he expects his veteran players – Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson – to be the ones to carry this young team through those stretches and how they have to be the ones making plays at the end of the game, as well as standing tall on defense. Miller seems to be at a point of feeling comfortable making some of those plays. Liggins’ biggest problem seems to be just finishing them. All three seemed to have defensive breakdowns. There’s no question about who the best players are on this team. But, to Coach Cal at least, Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight aren’t the guys he wants to have to count on at the end to close the door. It’s a thought that’s a bit unsettling, but one that remains as the harsh reality. The veteran presence must improve.
– Thanks to the victory over Georgia, the Cats now enter a three-game set that could allow them to take control of the SEC race. A pair of wins this week could push them ahead of the Gators (who could lose to Vandy Tuesday) and into a tie with Tennessee (Auburn and Bama this week), who will visit Rupp for Bruce Pearl’s return February 8. A win over the Vols would put UK in control of their own destiny with four of their last seven remaining at home. If we’ve learned anything so far in this conference, though, it’s that anything can happen and the Cats could very well enter their final game of the season at Thompson-Boling with the SEC East regular season title on the line. But, it all starts this week with a pair of road games.
– With an eventful and potentially big day approaching Wednesday, the UK football program took another step forward with the retention of assistant Tee Martin, who accepted an extension and a promotion. For all of the nitpicking at Joker Phillips so far in his tenure as head coach, the one thing he’s shown is that he will bring in assistant coaches that are well respected and that can help build momentum on the recruiting trail. Those are guys like Martin, Rock Oliver, Greg Nord, David Turner, Mike Summers and, now, Rick Minter. The support of the administration in opening up the pocket book and keeping Martin away from Alabama shows a commitment to Joker and provides some positivity that he will be able to tackle the monstrous task of taking UK football to the next level exactly as he wants. Keeping Martin was a big step for the program.
– The Cats weren’t able to keep everyone they wanted away from Alabama, though, as word brok Sunday that three-star wide receiver Darryl Collins is headed to Alabama. The 6’1 Collins, who did not make a scheduled visit to UK over the weekend, was already committed to the Tide, but looked at the Cats and Southern Miss as other potential options. He said Sunday that he will enroll as a grayshirt for Nick Saban. Collins was being targeted by UK, along with Bubba Tandy, as a potential fit for the Randall Cobb role on offense.
– Speaking of Tandy, the three-star from Hopkinsville announced he will pick his college on National Signing Day, joining Lamar Dawson and Jon Davis as potential future Cats picking their hat Wednesday. The Cats have five scholarships still to fill in the class of 2011 and a handful of potential options to fill them.
– While you had your eyes glued to the Cats and Dawgs Saturday, former Kentucky running back Derrick Locke was putting in a nice Senior Bowl performance, which provided an exclamation point to a week in which he likely worked his way onto the draft board. I spoke with a scout who attended Senior Bowl practices Sunday and he said that Locke likely earned himself a late round selection and a shot to play running back in the NFL after initially being projected as an undrafted kick returner. The scout said that Locke’s speed was more impressive than expected, though it was far from a weakness, and he showed willingness to run between the tackles and play bigger than his size.
– With another round of fan fire being lobbed against Jerry Tipton, this seems like a good time to point out something to a few of you who still haven’t picked up on this yet. Our new writerNot Jerry Tipton is exactly that. Not Jerry Tipton. It’s a parody. And, given the confusion of some, a pretty darn good one. So, if you’ve sent me an email (and more than a handful have), please consider this your response. It’s not Jerry Tipton. It’s Not Jerry Tipton.
– In other news, South Carolina’s Ramon Galloway cut his hair. The Gamecocks responded by losing at home to Auburn. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned throughout the day as we get you all set for Ole Miss and National Signing Day and everything in between. Matt and Zach will be by at 10 am to get things started. The fun will only continue from there. Make sure you stick around. See you in a few…