Category Archives: UK Basketball

Kentucky Sports – Seven Wildcats Declare for NBA Draft

Booker, Cauley-Stein, Harrisons, Johnson, Lyles and Towns to put their names in annual draft

uk moonLEXINGTON, Ky. – An unprecedented seven Kentucky Wildcats announced they are declaring for the NBA Draft at a press conference at the Joe Craft Center on Thursday.

Junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Dakari Johnson, and freshmen Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns, will forego their future eligibility at UK and put their names in the upcoming draft, to be held June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It’s about each individual up here making a decision – not based on what’s right for this university, not based on what’s right for me and our staff – but what’s right for them and their families,” UK head coach John Calipari said at Thursday’s press conference. “The way this works, I meet with each player after the last game, and truly it’s the morning after the last game. I ask, ‘Do you want me to explore your options?’ They all said yes. A few said no. We gather the information. We talk to about 20 NBA teams, maybe more. We let the parents talk directly to the NBA so there’s no confusion. We have about a five-minute meeting – maybe. I’m not convincing them to stay and I’m not pushing anybody out the door. This is their choice.”

Kentucky is coming off a record-setting season in which the Wildcats became the first team ever to post a 38-0 record. UK’s 38 victories tied the most in NCAA history, tying Calipari’s 2012 national championship team and his 2008 Memphis squad.

The Wildcats, who captured both the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament crowns, made it to the Final Four unblemished, the first team to accomplish that feat since UNLV in 1991.

“We didn’t quite get our goal of winning a national title and 40-0, but it can’t and it doesn’t take away from what these people have accomplished,” Calipari said.

Booker averaged 10.0 points and sunk 58 3-pointers during his freshman season. He was named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year by the league’s coaches and was also a member of the All-SEC Second Team and All-SEC Freshman Team.

The Grand Rapids, Mich., native was a five-time winner of the SEC Freshman of the Week honor while connecting on 41 percent of his shots from long range. Booker’s season highlights included a stretch of seven games in which he connected on 20 of 28 (71.4 percent) of his 3-point shots, beginning with the game vs. No. 18 North Carolina.

“We all wanted a national championship, but I feel like we made a lot of history here, did a lot of great things,” Booker said. “These are memories that I’ll never forget. People always ask what my hardest decision was, and it’s the decision to leave Kentucky, not to come here. That was the easy decision, to come here and be a part of this program. Great fan base. That was an easy decision and leaving all of that will be the hardest.”

Cauley-Stein became one of UK’s 58 all-time All-Americans during his breakout junior campaign and its 25th consensus First Team All-American. The 7-foot forward from Olathe, Kan., averaged 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds during his three-year career in Lexington.

Cauley-Stein finished his career as the only player in program history to amass 500 or more rebounds, 200 or more blocks, and 100 or more steals. He concludes his career ranking second all-time in the UK record books with 233 blocked shots.

In addition to his consensus All-America honors, Cauley-Stein was the 2015 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2015 SEC Tournament MVP, an All-SEC selection, an All-Freshman Team selection in 2013 and a two-time member of the All-SEC Defensive Team.

“It’s the start of something big for all of us,” Cauley-Stein said. “It definitely is a tough decision, especially with how young we are and everything, but it’s a decision that everybody and their family, they got to make. We think it’s the time to go.”

Aaron Harrison will forever be remembered for his three straight game-winning 3-pointers during UK’s thrilling 2014 NCAA Tournament run. The sophomore averaged 12.4 points in his two-year career with the Wildcats and sunk 121 career 3-pointers, a mark that ranks 22nd all-time in Kentucky’s record books.

Aaron Harrison started all but one game in his 79 career appearances. He was a Second Team All-SEC selection as a sophomore and a two-time All-SEC Tournament Team selection. For his career, he shot 41 percent from the field and 33.5 percent from behind the arc. He finishes just 21 points shy of joining UK’s 1,000-point club.

“It was just time for me to go to the next level,” Aaron Harrison said. “I think I’m ready for the next level. I haven’t really heard much with draft projections, but I feel like I’m one of the best No. 2 guards. I had an up-and-down season, but I still think I’m one of the best No. 2 guards in the draft. I just have to go out there and prove it.”

Andrew Harrison served as the floor general for two seasons at Kentucky. The 6-foot-6 point guard averaged 10.1 points and churned out 298 career assists in 79 career contests, starting all but one game for the Wildcats during his tenure.

Andrew Harrison’s 298 career dimes ranks 16th all-time in UK’s record books, which are the most for a two-year player in program history. He earned a spot on the 2015 All-SEC Tournament Team and was a member of the Midwest All-Region Team after sinking the game-winning free throws against Notre Dame to send Kentucky to its 17th Final Four in program history.

“It’s really cool, but it’s just now beginning,” Andrew Harrison said. “Like they say, you’ve got to fight for what you want and don’t worry about what anybody says about you and just fight and believe in your talent. Obviously, we are all pretty talented in our own rights and it was fun. This was the best experience of my life playing basketball here at the University of Kentucky, and I’m so thankful for them for having me here these past two years.”

Johnson appeared in 78 career games and started 18 contests during his two-year career in Lexington. The 7-foot center averaged 5.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in his career, logging career bests in points per game, rebounds per game, free-throw percentage, blocks, steals and assists during his sophomore campaign.

In UK’s Final Four game vs. Wisconsin in 2014, Johnson poured in 10 points and hauled in seven rebounds, including five offensive boards. Against Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2014, Johnson played in a career-high 31 minutes and posted a career-high 15 points while filling in for the injured Cauley-Stein.

“I just feel like it’s my time,” Johnson said. “Growing up as a kid, you always wait for this moment. I just think I’m prepared. These last two years here have been great. When you go up against people every day that’s going to be pros one day, I think it just made me mentally stronger, and stronger as a player and person. After the meeting me and my mom had with Coach Cal yesterday, I just told my mom I’ll call her this morning and tell her my decision. Last night, I just prayed on it. God told me it’s my time.”

Lyles, who Calipari described as the “X-factor” of Kentucky’s magical 2014-15 run, averaged 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in 36 games in 2014-15. An All-SEC Freshman Team selection, Lyles was also named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice during his career.

The Indianapolis native averaged 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game throughout UK’s NCAA Tournament run in 2015, which included his second career double-double effort with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Cincinnati.

“It was a really tough decision,” Lyles said. “The bonds that I built with a lot of coaches and teammates here makes it hard to say goodbye, but I know this is the next step for me to reach my goal. It’s been my dream since I was 7 years old, and now that it’s time for me to make that move, it’s crazy for me to think about. I would shoot in the driveway or mimic game-winning shots at the park and it’s just crazy to think about the fact that it’s happening now.”

Towns earned All-America distinction while hauling in SEC Freshman of the Year accolades during his freshman season at UK. The 6-11 Piscataway, N.J., native averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 56.6 percent from the floor and 81.3 from the charity stripe.

