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- ESPN.com’s Jason King seems to have logical rankings going into next season
- Mark Stoops on John Calipari: “I love being around him”
- UK football coach Mark Stoops understands that hiring Vince Marrow was a home run for Kentucky
- Video: Larry hears cowbells, makes a chocolate cow and soaks up the culture in Switzerland
By LARRY VAUGHT
Nerlens Noel is headed to the NBA, and could be the No. 1 pick in the June draft, but he thinks Kentucky has a rising star for next year in center Willie Cauley-Stein.
“Another year, Willie can be one of the best big men in the country, definitely. I’m sure he will be. Willie is a freak athlete. He’s 7-foot, he’s fast, quick, he has all the intangibles to be great,” said Noel. “Next year, I’m sure he’s going to dominate the collegiate rankings and move on to bigger and better things.”
Cauley-Stein was the last heralded member of UK’s 2012 recruiting class but was ranked as the nation’s 10th best high school center by Scout.com and sixth best by Rivals.com. He was a consensus top 40 player even though he also played football where he caught 57 passes for 1,140 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior.
Noel said he saw tremendous improvement in his classmate’s play.
“He’s made so much progress in his game, and just even mentally. Early on Willie wasn’t too sure about things, but as the season went on he’s gotten so much more confident and just so sure of himself that there were just times in practice where he just dominated,” Noel said. “You’d see flashes. Willie’s come a very long way, physically and mentally, and he’s really come into his own as a player.”
Cauley-Stein averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in 29 games last season — he missed four after needing minor knee surgery during the season. He blocked 60 shots. He hit 62.1 percent from the field, but only made 37.2 percent (32 of 86) of his free throws.
He says he’s going to be a far different player as a sophomore for coach John Calipari.
“The intensity. It’s different if you make it different. It could easily be the same where you come in here and you don’t work as hard but the thing is, I don’t think Cal is going to let that happen,” Cauley-Stein said. “And those guys coming back aren’t going to let that happen just because of how we finished — you can’t leave off that.
“I feel very comfortable stepping into a leader role. I already feel different. Once the season ended, it was kind of like my whole mentality changed instantly. I wish it would have changed before the tournament happened. I got kind of like a dominating mindset kind of going into this next year. I want to be the best in everything I do. Before I was kind of like, ‘Ehh… This time I want to come in and do it. I don’t want to try to do it.’”
He has specific changes in mind to become a better all-around player.
“A guy that can step out and shoot 3’s, hit the 15-footer, take people off the dribble, just becoming more of a complete dude, and not just a guy that’s going to stay in the paint,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s not the way I wanted to play coming in. It just ended up being like that (last season).”
Kentucky will be adding six McDonald’s All-Americans to the roster, including frontcourt players Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson to go with Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. Cauley-Stein said he will help make sure the newcomers understand what it takes to win.
“I think the biggest thing I took from all that is that you’ve got to know from the get-go that it’s real. We started off really good and we went those couple games where we lost those two games in a row and it was like, ‘Wow. We’re really not as good as we thought we were,’” Cauley-Stein said. “And that’s the biggest thing. Every game you play — it’s hype. It’s a Super Bowl for everyone. I think that’s the biggest thing for the freshmen coming in is that you have no time to relax when you step in between those lines. It’s all business when you step in there.”
“Everything we do has got to be a win or lose. Everything we have to do has got to have a consequence if you lose, and if you win, you get praise for it. You get that kind of feel like, ‘Oh, if I win, you get special treatment.’ If you lose, you’re doing something you don’t want to do. That’s the way it’s got to be coming into it. That’s what’s going to create that dog in you to try to go out and just kill somebody.”
He hopes having experienced players returning — something last year’s NIT team was missing — will pay off.
