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By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari started a national media tour Monday to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” and admitted he had no idea how many players would leave UK early for the NBA draft and denied reports that he had any interest in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know right now,” said Calipari on the Dan Patrick Show when asked how many players might leave UK. “We had great conversations. They all have the information. I am not going to meet with them nine times. This is it. Tell me what you want to do so I can help you.”

He later when on Kentucky Sports Radio and said he called 10 NBA general managers the day after UK lost to Connecticut in the national championship game to gauge where his players might land in the draft. He said he even had one player on the way to the airport in Dallas after the title game he told him he didn’t want to leave UK.

“As I was doing all of the other research, they were throwing his name in, and a couple of them told me he could be a first round pick. So, I had to call him back in and say, ‘I know what you said to me, but you and your mom need to sit down and talk about this because here’s some of the information I’m getting,’” Calipari said.

“If you’re in the first round, you’ve got to go do this, if you’re in the lottery, you’ve got to go do this.” In fact, if a player wants to come back, he has them sit down and explain why, like Patrick Patterson did back in 2009,” Calipari said.

Calipari said he doesn’t see any way all eight players that might consider leaving early would do that. He noted they have until April 27 to make a decision to put their names into the draft and that they are “not hurting” him or UK by waiting to make a decision.

“You obviously know that there’s a couple, they’re going to go, and then there’s three or four that are like ‘what will you guys do?’ At this point? I don’t know. I don’t think all eight will leave. How about that? We finally will have some guys come back. I don’t think eight will go, but five, six, four, I don’t know,” he said.

He also addressed the rumor former Kentucky star Rex Chapman put out a few hours before the national championship game that he had been told it was a “done deal” that Calipari was going to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously it is not true,” Calipari told Patrick.

He said he was “surprised” that Chapman put that message on Twitter.

“You know, every year I have coached I am going somewhere. That is all part of being the coach at Kentucky but that disappointed me in that unless the Lakers told him, which I know wasn’t done … They had a coach. We had a coach. Getting ready for the championship game. I am not mad at Rex. We are moving on,” Calipari said.

Calipari said the rumor was not a distraction for him or the team because they didn’t know about it until after the game.

Patrick asked if Calipari would one day like to be offered the Lakers job?

“No, I am good We need to get this thing to two years (before a player can leave college for the NBA),” he said.

He said on Kentucky Sports Radio that he had a “great job” where he could impact the lives of players and their families and wanted to keep doing that. However, he told Patrick if players are still able to leave school after one year that it would “be hard” for him to still be coaching in three to five years.

“The option is to recruit players that are not good enough (to leave UK for the NBA after one year) or convince kids that should leave that they should stay,” Calipari told Patrick. “I am not comfortable with that and BBN is not comfortable with the first one (recruiting players not as good). Let’s get to two years because that is good for everyone.”

Calipari said even if he didn’t get the top-ranked players, the 50th rated recruit would still think he could be a one-and-done player.

“If I try to talk them into staying, people are going to say I am doing it for me,” he told Patrick. “I give information to families and they make the decisions. I can’t go at this any other way.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie had answered his final question at his postgame press conference after his team won the national championship. He had praised his players for what they did in the 60-54 win over Kentucky to cap their own Cinderella March Madness run.

But rather than walk out, he made time to credit Kentucky coach John Calipari.

“And just another sideline before I go, I want to thank coach Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats, what a great job that they did all year.  And Coach Cal is a wonderful, wonderful coach.  He’s one of my great friends and I just wish him the best of luck,” Ollie said.

“I know that he’s going to get another great recruiting class and he’s going to be right there back here.  But what an amazing job he did this year getting those freshmen to buy in.  That’s hard.  He’s a wonderful man and I wish him all the best of luck in the offseason.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

With all the hoopla over UK’s Final Four appearance, and there should be plenty, I thought it might be nice to share this e-mail I got from Kentucky football fan Nick Lyons of Danville as coach Mark Stoops continues to put his team through spring practice.

Here’s what Lyons sent me:
“I’ve had a special place for UK football in my heart for years. I still have a poster with Oliver Barnett and Mike Pfeiffer on it from when I was young. I wrote my eighth grade portfolio at Boyle County Middle School on the Wildcat’s season and Donnie Redd’s lack of playing time back in the day.
“The only time I ever called a coach’s show was to tell Rich Brooks to hang in there after they beat Vandy on a last second touchdown the season before they went to all the bowls, and suggest he hire Chuck Smith in some capacity.
“I credit my stepfather, Ed Garner, for my education in UK football history. From a young age, he shared the stories of Bear Bryant, Stoll Field, Sonny Collins’ fumble, etc., and set the foundation for the hunger for Kentucky Football success that burns inside of me and other football fans in the Commonwealth. He told me years ago what could lead to success for football at UK. You have to get big guys from Ohio and Illinois to block. You have to get speedy guys from down south. You absolutely have to get the best players from Kentucky. Now we have a staff that is doing all those things.
“I’m so excited for next year and beyond for Wildcat football. No fan base in the country deserves to have a winning football team more than UK fans. UK fans have been there for many losing years. I’d say this is the lowest point ever with not winning a conference game for so long and all, but it’s not. It’s not the lowest point because we have hope.
“Now, If they lose one of their first three games next year, it wont be good, but I think they can win five and anything over five for them will be gravy because they are so young. I hope the fans show up like last year for the spring game, and I hope expectations are tempered for 2014.
  