Towns saved his best basketball for the biggest of games, logging 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds throughout the NCAA Tournament. He was the 2015 Midwest Region Most Valuable Player after scoring a career-high 25 points and hauling in five rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting vs. Notre Dame.

“It’s surreal,” Towns said. “You never think of this moment; you dream of this moment when you’re young, when you’re playing on the court and you just think about these moments, like the one today – like hopefully I could be in the same league as the greats like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. All these great players, you just want to be a part of the fraternity that they are a part of.”

All seven of Kentucky’s early-entry players are on the majority of NBA mock drafts.

Coach Calipari has placed 31 players in the NBA during his college coaching career (30 of them via the draft), including 19 over his first five seasons at Kentucky. The 19 draft picks over that five-season span is the most of any coach.

Included in the Wildcats’ recent draft success includes two No. 1 overall draft selections (John Wall in 2010 and Anthony Davis in 2012). Toss in Derrick Rose in 2008 at Memphis and Calipari has coached three top draft picks, more than any other coach all-time.

In 2010, five UK players were selected in the first round for the first time in NBA history, and the Wildcats’ six selections in the 2012 NBA Draft are the most in the two-round era.

All told, UK has had 15 first-round draft picks in the Coach Cal era, two No. 1 overall selections, five top-five picks and nine lottery picks.

For the latest on the Kentucky men’s basketball team, follow @KentuckyMBB on Twitter and on the web at UKathletics.com.

QUOTES AND COMMENTS – Kentucky Men’s Basketball

Opening statement … COach John Calipari

“Let me welcome everybody on this special day for these young people and their

families. We had a meeting to begin our year, and the meeting was based on them. My

comment was ‘I’m on a mission. My goal is to have eight of you have an opportunity to

be drafted if you chose to put your name in the draft.’ That was from the beginning of

the year. They also knew that meant they would have to be the most selfless, sharing,

sacrificing group of young people ever in this game if that were to happen. And they

were. They also knew they’d have to do some historic things. Even at this crazy

university. Historic things and they did. Thirty-eight and zero to start a season. Thirty-

eight wins, the most ever. I can go on and on what they did defensively. Things that are

historic. We didn’t quite get our goal of winning a national title and 40-0. It can’t and it

doesn’t take away from what these people have accomplished. They had a 3.13 grade

point average. They had a 3.0 last year, the guys that were with us. They look after

each other. They’re their brothers’ keeper. The keep them – each of them – walking the

right path. Keeping themselves together. They also know if they chose – I’m hoping they

all stay – if they chose to leave, their scholarship is here waiting on them when they

chose to come back. During this year it’s about team. I think you all saw that. They

shared, they sacrificed. It was about team. Now it’s about each individual up here

making a decision not based on what’s right for this university. Not based on what’s

right for me and our staff. What’s right for them and their families? The way this works: I

meet with each player after the last game, and truly it’s the morning after the last game.

I ask, and this is every year, ‘do you want me to explore your options?’ They all said

‘yes.’ A few said ‘no.’ We gather the information. We talk to about 20 NBA teams.

Maybe more. We let the parents talk directly to the NBA so there’s no confusion. We

have about a five-minute meeting. Maybe I’m not convincing to stay and I’m not pushing

anybody out the door. This is their choice with their family. We’ve done that, and now

it’s time for these young people to let us know what they’re going to do. I think maybe

the easiest way is if you’ve decided to put your name in the draft why don’t you stand

up?”

On if the number of players declaring for the draft surprised him …

“Well I probably shouldn’t say this, but if Alex (Poythress) didn’t get hurt it would have

been eight. So no, it doesn’t.”

On if Poythress has decided if he is declaring for the NBA draft …

“Alex is going to go home and meet with his family. We have done some research for

him. It’s unfortunate. It’s a tough deal because he would be sitting here too. (If) Alex

comes back, he will graduate in three years. He will have his college degree and he has

an opportunity to do the things he wants to do and reach his dreams too.”

On how long it took to make his decision to declare …

“It was a long thought-out process, but it was kind of quick too because we’re not

focused on it during the season, and the season just ended, too. We gathered

information and I feel like I made the best decision for myself.”

On his relationship with Tyler Ulis and how it affected his decision …

“I talked to him [Tyler] a lot about it, but Tyler wanted me to do what’s best for myself

too. Everyone knows we’re going to be best friends for life. Me moving on, that’s not

going to change anything, really. I’d love to play with him more, be on the court with him

again, but hopefully [we will again] one day in the future.”

On what helped him make his final decision …

“I talked to my parents about it, I talked to the coaches about it, and they all felt the

same way so we came to a conclusion [to enter the draft].”

On what he needs to improve on moving forward before the draft …

“I need to get more explosive and defend better. In the Wisconsin game there were a lot

of mismatches where I was getting scored on, but that just comes along with getting

stronger and that’s what I’m going to work on over the summer.”

On his time at UK and how it feels leaving …

“We all wanted a national championship, but I feel like we made a lot of history here, did

a lot of great things. These are memories that I’ll never forget. People always ask what

my hardest decision was, and it’s the decision to leave Kentucky, not to come here.

That was the easy decision, to come here and be a part of this program. (A) Great fan

base. That was an easy decision and leaving all of that will be the hardest.”

On his decision process …

“Probably from the get-go. I was going to leave last year, but I broke my ankle. I didn’t

get a chance to play in the Final Four so that was my whole motive coming back. This

year I got a chance to play in it. I’m healthy, and my whole thing coming back is if I

stayed healthy I was out. There is no reason to come back, if you are healthy and you

can go, you should go.”

On Alex Poythress’ decision …

“It could go both ways. He can think about it like how I thought about it which is, if I

come back I am doing something that has never been done. I am trying to make my

name and I feel like I did that. If I’m coming back it’s for a purpose, and to be better than

what everyone thought I was going to be. If he is going to come back that has got to be

the motive. I came back and took this year like it was my rookie year.”

On starting a new life outside of UK …

“I am excited. It’s a chance to start your life. There’s going to be a lot of speed bumps

along the way. You know those are going to be the things that make you who you are.

It’s going to build your character so I’m excited to take a leap of faith and if I fall the

pick-up is going to make your name so you have to fall sometime. Whatever you do to

pick it up, that’s your name and I hope mines big.”

On his decision to enter the NBA Draft …

“It was just time for me to go to the next level. I think I’m ready for the next level. I

haven’t really heard much with draft projections, but I feel like I’m one of the best No. 2

guards. I had an up- and-down season, but I still think I’m one of the best No. 2 guards

in the draft. I just have to go out there and prove it.”

On the most memorable part of this season …

“The fun that we had this last run. There was electricity around Lexington. We made a

deep run in the tournament and were just at the top of college basketball. It’s one of the

best feelings ever.”