“I think that’s exactly what we missed this year is a guy that played a lot of minutes his freshman year that decided to come back and take on the role of a leader,” Cauley-Stein said. “We didn’t have that this year. Kyle was that kind of guy but he still didn’t play big minutes his freshman year. This year, we’ve got three guys including J.P. (Jarrod Polson) that were playing almost 30 minutes a game. That coming back is going to help tremendously.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Could this be the week that Madison Central guard Dominique Hawkins, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, finally learns if will get the scholarship offer from Kentucky that he obviously wants?
Madison Central coach Allen Feldhaus said Saturday there was “nothing new” between UK and Hawkins, who averaged 20.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the 32-5 Indians last season. In the state tournament, he averaged 26.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in four wins.
The 6-1 guard is not a McDonald’s All-American, but he is a fierce competitor and seemed to earn a spot in UK coach John Calipari’s heart with his intense play in the state at the same time the Wildcats were collapsing at the end of their season.
“We would all like to see happen and have got our fingers crossed,” said Feldhaus.
Kentucky found out last week that two players — Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — would stay at UK for their sophomore seasons while freshman Archie Goodwin is bolting for the NBA and Ryan Harrow is transferring. With seven freshman recruits to go with Poythress, Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer, that’s just 10 of UK’s available 13 scholarships. The Cats are still in the race for Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top prep player, but even if Wiggins says yes that would just take up 11 scholarships. So it seems there is room for Hawkins, who showed at the Marshall County Hoop Fest he could be a handful in practice for twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
“In big games, you can always tell he is ready to go. He likes to prove something,” Feldhaus said. “We were not very good at the time of the Hoop Fest but he kept us in the game with his play. Nothing intimidates him. Teammates asked him if he thought he could play at Kentucky and he thinks he can fit in and contribute anywhere. He has a lot of confidence in his play, and should. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but he’s got confidence.”
Feldhaus knows what UK basketball is about because his father, Allen Sr., and brother, Deron, both played there. He thinks Hawkins is the type of player who belongs at Kentucky.
“I know the type of kid he is. He is the most humble young man I have ever coached. He is always team first, self second,” the Madison Central coach said. “When we were playing teams it was obvious we were better than, the deferred to teammates. When the big lights came on, that’s when he was at his best. Coach Calipari liked his toughness, but he is pretty explosive and has game in him. Calipari sees a lot of (current NBA guard Eric) Bledsoe in him because he is so strong and physical.
“And he handles himself so well on and off the court. He always has that big smile. I think the entire state has fallen in love with the way he has handled everything with Kentucky.”
Hawkins, who will play in the Kentucky-Ohio all-star game this weekend and the Derby Classic April 19, was on spring break last week and put off any college plans until he got back to see what UK might do. Some have speculated he might be asked to be a walk-on for a year and then go on scholarship even though he has several Division I offers and more could be coming.
“I don’t think Dominique Hawkins is a walk-on. I hope it does not come to that,” Feldhaus said. “I don’t know what else he can do to prove himself. He is not a walk-on player.
“Kentucky has been very up front with us. We know they have been dealing with a lot of stuff and Dominique has let it be known he wants to be a Wildcat. We’re just waiting to see what happens.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
CHICAGO — Here’s more with Kentucky commit Dakari Johnson from the McDonald’s All-American Game:
Question: What do you weigh now?
Johnson: “Around 255. Coach (John) Calipari sent me a treadmill workout to do every day. I am trying to get down to 240 and then hit the weight room hard this summer to build it all back up with muscle.”
Question: Is it fair to say that you like knocking people around and playing physical inside?
Johnson: “I am a physical guy. That is what I do best, so I have to be physical in the paint to score and rebound. Rebounding is my strength. I am unselfish and I have real good post moves. I think I am just a real good teammate.”
Question: Can you go outside and score at Kentucky?
Johnson: “I am working on that every day. At the next level I can’t just bully guys all the time. I have to step out and hit a few jump shots, so that is what I am working on every day.”
Question: Does this McDonald’s All-American Game give you a chance to show Kentucky fans what you can do?