“Now is a great time to be a Kentucky football fan. This team is young and has great potential. Thank you for the awesome coverage and support for UK Football”

Kentucky coach John Calipari said Tuesday that “medical people” have a specific diagnosis on Willie Cauley-Stein’s ankle injury that force him to leave the Louisville game last weekend and not play at all against Michigan Sunday.

“I don’t — his ankle hurts,” said Calipari.

Against Wisconsin Saturday in the Final Four, Cauley-Stein likely would have been UK’s best matchup for 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky, who plays inside and outside.

“Tough matchup for us. Tough matchup. Really skilled, 7-foot tall. He’s going to be a handful,” Calipari said. “Wish we had Willie. Maybe we will. I doubt it, but this would be his game. But he’s not here, and if he’s not here and he can’t play then we’ve got to do what we have to do, try to figure out our plan will be let’s get ready as though he’s not playing.”

Kentucky's Aaron Harrison (2) shoots a three-point basket past Michigan's Caris LeVert (23) in the final second of the second half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison (2) shoots a three-point basket past Michigan’s Caris LeVert (23) in the final second of the second half of an NCAA Midwest Regional final college basketball tournament game Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — What Aaron Harrison did for Kentucky here Sunday was no surprise to his coach or teammates.

He was 0-for-4 from the field in the game’s first 32 minutes before making his last four shots — all 3-pointers — that included the game-winner with 2.3 seconds left to give Kentucky a 75-72 win over Michigan and berth in the Final Four in Dallas.

‘Throughout this year he’s made huge shots and big rebounds and big stops. He’s done it all year,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari.

Aaron Harrison admitted he didn’t know how to feel after the made the deep 3-pointer under pressure from Michigan defenders.

“I knew it was going to be the last shot we were going to get. I knew it was a big shot and I just wanted to make it for my teammates,” Harrison said.

Alex Poythress, the catalyst in UK’s comeback win over Louisville Friday, was happy to see him taking the shot.

“Someone has to take the shot and I am just glad it was him. He just stepped up big for us again. He’s took big shots before, so it was no surprise,” Poythress said.

Andrew Harrison said his brother hit “three or four game-winners” in high school and had made big shots in other games at UK.

“Once he gets the ball, he can finish,” Andrew Harrison said.

Yet no one described what it took to take — much less make that shot — than a giddy Dakari Johnson, who almost tackled teammate Julius Randle on the court after Harrison’s shot went in.

“I was nervous. I didn’t even know what he was doing. I just saw the ball go in the rim and I was so happy. I had no clue. I was just zoned out. I didn’t know what was going on but I loved the result. I almost blacked out,” a smiling Johnson said. “I still can’t believe it. He has big nuts to be honest.”

When asked to maybe rephrase that, Johnson tried.

“He just has guts and is just crazy,” Johnson said.

Harrison tried to ignore the description Johnson used to describe his courage.

“ I mean, I knew I had to take the shot. I wasn’t really sure how much time was left. But I knew that it wasn’t that much time, so I just tried to take the best shot I could take. And it fell,” Harrison said. “And in making that shot and seeing my teammates so happy and running toward me, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Randle, who had a nation’s best 24th double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, might have grinned more than Harrison after the shot.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll see a picture of it. They’ve been getting a lot of pictures of my facial expressions,” Randle said. “But when he made that shot, I mean, it was just ridiculous. In that stage, that atmosphere, that game, to make that shot to send us to the Final Four, it was just amazing.”

Of course, Aaron Harrison is the one who predicted UK could still write a “great story” this season even after the disappointing loss at South Carolina four weeks ago.

“I just felt that even though we lost that game we came together in that game. We became stronger in that game because we knew that everyone else on the outside wouldn’t be on our side after taking a loss to a team like that. I knew we just had to come together. If we came together we could do some things,” he said.

They did and now that’s why they are going to the Final Four.

By: ASHLEY SCOBY

The Sweet 16 rematch of Baylor and Kentucky could not have been more different from the teams’ first meeting, which went to four overtime periods in December.