On if there was ever a chance, when it came to him and his brother, of one staying and

one entering the draft …

“No. We made the decision together. We’re pretty much in the same boat with this.”

On if it scares him that he won’t be with his brother next year …

“I wouldn’t say it’s scary. I think we’re excited to break apart and live our own lives. Of

course I’ll miss him a little bit, but I don’t think it will affect us.”

On the toughness of his decision to enter the NBA Draft …

“It was pretty tough. Just being somewhere where you’re loved and treated really well. I

love Lexington, but it was just time to chase my dream.”

On how Kentucky will be in the future …

“They’re in great hands. Tyler (Ulis) is a great point guard and is definitely a great

leader. I think they’ll be a good team next year with the returning guys and the freshmen

coming in. They’ll have a great season.”

On being able to declare for the NBA Draft …

“It’s really cool, but it’s just now beginning. Like they say, you’ve got to fight for what you

want and don’t worry about what anybody says about you and just fight and believe in

your talent. Obviously, we are all pretty talented in our own rights and it was fun. This

was the best experience of my life playing basketball here at the University of Kentucky,

and I’m so thankful for them for having me here these past two years.”

On what he wants to show NBA teams before the draft …

“I want to show them how big I am, how fast I am, how athletic I am.”

On the possibility of separating with Aaron Harrison …

“We are prepared for that. We are not even together all of the time here, so it’s not that

bad. We’ll be alright.”

On the feedback he has received from NBA teams …

“I didn’t really get a lot of feedback, my parents got it – and mostly my dad. They said

that you can’t really worry about mock drafts and things like that. They just said that you

have to show them in the workouts, show them in the combines and in the team

workouts. I think it will be fine. I’m not worried about it.”

On the mock drafts and what he has learned from them …

“People try and act like they don’t pay attention to them, but don’t let all the freshmen

fool you. They pay attention to them. Myself, I’m not worried about it. I feel like I’m the

best player on there, so it doesn’t matter.”

On his decision process …

“I just feel like it’s my time. Growing up as a kid, you always wait for this moment. I just

think I’m prepared. These last two years here have been great. When you go up against

people every day that are going to be pros one day, I think it just made me mentally

stronger, and stronger as a player and person. After the meeting me and my mom had

with Coach Cal yesterday, I just told my mom I’ll call her this morning and tell her my

decision. Last night, I just prayed on it. God told me it’s my time.”

On whether making the decision was scary … “Growing up as a kid, it’s just been my dream. I don’t think I’m really scared. I’m confident in my ability. I’m just ready to compete, and go out there and just try to reach my goals and live my dream.”

On the tipping point in his decision … “Everybody was just saying either way I’ll be fine. Coach Cal said either way I would go is fine. He has a lot of confidence in me. Yesterday, I just did a lot of thinking with my mom and stuff like that, and just prayed on it.”

On evaluating the past season … “It was a lot of ups-and-downs, but I still learned a lot. I was just happy to be around this group of guys, and we had a great season.”

On the meeting with Coach Cal … “If I came back it would be great. But either way, I would be fine. He just wanted me to know that either way, I’m going to have to go and work hard. He thinks I’m a great person, and just making sure that I’m built for this. I think I am.”

On the difference between last year’s decision and this one … “Last year, I felt like my body just wasn’t all the way there. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for that step. I think I got older. I’m more mature now, so I just feel like I’m ready to just go out there and just get better as a player.”

On his assets as a potential NBA player … “Being an all-around good player offensively and defensively.”

On his process deciding to enter the NBA Draft … “It was a really tough decision. The bonds that I built with a lot of coaches and teammates here makes it hard to say goodbye, but I know this is the next step for me to reach my goal. It’s been my dream since I was 7 years old, and now that it’s time for me to make that move, it’s crazy for me to think about. I would shoot in the driveway or mimic game-winning shots at the park and it’s just crazy to think about the fact that it’s happening now.”

On considering coming back for another season … “The bonds I built here had a big effect on me, but I had to make the right decision for myself and this was the right one.”

On the day feeling surreal … “It’s surreal. You never think of this moment. You never think of this moment; you dream of this moment when you’re young, when you’re playing on the court and you just think about these moments, like the one today – like hopefully I could be in the same league as the greats like Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. All these great players, you just want to be a part of the fraternity that they are a part of.”

On being No. 1 in some mock drafts and whether it is important to be drafted No. 1 … “The one thing I worry about is what I can control. Work hard every day, and get my game better every day and be the best player I can be. That’s all it’s about, and that’s all I’m really worried about and I’m just so happy with this moment not just for myself. It’s not even how happy I am for myself but how happy I am for all the other ones that get to chase their dreams also.”

On what he brings to the table as a potential professional… “Just, play my game. Just trying to be a versatile big man who could block shots, rebound, also can shoot the J even though I didn’t shoot much, but I was very effective inside so I’ll take that.” On the type of bond he will have his teammates five years down the road after one season together …

“Lifelong, lifelong. We’ll be having dinners 30 years from now together just joking and just having fun remembering the times we had this year. You know it’s a blessing we have the group of guys like I was able to have, the group of brothers and family I was able to make here. These bonds will never be broken. In other words they’re deep in our blood.”

Kentucky Sports – John Calipari Wins Associated Press Coach of the Year

Cal Coach of Year

 

Sixth-year UK head coach has already won the same honor from the NABC and Sporting News

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Already named the National Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Sporting News, Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari picked up another prestigious honor for leading the undefeated Wildcats to a 38-0 season, entering the Final Four, when he was named the Associated Press National Coach of the Year on Friday.

It’s the first time in Calipari’s illustrious career he has been named AP Coach of the Year. He’s the third UK coach to win the AP honor, joining Eddie Sutton (1986) and Tubby Smith (2003 and 2005).

Calipari, now in his sixth season at Kentucky, has led UK to a second straight Final Four this season and the fourth in the last five years. Kentucky is the first team to enter the Final Four undefeated since 1991.
Calipari’s 2014-15 Wildcats have tied his 2007-08 Memphis team and his 2011-12 national championship Kentucky team’s NCAA Division I record for single-season wins (38) with last week’s Elite Eight win over Notre Dame on Saturday. UK is the first team in NCAA Division I history to post a 38-0 record.

Kentucky has spent 19 straight weeks at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 this season, tied for the fourth-longest streak in NCAA history. UK now owns the NCAA Division I record for most appearances at No. 1 in the AP poll in a single season at 19.

UK also set the school record for home wins with 19 this season.

Earlier this week, Calipari won NABC Coach of the Year honors for the third time in his career. Only legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden, with five, has won more.

Calipari was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year by the AP for the third time in his career earlier this season. He is also one of four finalists for the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year.

The 55-year-old is one of 12 finalists eligible to go in to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. The Class of 2015 will be announced on Monday at a press conference in Indianapolis, prior to the national championship game.

For the latest on the Kentucky men’s basketball team, follow @KentuckyMBB on Twitter and on the web at UKathletics.com.

