So yes, the Super Bowl ended up being relatively exciting. After a dreary first half and an unfortunate blackout, things got a bit more interesting late, highlighted by the “So God Made a Farmer” commercial and the worst non-holding call in NFL history. But while the rest of America debates those issues, I am going to tell you that the most exciting sporting event I saw on Saturday had nothing to do with a Harbaugh. The #9 ranked UK Mens’ Tennis team beat #8 Oklahoma 4-3 in a 6 hour match that was the most exciting sporting event I have been to since the Final Four. Read that sentence again and know that I am not kidding. Drew Franklin and I went to the Tennis Center at UK at 1 pm, thinking we would spend a hour or so and check in on a sport that besides Eric Quigley, we really haven’t covered much in the KSR era. Instead, we stayed glued to our seat for 6 hours for what of the most heated, intense and entertaining sporting events I have attended in quite some time. Led by the charismatic Tom Jomby (pictured above and one of the more colorful characters in UK Athletics), the Wildcats held on to beat an Oklahoma team that was full of loud, argumentative, unlikable players, leading to a Ryder Cup-like atmosphere on every court. There was trash-talking, coach-bickering and Sooner racket slamming, that made every point must-see and each match full of intrigue. With an audience that was cheering loudly for every point, the two teams split the first six points, only to have the entire match come down to Lexington native Grant Roberts’ final singles victory. As Oklahoma’s coach screamed at every call (think a college tennis Bobby Knight, but named John Roddick…the far less successful brother of Andy Roddick, he seemed to share all of his brother’s unlikeable traits (whining, unable to win), none of his good ones (Brooklyn Decker), all while wearing ill-fitting shorts. I may or may not have even screamed “Andy’s better” at him once), the UK crowd hooted, hollered and helped bring an energy to the match that couldn’t help but sweep us in. Having never attended a college tennis match, I came to this one not as a media member, but a fan, and had no idea what to expect. But Cedric Kauffmann’s team is very good (likely to be ranked in the top 5 nationally) and extremely entertaining, making what we thought would be a quick peak in, a marathon session on Super Bowl Sunday. Drew and I will definitely be attending again and if you get a chance, you should too.
To the news of the weekend after a huge basketball game and with Signing Day approaching:
The best performance of Uncle Julius Mays’s UK career helped ensure a HUGE Kentucky victory on Saturday in College Station. After doing everything possible to lose, the Cats found a way to hold on and get a crucial win that could have crippled the season had it gone the other way. Uncle Julius did almost everything well, hitting four big three-pointers, including a heave towards the end of the second half that should have iced the game. He made clutch free throws and most importantly, did a fairly good job defending Elston Turner, forcing him to work, while only shooting 7-23 from the field. It was his finest hour in Lexington and a perfect example as to why John Calipari brought him from Wright State. Nerlens Noel also had another great game, going for 19 points and 14 rebounds, while playing his excellent brand of defense again and terrifying most Aggie defenders from heading to the basket. He has become this team’s most consistent force and watching him continue to develop as the season has gone is a great joy (outside of his free throw shooting, which can be a bit maddening).
For everyone else, the news wasn’t quite as positive. Ryan Harrow had one of his worst games of the year, making terrible decisions down the stretch and missing a double team late that led to the Elston Turner shot to tie the game at the end of regulation. After taking a number of steps forward, he took a big one backwards on Saturday and he must find a way to bounce back. Alex Poythress showed a few signs of aggression, but most importantly, lost a number of key rebounds down the stretch, allowing second chances to Texas A&M that kept them in the game. Archie Goodwin was unable to defend Elston Turner as hoped, forcing Mays to guard him and thus requiring UK to often have to double team and get out of position on the defensive end. Archie too often shrinks when faced with a defensive challenge, and after a good performance versus Marshall Henderson, this one was disappointing. Kyle Wiltjer had an uncharacteristically mistake-prone game, letting himself get tied up down the stretch and making baffling decisions at key moments, including an ill-timed lob to Nerlens Noel. Plus, we learned that once and for all, the “Twin Tower” lineup may need to be shelved, as the team simply can’t score on the offensive end in such scenarios.
However with all of that said, Kentucky did win the game and that is the most important thing. A second loss to a struggling Texas A&M team would have hurt UK’s resume desperately and basically given them no room to drop more SEC road games. Now UK has at least one road game to play with (I think 5 SEC losses and UK is definitely in, so even if they lose to Florida twice, they could take one loss at either Tennessee, Arkansas or Georgia and be ok) and they can hopefully continue to improve with two home games this week versus bad teams. We have likely realized that Calipari is correct and there will be no (or very few) blowouts this year. Each game will be a war, even when UK is the superior team. It is what it is, and so long as they win these close games, the Cats still give themselves a chance to make noise in a down year for college basketball nationwide.
Oh, and here is the “God Made a Farmer” ad:
FOOTBALL SIGNING DAY APPROACHES
The weekend saw three commitments for UK as Jeff Badet, JoJo Kemp and Nick Haynes all picked the Cats and helped solidify the class. Kemp is the star of the group to me, a game-changing Running Back who has the ability to get on the field right away next season and make plays. His speed is unbelievable and his confidence about his own ability and the direction of the program will be contagious. Badet told the media after his commitment that he actually had been committed for a couple of weeks but just announced it. He will also potentially get some early playing time and adds to the increasing group of athletes that Stoops has brought in. And Nick Haynes added to the offensive line depth with a commitment on Sunday over South Florida and Central Florida.
At this point, Stoops has the groundwork of what should be a great class, and likely the best in recent school history. Most of the outstanding players have made their decisions, meaning that there isn’t a ton of suspense left before Signing Day. The two biggest questions are Jason Hatcher and Ryan Timmons, two in-state kids that UK covets. A week ago both looked very good for the Cats. Many around Trinity told me that they thought UK was the leader, and that Lexington would be his destination. His mother said he recommitted to USC after a late visit, but UK still went and saw him and there are still those who believe we won’t know for sure until Signing Day. Ryan Timmons also seemed a strong UK lean, but some late rumblings have come tonight that his visit to Florida may have gone very well. Can Joker steal Timmons at the last minute? We shall see. Get one of those two, and the class will be topped off nicely. We will know by Wednesday if it happens.
Before we go, I will remind you that we kick things off in the morning with radio at 10 am and a full day of coverage here on KSR. A great moment from this weekend occurred at the Texas A&M game, where UK fans chanted for the Harrison Twins in the opposing team’s arena, something that could only happen for the Big Blue Nation. The Twins took pictures with UK fans and generally felt the love from the BBN all the way down in Texas. Below is one example of such a picture and a sneak peek at the duo that will light up the courts in Lexington next season.