Johnson: “A little bit. It is an all-star game, so I don’t know how many touches I will get. And also I am trying to get some rest because the next day we (Montverde) have a game in the national championships in (Washington) D.C. I don’t know what the plan for the game tomorrow wil be. I am also trying to win a national championship in high school before I get to college and hopefully in college I can win one and then the NBA.”
Question: How often do you talk with the Kentucky coaches?
Johnson: “I talk to them every single week. They keep me updated and also tell me what I need to work on. That is one thing I like. They don’t just tell me what I am good at. They tell me things that I need to work on.”
Question: Since Calipari said this was a humbling season for him, have you noticed a more humble UK coach?
Johnson: “It is pretty hard coming off a national championship to have that type of season, but it should be all good next year. I think we will be really good.”
Question: What has the overall experience in Chicago been like for you?
Johnson: “It is great just hanging out with all the guys I have been competing with over the years and getting to know them is really a great feeling.”
Question: What does Julius Randle do best?
Johnson: “He just does everything. He is 6-8, he can handle the ball, passes like a point guard, shoots it. He is just really versatile.’
Question: How good is Marcus Lee, the player maybe the most under the radar among UK’s six McDonald’s All-Americans?
Johnson: “He is really good. Of course, he is another athletic big man that helps me because he is a shot blocker and I am not really a shot blocker. I think he is real good. I think he is underrated. I think he will have to prove next year how good he can be.”
Question: Will a frontcourt of Randle, Johnson, Lee, Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer be one of the best in college basketball next year?
Johnson: “We have to prove ourselves, but it looks good on paper. But we have to prove ourselves first.”
Question: Did you want to tell Aaron Gordon he was wrong when he said during his commitment to Arizona here Tuesday that he was going to win a national title?
Johnson: “It is what it is. Everybody has their opinion, but I know we are going to work hard to win it next year. We all talk about it (winning a title), but we all also talk about how much hard work it will take to win a championship.”
Question: Do you have everything academically in order to where you will be at UK in June to start summer classes/workouts?
Johnson: “Yes and June 6 is when I am supposed leave to go to Kentucky to start summer school and workouts.”
Question: Are you excited just to get out on your own and be on campus?
Johnson: “I am looking forward to it. I am trying to finish high school now, but it will be fun. It will be a lot of pressure, but will be fun. I am used to mixing academics and athletics. My school now is a real tough school academically, so I am used to that part of it.”
Question: Since your mother is a guidance counselor at your school, how important are academics to her?
Johnson: “She has me on lockdown. I can’t get anything below a C.”
Question: Is it true that you are a talented ping pong player?
Johnson: “That is my sport right there. I am just long and can hit it easy. I beat Wayne Selden, who is going to Kansas, here because he was talking smack, so I had to beat him in ping pong.”
Question: So you will be the best ping pong player at Kentucky next year?
Johnson: “Of course. That is a given.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kyle Wiltjer felt Kentucky’s season was an “eye-opener” for him and teammates following the national championship year when everything seemed to go right for the Wildcats.
“It just shows us how much work we have to put in to get better individually and as a team,” said Wiltjer after UK’s season ended with a NIT loss at Robert Morris. “It has been a disappointing season, but life is more than just basketball. We have to really stay positive and use this loss to our advantage now and use this season, as bad as it was, to learn from it and get better.”
Wiltjer averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. He shot 36.7 percent from 3-point range and 81 percent at the foul line. He had 50 assists in 33 games. He was also named the Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year.
However, like his teammates, Wiltjer had his struggles. He often had problems defensively and was not as physical on the boards as coach John Calipari wanted. He also had stretches where he had trouble making shots.
While rumors circulated that he would transfer, Wiltjer never indicated he wanted to leave and reminded anyone who asked that he came to UK because he felt the competition would make him better. Yet as Calipari continued to add recruits for next season, Wiltjer’s departure kept being the source of rumors.