NCAA Tourney – Wildcats have all the luck as they beat the Irish to Advance to the Final Four

By Rick Blair – March 28, 2015, Cleveland, Ohio

These Cats have nine lives and they used one of them to come from behind and defeat Notre Dame 68-66 in the closing seconds of Saturday’s Midwest Regional Final. After trailing most of the second half, the Wildcats did not miss a shot in the final ten minutes of the game. Freshman Center Karl-Anthony Towns was unstoppable as he made all eight of his shots in the closing half and scored a game high 25 points in leading the Wildcats to the two-point win. Towns’ was not alone in making big plays down the stretch.

Tyler Ulis sits in locker room with net from Regional Championship - Photo by Dr. Michael Huang
Tyler Ulis sits in locker room with net from Regional Championship – Photo by Dr. Michael Huang

Freshman guard Tyler Ulis hit a three-pointer with the Wildcats trailing by six with six minutes to go in the game. Aaron Harrison who hit several big threes on UK’s magical run the championship game last year, came through again when he nailed a long three-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead with three minutes left in the contest. But Notre Dame would not go away easily and the Irish regained the lead. After Towns tied the game win one minute left, it was defense and Willie Cauley-Stein who blocked Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant’s three-point attempt that set up the final heroics.

Only 33 seconds remained in the tied tension filled game, as Sophomore Andrew Harrison held the ball, looking for the clock to count down. With about eight seconds remaining in the game Harrison drove to the basket and was fouled. Having the pressure of a trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance, Harrison calmly knocked down both free throws and clinched a trip to Indianapolis and a spot in the Final Four for a second consecutive year. Notre Dame had one last attempt, but the shot fail harmlessly to the ground and the celebration began. Nine appears to be a special number for these Wildcats. In addition to the nine lives, the Wildcats went nine for nine from the field in the last ten minutes of the game and are seeking to make it number nine, when it comes to the schools number of NCAA national championship banners that are hanging from the Rupp Arena rafters. The Wildcats will take on the Wisconsin Badgers this coming Saturday in a rematch of last year’s Final Four semi-final contest won by the Cats 74-73. Kentucky is now 38-0 on the season and are going to their fourth Final Four appearance in the last five years.

NCAA TOURNEY – Wildcats Demolish West Virginia 78-39

Cleveland, Ohio Thursday, March 26, 2015 – By Ricky Blair

Willie Cauley Stein with the slam - Photo by Tammie Brown for Midwest News and Sports
Willie Cauley Stein with the slam – Photo by Tammie Brown for Midwest News and Sports

You should never wake a sleeping giant. West Virginia found that out the hard way by doing a lot of trash talking before their match-up with the Wildcats on Thursday in the NCAA sweet sixteen clash. West Virginia guard Daxter Miles had said before the game that the Wildcats did not play hard and that UK would be 36-1 after the game. Well what the young Miles and the West Virginia Mountaineers found out, is don’t give this number one ranked and undefeated Kentucky team added motivation. Kentucky demolished the Mountaineers 78-39 to move on the Midwest Regional final and chance to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis. Kentucky took the challenge personal about not playing hard and raced out to an 18-2 lead eight minutes into the game. The early lead came courtesy of Aaron Harrison’s ten quick points and a suffocating defense. It was 30-9 at the 8-minute mark in the first half and the Wildcats finished off the half with a 44-18 lead. Game over!

Kentucky’s defense was overwhelming for the Mountaineers. At the half West Virginia had only made 5 field goals and had shot 19 per cent from the field. Kentucky had more steals (4) and blocks (3) combined than the Mountaineers had field goals. West Virginia had been known for causing turnovers, but they had 7 at the half, compared to only 5 for Kentucky. The second half was more of the same, as the Wildcats went up by as many as 41 points before coasting to the 39-point victory. The 39-point win was the largest sweet sixteen victory of all time. It is also the first time a team had doubled the other teams score in the regional semi-final since 1940. “They had a good day today and we had a miserable day, you know, so we lose by 40.” Said WVU coach Bob Huggins. Good indeed. If the Wildcats play like this the rest of the way, banner number nine is not far behind.

The Wildcats were led in scoring by freshman forward Trey Lyles who had 14 points, but it was a balanced attack as Andrew Harrison finished with 13 points and both Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker finished with 12 apiece. Willie Cauley-Stein was his normal self with 8 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal. It was a terrific game for everyone except Karl-Anthony Towns who could never get into the flow, but on this night Towns was not needed.

With the win Kentucky now moves to 37-0 on the season and will now take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday at 9:00 PM with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Kentucky Sports Icon Passes away

Ira D. Combs recently passed away, He will be missed by everyone that came in to contact with him. (Photo by Ron Hamblin - Midwest News and Sports)
Ira D. Combs recently passed away, He will be missed by everyone that came in to contact with him. (Photo by Ron Hamblin – Midwest News and Sports)

Ira D. Combs, one of the most beloved people in the sports field Passed away Thursday March 19th, 2015 doing what he loved to do.Ira was on his way in to the Yum Center to get his media credentials when he collapsed and later died at a Louisville hospital. People across the state shared in the passing of Ira Combs as he was loved and respected throughout the state. Ira was a straight shooter and said what was on his mind. He did not sugar coat his articles nor did he have to make things up or sensationalize stories. He was one of the true “Old School” media people and those who had the chance to share time with Ira always walked away with a smile. On several occasions while sitting in U.K.’s media room, Ira would greet me and my brother Tim with, “there are them mountain boys.” A phrase  that gave us both a smile. We would share stories about High School basketball, behind the scenes stuff going on with the Wildcats and a lot of time just listening to Ira  tell stories from the good ole days. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart issued the following statement on the passing of legendary Kentucky sports figure Ira Combs:

“All of us at UK Athletics are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ira Combs. Ira, a fixture at UK Athletics events for decades, loved this state and its people as much as anyone. Ira’s dedication and hard work in covering high school and collegiate sports in Kentucky were obvious, but his kindness towards the people he came into contact with and worked with will be what we will remember him for the most. Our prayers and thoughts are with Ira and the Combs family.”

WYMT, a local news station that often carried Ira Combs released the following article:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) – Eastern Kentucky student-athletes have lost one of their greatest advocates.

Ira D. Combs, a longtime educator, coach, athletic director and sports commentator died suddenly after collapsing at the Yum Center Thursday, he was 61.

Combs was from Perry County. He is the brother of “Cats Pause” founder Oscar Combs and a fixture on press row.

He was a well known radio and television sports commentator and newspaper columnist.

After the news of Ira’s death, tributes began pouring in from journalists and sports fans across the state.