Baylor, led by Odyssey Sims’ 25 points, bounced the Wildcats from the NCAA tournament Saturday, 90-72. After Kentucky took an initial 5-4 lead, the Lady Bears ripped off a 16-2 run and used it to incite a rout of the No. 3-seed Wildcats.

“We just didn’t play as a team today,” said Kentucky junior Bria Goss, who scored 13 points before fouling out.

Kentucky was led by senior DeNesha Stallworth, who finished her last game as a Wildcat with 19 points. Her 9 of 14 performance from the field did nothing to take away from the pain of ending her career.

“I’m so happy to be here and I appreciate everything Coach (Matthew) Mitchell and my teammates have done for me,” she said. “I love these girls and I know they’re gonna fight next year and do good. I’m just so happy to be part of UK.”

The Wildcats fell into an early hole they could never really dig themselves out of, after an early 16-2 Baylor run that was sparked by an 11-1 rebounding advantage in the first four minutes of the game.

“I felt like we were doing a lot of good things early except for rebounding and that was very disappointing,” Mitchell said. “We did not seem to really be going after it in the first six or seven minutes like we needed to.”

That early 5-4 lead from Kentucky sparked a timeout by Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, which inspired her team to make its crucial run.

“Sometimes you just want to change the flow of a game,” she said. “I felt like at that time I could get on them and challenge them and let them know that they need to play as fired up as I was coaching.”

Kentucky closed the gap to four points at 30-26, but Baylor finished the last 5:56 of the first half on a 19-6 run led by 8 points from Sims and 4 from Khadijiah Cave, who finished with 18.

The Wildcats headed into the locker room staring at a 49-32 scoring deficit and 27-19 rebounding deficit. They were also outscored in the paint by the Lady Bears, 28-12, despite Stallworth’s 4-7 first-half shooting.

Baylor’s presence in the paint, especially on the boards, was a main topic of discussion in the Kentucky locker room.

“That’s one of the things he (Mitchell) said in the locker room at halftime: ‘They’re missing their first shots but getting two and three putbacks,” Goss said. “Holding them to one-and-done was the focus.”

Of course, rebounding was a focus on the other side of the court, as well, leading to Baylor’s dominating performance on the boards early in the game.

“It was a big game, and we knew yesterday that rebounding would be one of the biggest factors that determined the game,” said freshman forward Nina Davis, who had 8 boards herself. “They have some great post players that are very strong and aggressive, so we just tried to match their aggressiveness and take control of that part of the game.”

Both teams were dead even on the boards in the second half, with each pulling down 20. And Kentucky, coming off a 25 percent shooting performance in the first half, finished 24 of 69 from the field after shooting 45 percent in the second period.

But the damage had already been done.

“We just dug ourselves in a hole and it was kind of hard to get the score back up,” Kentucky freshman Linnae Harper said.

Harper, who finished with 14 points, scored most of those during a 3:41 stretch in the second half, as she tried to get the Wildcats out of the 20-point deficit they found themselves in at the 8:16 mark (down 70-50). The freshman scored 12 of Kentucky’s next 14 points.

Even with that burst from its freshman, Kentucky never got to within fewer than 12 points for the rest of the game. Offensive productivity for Kentucky was not particularly lacking in the second half; instead, it was its defense that struggled. While shooting 45 percent in the second half, the Wildcats allowed Baylor to shoot at the exact same clip from the field (15 of 33).

“Our defense did not put forth a Kentucky type effort today,” Mitchell said.

Baylor will move on to play on Monday night against the winner of Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma State.

Kentucky, meanwhile, will regroup after it closes its season short of its ultimate goal – the Final Four – once again. After going to three Elite Eights in four years, the Wildcats still have not answered the question of what separates them from higher achievements.

“We have dared to develop the program to a point to get into games like this,” Mitchell said. “So you have to give the players a lot of credit. That is a question that I will continue to ask.”

ncaa2014logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan certainly will not lack for confidence when it plays Kentucky Sunday based on what Jordan Morgan said after the Wolverines held off Tennessee Friday night. As Morgan was leaving the court, he yelled “mismatch” in reference to Tennessee junior Jarnell Stokes.

We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside.  I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright,” Morgan said.

“So we’re not really soft around here.  That’s not who we are.  We lift a lot of weights.  So it’s just — I don’t know, it’s a pride thing for us.  We’re not about to get punked.”

2

Thank you Larry for all the Big Blue News.
I appreciate every word you write!
Because of you the BBN knows exactly what is going on without any hype or sensationalism!
Love the guest post, the interviews with the players and their parents.
I would be lost without you!

Go Big Blue! From Linda S

Note from  Gary: Larry had no idea this was coming. We like to embarrass him sometimes!

By: ASHLEY SCOBY

Syracuse chipped and chipped away but didn’t crack the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats in the Round of 32 on Monday. Kentucky, playing on its home court for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, withstood several Syracuse runs to take away a 64-59 victory and a spot in the Sweet 16.