Once again today he’s tried to end those rumors via Twitter since he’s off limits to media members for interviews and UK does not announce if a player says he is not leaving.
Here is what he posted in a series of tweets on Twitter: “I just want everyone to know I AM NOT TRANSFERRING. The thought never crossed my mind. I love Coach Cal and the staff, UK, and the BBN. After talking with coach and the staff I understand what I need to do. This summer, I’m going to work hard to come back next season better and stronger to help my team fight for #9!”
Kentucky is already considered the favorite to win the 2014 national title by some because of its heralded recruiting class and likely return of Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin — and maybe Willie Cauley-Stein — along with Wiltjer to go with the new players.
“I just have to put in a lot of work this summer and be ready to get more consistent. Just improving and staying positive. Just work on consistency,” Wiltjer said after the Robert Morris loss. “It is definitely always tough to stay positive when someone is criticizing or questioning you . I have good parents who keep me grounded, who tell me to be positive and keep working hard.”
Wiljter said he plans to work on his “athleticism” to become a better player.
“Working on my body physically and mentally and keep working on my skills as well,” he said.
Florida’s Erik Murphy has similar skills as Wiltjer and developed into one of the SEC’s best players this year for the Gators.
“He is a fantastic player, but I have to worry about myself and improve. He is a good player and I want to study his game and see how he is so effective, but I think I know what I have to do,” Wiltjer said when the season ended. “It’s tough when you don’t know what is wrong like we didn’t seem to know this year. It is always tough to lose, but we have to stay positive and just realize we have to be better players. I know I have to be better and I plan to be better next year and part of the type team we had when we won the championship.
This could be the day that Kentucky’s 2013-14 basketball roster starts taking a more definite shape. From the time UK’s season ended with a NIT loss at Robert Morris, speculation has been rampant about who will — and who will not — be on John Calipari’s team next season.
Calipari has seven incoming freshmen — Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis, Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle — that will definitely be on the roster. That leaves six more available scholarships.
It seems obvious that Madison Central’s Dominique Hawkins, who led Central to the state title and could well be named Mr. Basketball today, would commit if given a scholarship offer from UK. Calipari watched him three times at the state tourney and made a trip to Richmond to see him this week. Hawkins has called UK his dream school and has been told he’ll learn today if UK has a scholarship for him — and remember he plays with the toughness that Calipari felt his team lacked this year.
Calipari also made a trip to Huntington, W.Va., Thursday to see Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top-ranked prep player who has been compared to players like LeBron James and John Wall at the same age. He’s down to UK, North Carolina, Florida State and Kansas.
If Hawkins gets a scholarship offer, it could mean that Wiggins is not coming to UK. If Hawkins doesn’t get an offer, it could mean Wiggins has let Calipari know he’s not coming. But what if Calipari offers Hawkins and also maybe knows he is going to land Wiggins? That would give UK nine freshmen — all on scholarship — and leave just four available scholarships.
It’s a given Nerlens Noel will opt for the NBA draft despite his season-ending knee injury and mid-March knee surgery. He’s still going to be at least a top five pick and that’s too much money to ignore.
Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer has been the subject of transfer rumors after not playing as well this season as fans hoped or he hoped. However, several sources close to the team said Wiltjer has made no mention of transferring and another source who knows the family says his parents have not mentioned anything about a transfer, either.
Freshmen Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have all been projected as first-round draft picks on some mock drafts. However, only Cauley-Stein seems assured of going that high — and even analysts like Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com insist he could help himself by returning to school.
If all three come back and Wiltjer stays, that’s four scholarship to go with the seven known freshmen. That makes 11 scholarships for next year out of the 13 available.
Point guard Ryan Harrow, who started his career at North Carolina State, had a horrible end to the season. He lacked the toughness Calipari wanted from his point guard. Will he be back? My instinct says no.