Former WYMT Sports Director Brian Milam said, “There was a thing he would always say as he ended his radio show or TV show. He would of he had you on as as guest he would say Brian we could talk to you forever. Its just kind of sad you will never hear that again and you will never hear his voice again, live and in person. He loved Eastern Kentucky. He loved the mountains and it’s athletics and the kids and the coaches and what not. He was just outspoken about how he felt about a lot of things. He would not shy away about being somewhat controversial at times. This is a tough day”. Combs was walking into the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville to pick up his media credentials for the Midwest Regionals of the NCAA tournament when he collapsed. He later died at a Louisville hospital.

Many Kentucky sports enthusiasts spent the day sharing their memories of Combs and sending prayers and well-wishes to the Combs family through social media on Thursday.

Coach Cal tweeted the following statement:

Just got back from shootaround and heard about the passing of Ira Combs. Total shock and just so sad. Prayers to him and his family.

We here at Camen Media are saddened by this tragedy but know Ira was UK Blue, through and through, and know he is looking down on his beloved Wildcats. Ira will be missed.

 

NCAA Tournament – Pursuit of Perfection: CATS Bounce Bearcats to Punch Ticket to Sweet Sixteen

BRENDON D. MILLER – CAMEN MEDIA – MARCH 21, 2015 – LOUISVILLE

Perfection. Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch

Wishful thinking for a Cincinnati fan who tossed their sign after the game. U.K. is now 36-0 and looking for perfection.
Wishful thinking for a Cincinnati fan who tossed their sign after the game. U.K. is now 36-0 and looking for perfection.

excellence.” Excellence is what the CATS exhibited today in the Derby City to end the University of Cincinnati’s season at 23 and 11, and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The win moves the CATS to 36 and 0, the first time in the HISTORY of the NCAA that a team has reach such heights. Perfection for the CATS, this game was not. The CATS again, as has become the norm, started slowly, actually very slowly, hitting on only 3 of their first 15 shots, on the way to shooting only 34.5% (10 – 29) in the first half. The Bearcats came out with a great defensive effort, and the CATS matched the intensity with a great defensive stand to force a shot clock violation at 18:15 with Cincy not getting off a shot. Points were at a premium with the score being 4 to 4 at the 15:48 media timeout and 9 to 6 at the 12:34 media timeout, following a Jermaine Sanders three for Cincy. The CATS finally got off the three point “0fer” at 9:24 on a three from Aaron Harrison to tie the score at 13, which seemed to jump start the CATS on offense. The CATS led 17 to 16 at the 7:34 media timeout, but Cincy again pulled ahead 22 to 21 on a jumper by Farad Cobb to force Cal to call a timeout at 4:46. Cincy then took its last lead at 3:42 at 24 to 21 with a steal by Troy Caupin and dunk by Shaq Thomas. The CATS then turned it to finish the half on a 10 – 0 run, highlighted by, another monster slam by Willie Cauley-Stein, destined to be a SportsCenter top 10, that whipped the Big Blue Nation in the KFC Yum Center into a frenzy. Aaron Harrison capped the run with a three from the right wing at :42 to set the halftime score of 31 to 24. As the Bearcats walked off the floor you could see the disappointment in their body language, as they knew that they had played as well as they could play and executed their game plan perfectly, but were still down 7.

The CATS were led in scoring the first half by Karl-Anthony Towns with 8 points. Trey Lyles posted 6 points and 6 rebounds and Tyler Ulis had 4 points and 3 assists with no turnovers. Cincinnati was led by Coreontae DeBerry with 6 hard earned points in the paint. Cincy shot an excellent 42.3% (11- 26) in the half, but the difference was the free throw line where Kentucky shot 9 for 11, while the Bearcats did not reach the line, as the CATS only committed 4 fouls in the half. The score was tied 5 times with 7 lead changes.

The second half began with Cincinnati again bringing the intensity and cutting the CATS lead to 3 twice. The first was at 33-30 at the 16:54 mark on two Troy Caupain free throws following a questionable Technical Foul on Aaron Harrison for a confrontation with Octavious Ellis, and the second at 35-32 on a jumper by Ellis at 15:40. As has been the case all year, the CATS superior talent and numbers began to come for the fore during the last ten minutes which is winning time. Seth Davis tweeted, “Cats know their opponent will be dog tired the last 10 minutes, and especially the last 5. Fresh legs + long arms = winning time.” Not a Seth Davis fan, but true words, very true. The Line of Demarcation for the CATS to turn it on in games has been the 10:00 mark, and that is when Andrew Harrison, a non-factor in the first half, took over with a drive and layup at 9:32 to put the CATS up for the first time by double figures at 46-35, and another driving layup at 8:32 to put the CATS up 48-37 and conversion of the “and 1” made it 49-37, and the margin would not ever be below double figures again.

The lead climbed to 19 at the 1:43 mark, and the final margin was 13 at 64-51.

As the tournament plays out, it is clear that Tyler Ulis is the heartbeat of this team. I made the comment to those around me during the game that several other CATS may have better NBA prospects, but you see, now that we are in the tournament, who is playing the most minutes. Tyler played 15 minutes in the first half and 19 minutes in the second half for a total of 34 for the game, no other CAT played over 29 minutes. Tyler had 9 points, 5 assists and 3 steals, but most importantly 0 turnovers against Cincy’s steady pressure. Cal said in post game that Tyler and Andrew love playing together, and want to be in the game together, and this has made the lineup of having Tyler, Andrew, Aaron, Trey and either Karl-Anthony and/or Willie in the game together a winner. Aaron Harrison led the scoring with 13, and Trey Lyles, playing more in the power forward role, put up a double-double posting 11 and 11.

The CATS blocked 9 shots and ruled the foul line by going 20 for 28 while the Bearcats shot 9 for 14, an advantage of 11 points. Perfection that game was not, however, the record is, and it is simply awesome to see the Excellence the CATS are catching in the Pursuit of that Perfection.

36 and 0, now on to Cleveland we go!!!

CATS Make HAMPTON Walk the Plank 79 to 56, to Stay Perfect and Advance to Third Round

BRENDON D. MILLER – CAMEN MEDIA – MARCH 19, 2015 – LOUISVILLE

The CATS turned it on after a slow start in a game that was never going to be a game, to

Photo by Tammie Brown - Midwest News and Sports
Photo by Tammie Brown – Midwest News and Sports

advance to Saturday’s NCAA Third Round game with Cincinnati. A Sea of Blue filled the KFC Yum Center

to watch their CATS continue the Pursuit of Perfection, and were not disappointed as the CATS easily

disposed of the Pirates. Slow starts have plagued the CATS throughout the season and this game was no

exception as the Pirates brought the intensity in the early going. The CATS only led 7 – 6 at the 15:29

media timeout, and 18 – 11 at the 11:05 mark. The CATS superior talent and physicality then took over

from that point forward and the CATS began to consistently feed Karl-Anthony Towns in the post. Towns

dominated the first half posting 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. The highlight play of the first half

was a Towns jumper on the break on a wonderful assist by Tyler Ulis at the 5:36. Towns went on to

convert the “and 1” to put the CATS up 26 to 14. From that point forward, the CATS went on to

outscore Hampton 15 to 8 to set the halftime margin of 41 to 22. The CATS shot 43.8% (14 for 32) and

held Hampton to 27.6% (8 for 29).