The Sweet 16 berth is Kentucky’s third in a row – the first time in school history the Wildcats have put together that kind of post-season streak.

That streak was in jeopardy early, though, as the Orange would never let Kentucky get comfortable. The Wildcats held a 40-29 lead with 15:51 remaining, and looked to be on its way to another large-scale victory like their 106-60 one over Wright State in Saturday’s first round.

But Syracuse did what it had done over and over again in the first half, and that was cut Kentucky’s lead and deflate cushion after cushion that the Wildcats created.

“I woke up feeling the W. I really did,” said Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman. “Every time we thought we turned the corner, they got a steal … They got an offensive rebound.”

After Kentucky gained its 11-point lead by the first media timeout of the second half, Syracuse started its pattern of runs. Off three straight Briana Day baskets and a couple of Brianna Butler free throws, Syracuse cut it to five points at 42-37 with 13:38 remaining.

But Kentucky’s Jennifer O’Neill nabbed a steal on the defensive end and assisted on a Makayla Epps bucket. A Jelleah Sidney putback got the Wildcats’ lead back to nine.

Rachel Coffey was the Orange player that would have something to say about that Kentucky cushion next, though. She hit a layup with 12:02 to go, then a three-pointer at 11:53 to sneak within 46-44 of Kentucky.

“I think the three Rachel had hit for us really showed us that we could really do this thing,” Butler said. “I think it increased our intensity and made us go even harder. I think it was a pivotal moment for us.”

For Kentucky, that same play did not faze its routine.

“I honestly don’t even remember when they cut it down to that amount of points,” said senior Kastine Evans. “I think we were really just focused on getting out and pushing. That’s something we’ve always focused on, don’t necessarily worry what the score is. Just keep running and pushing the pace.”

That pace was favorable for the run-and-gun Wildcats, who forced 23 Syracuse turnovers and scored 21 points off them. When Kentucky shot 21 of 58 from the field, and missed several point-black shots at the rim, grabbing those steals (15 for the night) and loose balls was crucial.

“I’m so proud of the players on a night where clearly the ball wouldn’t go in the basket for us and we didn’t always make the best decisions, that they were able to create and force 23 turnovers and get them at crucial times down the stretch,” Mitchell said.

Once Coffey hit her three-pointer, two Bria Goss free throws s gave Kentucky breathing room, as would be the case multiple times throughout the night. Her two foul shots at the 10:34 mark got Kentucky’s lead back to four, which was then built to 10 with the help of an O’Neill three-pointer, Evans jumper and two more Goss foul shots.

By the final media timeout, Syracuse had cut the Wildcats’ lead in half once again thanks to jump shots from Butler, Day and Alexis Peterson.

Goss hit three more free throws down the final stretch, and finished 11 of 12 from the line. Her foul shot with 18 seconds on the clock set the final score of 64-59, and gave Kentucky the chance to finally exhale.

“She (Bria) is always up for any role we ask her to take,” said senior Samarie Walker, who led Kentucky in rebounding with seven boards. “She’s the hustle player and plays with a lot of heart and that’s something I look up to.”

Goss, who finished with 17 points, had six of those in the first half, when the Wildcats struggled from the field, shooting 10 of 32. DeNesha Stallworth paced Kentucky in that first period, scoring in double figures with 10.

The see-saw quality of the second half was a reflection of what happened from the opening tip on. After playing to a 14-14 tie, Kentucky went on a 12-4 run in the next 7:29 to take a 26-18 lead with 4:35 until halftime.

With a Janee Thompson layup, Kentucky took a double digit lead at 30-20, which Syracuse promptly cut in half with a Butler three-pointer and a Peterson steal and layup.

The Orange’s tendency to close every margin came on a night where they were missing their leading scorer, Brittney Sykes, who injured her knee in Syracuse’s first round contest against Chattanooga. While Syrcause certainly could have used Sykes’ scoring, her absence inspired her teammates.

“Because their (Syracuse’s) player did get hurt, they were going to come out and play hard for her,” Evans said. “I think that’s what any team would do.”

That increased intensity fell just short, though, as the Orange could not stop Kentucky from making its third Sweet 16 appearance in as many years.

The third-seeded Wildcats will play Saturday, March 29 against the winner between the No. 7-seed Cal and No. 2-seed Baylor.

For complete coverage of the No. 3-seed Kentucky women’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament, including live coverage from South Bend this weekend, follow @WildcatHoops1 on Twitter, or visit wildcathoops.com. 

Wildcathoops.com also has final stats and video from tonight’s Kentucky victory. 

Click on the photo to view a larger version of the updated NCAA Tournament bracket, with TV schedules.

Click on the photo to view a larger version of the updated NCAA Tournament bracket, with TV schedules.

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