What about Jarrod Polson? The junior originally came to UK as a walk-on player, but he’s been on scholarship for three seasons. He was a productive player and reliable for relief that Harrow that was needed far more often than Calipari ever imagined.
“He wants to come back. He would love to finish his career as a Wildcat,” George Polson, the player’s father, said.
However, sources at UK seem to indicate that the odds of him retaining a scholarship offer could be slim — another sign that Hawkins and/or Wiggins will be joining the roster. Apparently he’s not had a meeting with Calipari yet about his future and maybe he would rethink his position about staying on the team as a walk-on.
Then there’s Jon Hood. He has a redshirt year left and, like Polson, would like to return. Both are graduating in May and both turned down a chance to go through UK’s Senior Day in March because they want to be back. However, sources at UK again have indicate there is a strong chance there might not be room for Hood on the roster.
Perhaps Hood and/or Polson could be graduate assistant coaches. Perhaps both will become walk-ons. Perhaps Wiggins and/or Hawkins won’t pick UK and one or two other players could enter the draft along with Noel.
But Kentucky’s young team could use some veteran leadership next season. Don’t underestimate the value of having a Polson and/or Hood to tell teammates where classes are, what to do on campus, where to eat, where to shop, how to interact with fans, who to trust, who to avoid. Seems insignificant in some ways, but remember Calipari had players like Patrick Patterson, Ramon Harris, Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller around before to help talented freshmen.
So who will be on the roster?
Givens — Lee, Harrison twins, Johnson, Young, Willis, Randle, Wiltjer.
Likely — Poythress, Goodwin.
Maybe — Cauley-Stein, Hawkins, Wiggins.
Want to be — Polson, Hood.
That’s 15 — and two over the scholarship limit. Cauley-Stein to the NBA could free one scholarship. Hood as a graduate assistant could free another scholarship. Or maybe Calipari doesn’t offer Hawkins or Wiggins picks North Carolina.
Just remember the numbers always work out and starting today we could find out just what that is going to mean this year.
By LARRY VAUGHT
If Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein, Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer — the top five non-seniors on UK’s roster other than injured Nerlens Noel — all return to UK as they indicated they would Tuesday, they better be prepared for a culture change daily. Kentucky coach John Calipari added Julius Randle to an already impressive recruiting haul Wednesday and will add six of the nation’s top 20 players in what is being call the all-time best recruiting class in college basketball.
Kentucky players had no fear of the bench — or practice competition — this year. Next season the five players who could come back may not produce a starter among them. After all, who could argue with a freshman starting lineup of guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, small forward James Young, power forward Julius Randle and either Dakari Johnson or Marcus Lee at center. Add Andrew Wiggins if he was to pick UK and the returning Cats will have to battle harder daily than they did at any time this year just to play.
Calipari was beating that drum not long after Tuesday’s loss.
“The best thing that’s going to happen to us next year is we’re going to have unbelievable competition at every spot. So there’s no one here that’s promised, ‘OK, I played 30 minutes a game.’ You may play five, but you will change,” Calipari said. “The stuff I had to accept this year, the program almost got hijacked. Never in my career have I surrendered in any way to any team, and I did at times this year – to try to save guys, to try to help guys – and it never works.
“So what we’re going to have is unbelievable competition. We may have three teams, so 15 guys that can play. Let’s go. It’s what we need, kind of like my first year when we had all those players. We’re going to be a little young, but with guys coming back we’ll still have some veteran guys.”
Some critics are wondering if the one-and-done philosophy Calipari has embraced finally has caught up with UK even though the Cats won the national title in 2012 and could have won it the previous two years as well.
“Who’s down on this program? The only good news is, because we have this group coming in, they’re not going to be No. 1 in the country, because they’ll say, ‘Well, maybe you can’t do it with young guys.’ And I come back to, we did it last year, won a national title with young players. But that’ll be out there,” Calipari said.