Hampton Head Coach, Edward Joyner, Jr., said post game that the CATS are “as good as

advertised,” and the CATS showed their might by extending their lead to 35 on three occasions, each on

dunks by Marcus Lee at 12:43 (63 to 28); Trey Lyles at 11:29 (65 to 30); and Towns at 10:25 (67 to 32).

As can be expected, the CATS put it on cruise from that point forward and the intensity loss allowed the

Pirates to outscore them 24 to 12 the rest of the game to set the final score.

This past week, Towns was named a Freshman All-American and he lived up to said billing by

posting a season-high 21 points and adding 11 rebounds. Three other CATS reached double figures with

Andrew Harrison posting 14, Ulis with 11, and Lyles with 10. Willie Cauley-Stein had a sub-par scoring

game only posting 7 points on 1 for 5 shooting and going 5 for 8 from the line, but still contributed 11

rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists. The CATS out rebounded the Pirates 51 to 31 and also continued to

share the ball by dishing 15 assists on 28 baskets. The CATS ended up shooting 45.9% (28 for 61) while

holding Hampton to 28.8% (17 for 59).

The CATS both started and ended slowly, and Cal stated that while he wasn’t happy with the

performance, same was understandable given the late start time and delay from the overtime of the

Cincinnati – Purdue game. Despite this not being the CATS best performance, in the NCAA tournament,

the objective is to survive and advance. Perfection is intact. 35 and 0, and on to the Bearcats on

Saturday we go!!

“COMPLETE” Cats Dominate From The Get-Go, Defeat Auburn 91 – 67

BRENDON D. MILLER – CAMEN MEDIA – March 14, 2015 – NASHVILLE

Semifinal Saturday here in Nashville began for the CATS with everyone in the gym, and across the country, expecting the CATS to put a beat down on the Auburn Tigers, and the CATS did not disappoint.  Auburn coach Bruce Pearl stated post game that the CATS are a complete team with no weaknesses, and that this was, no question, the best team that he has ever coached against.  High praise from Pearl.

UK 91 defeats Auburn 67 - Photo by Tammie Brown - Midwest News and Sports
UK 91 defeats Auburn 67 – Photo by Tammie Brown – Midwest News and Sports

The CATS showed no signs of the slow starts that had sometimes plagued them throughout the year, and again on Friday against Florida.  Auburn took a 2 to 0 lead on a jumper from Malcolm Canada, thirty seconds in to the game, but the CATS immediately answered 13 seconds later with a three by Aaron Harrison from the left corner, and the barrage was on.  The CATS led 15 – 4 at the 15:50 media timeout and stretched the lead to 28 – 8 at the 11:51 mark.  The play of the first half was a drive and dime by Tyler Ulis to Willie Cauley-Stein for a monster dunk and 1 at the 7:15 mark extending the CATS lead to 32-14.  The play of the second half was a fast break lob from Devin Booker to Willie for another rim rattler and 1, which Willie again converted.

Today was Willie’s day and he was the CATS main man with a stat line of a team-high 18 points and 7 rebounds, with 3 blocks and 2 assists.  Cal said that this performance is what Willie can do when he is engaged and plays to his potential.  Cal stated that the decision was made by the coaching staff that K.T. Harrell would be the defensive focus after he put up 29 against LSU on Friday.  As a result, Willie (at 7-1) would guard him.  By the way, Harrell is a 6-4 guard.  Harrell ended up with 13 points, but 11 of those came from the line, and he was held to 1 for 12 shooting from the field.  Willie said post game that the defensive effort spurred his offense.  This spread to the rest of the team.

The CATS shot a blistering 56.3% going 27 of 48 from the field and 7 of14 from beyond the arc.  The CATS again dominated the foul line going 30 for 35 (85.7%).  Tyler Ulis led the CATS with 6 assists and also had 6 points and 5 rebounds.  Five CATS were in double figures led by 18 from WCS, 15 from Andrew, and 12 each from Lyles, Booker and Aaron.  The CATS had 17 assists on 27 baskets, with only 10 turnovers.  Pretty strong performance across the board.

What kind of team has the ability to have their power forward guard an opposing team’s guard, and puts up the stats quoted above? Answer is a complete team with interchangeable parts.  Cal said that Trey Lyles is a great example of the depth of this team, as he is being mostly played at the 3, but he is dominant when played at the 4, his natural position.  But Cal said he can’t play Lyles at 4, because Willie is the 4, and he cannot play Willie at the 5 because Karl-Antony is the 5, and then you throw Dakari and Marcus in as well.  Problems, Problems.  Nice to have those type.

Such is the case when you have a “complete team”.  The result is more than occasional domination, which we saw today.  33 and 0 and on to Sunday we go.

Gators Bring It, Cats Respond Like Champions To Stay Perfect

Gators Bring It, Cats Respond Like Champions To Stay Perfect

BRENDON D. MILLER – Midwest News and Sports – March 13, 2015 – Nashville

 

UK defeats Florida for 3rd time. (Photo by Tammie Brown - Midwest News and Sports)
UK defeats Florida for 3rd time. (Photo by Tammie Brown – Midwest News and Sports)

The CATS wore down the Gators in Fridays first SEC Quarterfinal 64 to 49 to stay perfect.  On Thursday, after the Gators took out Alabama to advance to today’s Quarterfinal matchup, Michael Fraizer, stated that the CATS, are “Definitely Beatable” and that was definitely the mindset that the Gators brought to the court today.  The Gators came out with intensity and led 10-5 at the 16:25 media timeout and 15-14 at the 11:42 mark.  That’s when the CATS, who were presented the SEC regular-season championship trophy before the game, showed the form of a Champion, and turned up the defensive intensity to take the lead 20-19 at the 6:58 media timeout.  The CATS never trailed again in advancing to Saturday’s Semi-Finals.

After the break the Gators pulled to within 2 on a jumper by Jon Horford at the 17:06 mark, but that was as close as the Gators would get.  The CATS then went on a 9-0 run over the next three minutes culminating in a three pointer from the right wing by Aaron Harrison on one of Tyler Ulis’ 4 assists to make it 42-31 and force a Gator time-out to try and stem the momentum in a packed-with-nothing-but-Blue Bridgestone Arena, and give the CATS their first double-digit lead.  This game was pretty well in the books at that point.  The Gators had challenged the CATS in both prior encounters this year, but faded late, and that would be the script again today.

Devin Booker said post game that many teams can play with UK for 30 minutes, but “do you still have it” in the final 10.  Ulis said the CATS sense the moment late in games when team legs are dead and “that’s when we hit the speed button.”  The Gators answered the 30 minute question in the negative as they were only able to shore 9 points in the final 11:24 of the game, when the CATS felt the time was right to hit the button.