“So we have something to prove: You can do it with young players if you have some veterans sprinkled in who come with a great attitude and understand what they have to do. If there’s any doubters, have at it. You can doubt all you want. This program’s in great shape. Kids across the country still want to come here. It’s all good.”
Randle’s decision to pick UK over Kansas, Florida and Texas certainly seemed to validate what Calipari said after the NIT loss.
Remember back in November when Morehead coach Sean Woods, a former Wildcat, said he sensed the current Cats felt entitled and drew the wrath of UK fans. Calipari admitted Tuesday “maybe” Woods was right. Then he also explained a lot more about what went wrong this year.
“There was a combination of our skill set wasn’t where it needed to be, we weren’t real skilled and (we didn’t) work as hard and together as we needed to. Was it a combination of all? Was it a lack of leadership or guard play? People have said our guard play stunk. I don’t know if it stunk. I’ll have to go look back. All I know is, there were things that we did this year we will not do. We will correct, and we’ll be fine,” Calipari said.
“This program’s fine. The recruiting is in good shape. We’re right where we need to be. I’ll be out on the road tomorrow looking at juniors. We’re ahead in the junior class. We’re fine. And we will be a tough ball team next year. We will be a tough, hard-nosed, fighting team next year. I promise you we will be because I can’t sit through that. I can’t take it.”
By Keith Taylor, The Winchester Sun
MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Alex Poythress was just as “shocked” as the rest of Big Blue Nation following Kentucky’s 59-57 loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament Tuesday night.
“We just couldn’t do it at the end,” the Kentucky freshman said. “It’s real disappointing.”
It was a similar road loss for the Wildcats, who failed to gain traction in games played away from home during most of the season. Kentucky, the top seed on the NIT, won just four games in eight attempts in hostile environments, inducing an 0-3 mark against non-conference foes.
“It was a tough environment and they had a great crowd,” Poythress said. “They were incredible and cheering them on. It was just one of those away environments where (they) were rooting against you. It’s incredibly tough to play on the road. You just don’t realize it’s not a home game. You may have fans, but to the other team, it’s their home game. It’s tough playing in the road. It was a a tough game (Tuesday night) because it was so compact and so close to the floor. It was a tough environment.”
From the beginning, the Wildcats had problems overcoming and overflow crowd of more than 3,500 and found themselves in a hole after the hosts scored the first 10 points of the game. That lead blossomed to as many as 13 points in the second half before the Wildcats battled back to make things interesting down the stretch. The overall environment also was an issue for the Cats down the stretch.
“We just couldn’t capitalize (down the stretch),” he said.
Poythress said the Wildcats had trouble matching Robert Morris’ intensity throughout most of the contest.
“They came out and strong, they came out hitting every shot and came out pumped,” he said. “They came out wanting to win the game. They had a nice crowd and everything, but got us down and we played catch up the rest of the game.”
Poythress, who scored just six points in 27 minutes, said the Cats came in with a “good game plan” and one that he thought was enough to put the Wildcats back over the top.
“To come out on the losing end of this game is really disappointing,” Poythress said. “It’s just frustrating.”
Poythress said the Wildcats had a renewed focus following a 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament last Friday in Nashville. The team failed to make the NCAA Tournament field and was denied an opportunity to defend the NCAA title, but Poythress didn’t mind continuing the postseason in the NIT in a season that failed to measure up to last year’s standard.
“I felt like we were ready and I feel like we are ready every game,” he said. “The coaches do a great job of preparing us, but we us players just didn’t execute. It comes down to x’s and o’s and for us, just playing ball, really. Coach (Calipari) is going to help us (and put us in position to win).”
Looking back on the season, Poythress said capitalizing on “on the little things” would have made a difference for a team that failed to live up to last year’s expectations.
“We just had mental lapses and we just had to focus,” he said. “It was tough to follow last year’s team. If you think about it, they were one of the best basketball teams (in history). The had six pros, almost had 40 wins and won a national championship. It’s tough to follow that. But there are high expectations when you come here. People expect you to win and you can’t let them down. We had great potential, but we just didn’t know how to put it all together.”