The CATS were led in scoring by double-double man Karl-Anthony Towns and Aaron Harrison with 13 a piece, with Towns also posting 12 rebounds, with 6 each offensive and defensive.  The CATS only shot 37.5% from the field, going 21 for 56, but more than equalized by going 19 for 23 at the line, for a blistering 82.6%.

32 and 0 and on to Saturday we go.  A shout out to the phenomenal BBN.   Nashville and Bridgestone are, and will be, entirely BLUE this weekend!

U.K. Ends Regular Season at 31-0

Only a handful of teams have finished the regular season undefeated and the U.K. Wildcats have matched them. Wichita St. ran the table last season before losing to the Cats in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky now sets their sites on the SEC Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament. UK must win 9 more games to become the first team since Indiana ran the table in the 1970’s.

(All Notes courtesy of UK Athletics. Calapari interview by Midwest News & Sports – Tammie Brown)

Florida at Kentucky, Men’s Basketball – Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., March 7, 2015 – FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 67, Florida 50

  • Kentucky is 31-0, 18-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Florida is 15-16 overall, 8-10 in league play.
  • Kentucky leads the series 96-37.
  • With 31 consecutive victories …
    • It extended the longest season-opening win streak for any team in SEC history.
    • It is the second-longest overall win streak in Kentucky history.
    • It extended the longest win streak for a John Calipari-coached team.
  • At 31-0, Kentucky has become the first team from a “power five” conference to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana did so in 1976.
  • This is the 15th time in school history that Kentucky has made an undefeated run in the Southeastern Conference regular season and the second time under Coach John Calipari (also 2012).
  • Kentucky set a school record with 19 home wins, eclipsing the record of 18 home wins set in 1985-86, 2009-10 and 2011-12.
    • It is the 12th time in the 39-year history of Rupp Arena that UK was undefeated at home in a season and the fourth time in six years under Calipari.
  • Kentucky is 208-27 all-time when ranked No. 1 and has won 53 of the last 55 games as The Associated Press top-ranked team.
  • UK is 50-1 all-time as the No. 1-ranked team in Rupp Arena.
  • Calipari has led three schools to a No. 1 ranking (Massachusetts, Memphis, Kentucky) and has a 97-9 record as the top-ranked coach, including 56-4 at UK.
  • Calipari is now 183-37 (.832) as head coach at Kentucky, the best winning percentage of any coach in UK history.
  • UK was behind for 4:43 today. The Wildcats have trailed for only 169:53 of a possible 1,255 minutes this season.
  • Kentucky plays Friday at 1 p.m. EDT in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

Team Notes

  • Key stats for the Cats:
    • UK got to the foul line 21 times, making 15.  The Wildcats committed just nine fouls in the game and UF made 3 of 7 at the charity stripe.
    • UK won points off turnovers, 16-12.  UK has won or tied points off turnovers in every game this season.
    • UK won bench points 46-13. UK has won bench points in every game this season.
  • Kentucky’s streak of 929 consecutive games with a 3-pointer was extended when Devin Booker hit a three at the 2:53 mark of the first half.
  • UK held Florida to 50 points. UK is 111-5 under Coach Calipari when holding the opponent to 63 or fewer points. UK is 57-0 under Calipari when limited the opponent to 55 or fewer points.

First-Half Facts

  • Photos by Tammie Brown Exclusively for Midwest News and Sports
    Photos by Tammie Brown Exclusively for Midwest News and Sports

    Kentucky’s opening lineup featured Brian Long, Sam Malone, Tod Lanter, Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns for the first time season. Long, Malone and Lanter played the first 23 seconds and then left the game for substitutions.

  • Kentucky scored the first five points of the game but Florida rallied to go ahead 11-7.
  • The teams went back-and-forth after that. UK went ahead for good at 26-23 and Kentucky took a 30-27 edge into halftime.

Second-Half Story

  • Kentucky started the second half with Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein.
  • UF drew within 36-35 with a couple of 3-pointers. The Gators hit five of their first nine long balls.
  • Ahead 44-41, UK got a 7-0 run for a 51-41 lead. UF got no closer than eight after that.
  • Kentucky’s largest lead was 67-49.

Player Notes

  • Trey Lyles led the Wildcat with 14 points.  He has averaged 11.3 over the last seven games and has grabbed at least four rebounds in each game.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns had a fine all-around game with 13 points, a game-high nine rebounds, six blocked shots and three assists.
    • Towns has averaged 14.2 points over the last five games.
    • His blocked shots was one shy of his career high of seven rejections.
    • His three assists was one shy of his career best of four.
  • Devin Booker scored six points with a pair of huge 3-pointers. With the game tied at 23, his 3-ball gave the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish. In the second half, ahead 44-41, his 3-pointer started a 7-0 run which put the Wildcats ahead by 10 and the Gators got no closer than eight after that.
  • Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone got the first starts of their UK careers on Senior Day.

An interview with: COACH JOHN CALIPARI

THE MODERATOR:  Questions.

1. How much emphasis do you put on 31‑0 with so much more to go?

COACH CALIPARI:  The only thing I keep telling them is I’m so proud and I respect them so much to be able to deal with this.  I mean, not only every game is an event, every game they played this year is an event, every game is somebody’s Super Bowl.  Every game the coach would walk off the court and say that was the best we played all year.  They took on the challenges.

It’s not only you coming at them, it’s people around them coming at them.  They were able to shield that and play for each other.  They are able to play for each other.  They did it again today.

Billy is trying to work his way through guys being injured, trying to come back.  They were ready to play us, great game plan, what Florida did to us.  We had that one stretch, probably five minutes of the game, that we won the game.  That’s okay.  That stuff happens sometimes.

 

  1. Talk about Karl(-Anthony Towns) in that five‑minute stretch.

COACH CALIPARI:  Well, look, I keep trying to explain to Karl, you are so good, you don’t have to do anything crazy, so why do you keep trying to do crazy stuff?  You’re too good a player.

Now, if you’re not that good a player, you try to do something crazy so people see you.  Like, ‘Wow, did you see that?’  The rest of the time the dude stinks.

He doesn’t need it.  But he’s young.  When we needed him to play at the end, he played.  Now I’m on him.  He goes 13‑9 in 27 minutes, six blocks, three assists, one steal.  We all know how good he is.

But I’m on him because I want him to be the best.  I don’t want him to be just a good big, I want him to be the best.  He’s working toward that.

Again, you had Trey Lyles today.  You’re starting to see how good he is.  Trey Lyles is as good as anybody in the country.  Our guard play, Andrew (Harrison), Aaron (Harrison), Devin (Booker), Tyler (Ulis), they played well.  Dakari Johnson played well.  Dakari played better defense than Karl did, to be honest with you.

 

  1. Early in the season you were saying if this team loses one game, they need to lose it now.  With them going 31‑0, would a loss in the SEC tournament hurt or help?

COACH CALIPARI:  I’m not a big fan of tournaments.  Never have been.  Three games in three days.  What does that do for you?  I mean, I don’t think it does anything.  I’m not a big fan.

But this place is a different animal.  Our fans who can’t get in this building…  You’re saying, “What do you mean, there’s 25,000 (fans)?”  There’s probably another 100,000 that want to come that can’t get tickets.  They come to the Tournament, they spend their rent money, mortgage money, their car money.  They get money, take loans, and they go to the tournament because they can’t get in here.

We all talked about it.  We’re going to play for our fans.  It’s not going to have a bearing on our seed in the tournament.  It will have no bearing.  It never has.  Maybe this year it will have a bearing if we lose, I don’t know.  But winning has never had a bearing on the NCAA selection stuff, never.

So we can’t promise we’re going to win every game, but we want to go have fun for our fans.  We want them to enjoy the experience that we respect what they’re doing to get there.  So it’s a weekend for our fans and for us to enjoy them.

 

  1. Was that decision after the game to have the celebration with the T‑shirts? Was that up to the players?

COACH CALIPARI:  I didn’t really have anything to do with it.  It’s nice.  I didn’t really see it.  I kind of walked off the court.

What did they do?

 

  1. They got T‑shirts, held them up.

COACH CALIPARI:  That’s really nice (smiling).

 

  1. I asked you yesterday how it should be remembered if you finish an undefeated regular season, not counting what happens next.  You said, “We could lose the game.”  You didn’t.  Billy talked about how people should take a minute to appreciate how hard this is to do.

COACH CALIPARI:  I would tell you what these kids have accomplished, and as young as they are, it’s not winning every game; it’s that they shared.  You got Andrew (Harrison) and Aaron (Harrison).  I didn’t start them in the second half because I never do.  Think about that.  You know how good those two are?

Trey Lyles, who I’m telling you is as good as any player in the country, steps back so Dakari and the guards and these guys can step up.  Our guards, sharing with each other, you know, passing.  That’s the story.

This is a great story for college athletics, for society.  Instead of me, me, me, it’s us, us, us.  When you do that, we all benefit.  Every one of these players has benefited by this.  I’m not just talking about they won.  No, their stock personally has risen, every one of them.

This is how this is supposed to work.  We do this together, everyone benefits.  Not the school, not the coach, all the players benefit.  That’s what’s happening and I’m proud of them.

 

  1. Despite all of this and the pressures of being undefeated, these guys seem like they’re really loose, having fun with this run.  Do you like that?  Do you see it as well?

COACH CALIPARI:  I think, again, the one worry I had prior to the game was I wonder if they’re feeling this.  I’m older.  I’ve been through so much.  You shoot me, it goes through a bazooka hole, OK. I’ve been shot at so much.  I’ve been through the grind of this.  They haven’t.

Willie Cauley, you think about it, he was on a team that went to the NIT, lost to Robert Morris.  All of a sudden you’re in this boat, on this team?

The biggest thing I’m trying to tell these guys, I’m telling my staff, man, we all have to stay connected and enjoy this.  I’ll tell you, I would imagine ‑ just saying ‑ there will be some stuff written and said.  I want to tell you all, no one will steal my joy.  If you want to attack what we’re doing, be nasty about it, have at it.  You’re not stealing my joy.  Coaching this team, with these kind of kids, you’re not stealing my joy (smiling).

 

  1. Since you’re in such a joyous mood, was that part of the reason for starting the three seniors that you did?

COACH CALIPARI:  What would you have done if we would have lost this game?  How many of you would have said, “How could he do that, start these kids with this on the line?”

Let’s think about it.  I keep telling you this is about these players, it’s about them.  What about those three?

The reason I started them is I wanted a picture of them starting.  We’re framing it.  CBS is going to get me the starting lineups with their names on it.  It’s going to be framed.  I told them prior to the game, 35 years from now you can say you started.  Who the hell knows (smiling)?

In the end, the students wanted them back in.  I listened to the students.

 

  1. You’ve obviously achieved a lot.  Now you have the perfect regular season.  How will you view this year if it doesn’t end with a national championship?

COACH CALIPARI:  Well, it’s not that.  It’s on the 28th of June.  That’s my last day.  That’s draft day.  We’ll see.  I’ll be able to tell you after that.

Eight or nine guys get drafted, I’m going to be very happy for whatever happens.  I’ll be really happy.

 

  1. You’re already an odds‑on favorite to win the NCAA tournament before the selections have been made.

COACH CALIPARI:  You don’t know the bracket yet.  I can guess the bracket.  Do you want me to guess it for you?

 

  1. Sure.

COACH CALIPARI:  I bet you they slide the Lakers in there (smiling).  I can give you the names.  You’ll say, You’re not in that room, how did you know?

 

  1. As a follow‑up, do you think that’s a realistic evaluation of your chances?

COACH CALIPARI:  I don’t know.  I mean, I’m going to try my hardest to keep these guys in the moment.  What I told them after the game, “I want you to think of us as if each of you is the best version of yourself.  If you know you’re not, you got to ask the question of yourself, ‘Why am I not what I should be?’ ”

By getting all these kids, worrying about them playing well, worrying about them, if that’s not good enough, I’m telling you, I can live with it.  I had to live with a nine‑point lead with 2:20 to go and missing free throws.  You know what, I live with it because our kids gave everything they could.  Missing free throws down the stretch.  I’ll live with it.  I’ll live with what the result is.

I’m telling you again, I know our fans get mad when I say this, my concern is our players.  If we do right by them, they’ll drag us where we’re trying to go.

If Andrew and Aaron are driving the ball, not settling. If Tyler and Devin are playing their best. If Trey Lyles gives you what he gave you today.  If Karl plays like he did the last five minutes.  Willie hasn’t been there the last two games.  Missing shots, missing free throws, that’s not who he is.  What if he’s at his best?  What if Marcus Lee is in blocking shots like he did against Michigan?  What if Dakari is playing like he did today, making free throws, baskets, flying around, great defense?

Man, you start looking around, Boy, are they really good.  We’re unselfish.  We got to get a bunch of guys playing their best.  That’s the whole goal.

I’m going to say this again.  You all know I’m not looking for two guys to score, the rest of you play defense, take charges, get rebounds, set screens.  I want all these kids to play basketball.  I want them all to do the things they can do.

 

  1. If this is the best version of themselves, if they live up to their potential, is this your best Kentucky team?

COACH CALIPARI:  I don’t compare.  I’ve had good teams here.  I’ve had good teams at UMass.  I’ve had good teams at Memphis.  Like really, really good teams.

This team’s a good team.  This may be one of the deeper teams I’ve had.  I’m doing stuff, platooning and doing stuff I’ve never done before.  This is a good group.

Thank you.