He added that the team wasn’t lacking in the leadership department.
“We had great leadership in Julius (Mays),” he said. “He was always there from Day 1. We just didn’t follow him. It was kind of our fault.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
MOON, Pa. — Unless you win the national championship like Kentucky did last season, there’s never a perfect way for a team to end a season. However, sometimes there can be a fitting way — and that’s just what happened to Kentucky.
A team that lacked toughness, cohesiveness, playmakers and focus got dominated early, battled back and then made crucial mistakes at the end to fill 59-57 to Robert Morris here Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT.
“They deserved to win. If we had won at the buzzer, it would have been a shame. We didn’t deserve to win,” said Kentucky coach John Calipatria, who said he grew up only about “two 7-irons” away from the campus.
He was right, too. Robert Morris roared out to a 10-0 lead over Kentucky — a team that even Calipari admitted may not have wanted to be playing after falling to Vanderbilt Friday in the SEC Tournament to lose a NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday — in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,444 that had many fans lining up three hours before tip-off to secure the best seats.
Kentucky got back into the game by halftime, but trailed 53-42 before an 11-0 run tied the game with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to play. Kentucky tied the game again at 57-57 with 42.5 seconds left, but with time running out on the shot clock the Colonials’ Mike McFadden got an offensive rebound after a Willie Cauley-Stein block on an inbounds play and was fouled. He hit both free throws with 8.7 seconds to go.
The Cats got an open 3-pointer for Kyle Wiltjer, who had missed his only 3-pointer Tuesday and 19 of his last 22 tries, just before the buzzer. But it missed to touch on a court-storming by the Robert Morris students and a funeral-like procession off the court one last time this season for Kentucky.
“Robert Morris played great,” Calipari said. “They said we could not withstand their physical toughness, so go at them. They played a physical, hard-nosed game. We were down 10-0 and the game was too rough. We had guys that couldn’t play. Just couldn’t put them in. We were trying to win.”
One obviously was point guard Ryan Harrow. He cried after UK’s loss to Vandy and blamed himself for the loss and letting his team down after missing 13 of 15 shots and making four turnovers. He didn’t get to miss that many shots this time because despite two early scores, he played just nine minutes, including just two the second half when Calipari turned the team over to junior Jarrod Polson, who had 10 points, three assists and one rebound. More importantly, he played with some pizzazz that Harrow didn’t.
Calipari said it wasn’t only Harrow that backed down. He recalled early last season when teams tried to play rough with UK before the Cats decided they wanted no part of that.
“Guys said this ain’t happening and negated that and by the end of the year you could not play us physical and tough and win the game,” Calipari said. “We never accepted that was an issue and that we had to change how we played.”
Against Robert Morris, Alex Poythress had six points and two rebounds. Willie Cauley-Stein had nine points, four rebounds and four turnovers. Neither could dominate inside.
Julius Mays, who tried to be UK’s team leader, was 1-for-5 from the field after going 2-for-8 in the Vanderbilt loss. Wiltjer made one of four shots and had no rebounds in 10 minutes.
Archie Goodwin overcame a shaky start to score 18 points and almost give UK the win. He also had seven rebounds, one assist and one steal. He even took a hard shot to the face on a deliberate foul after a steal and made both free throws — he was 8-for-8 at the line — while refusing to back down. But other than Goodwin, Polson and Jon Hood, who had two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes, the fight just was not there.
Yet Calipari insisted he was not relieved to have the season end.
“I wanted to keep coaching them. The reason was I was hoping the light would go on for Alex. The light would go on for Kyle. The light would go on for Archie,” Calipari said. “You don’t know when the light goes on. This was good for them. They needed a game exactly light this to see what they needed and then evaluate where they are. I am tough enough to play college basketball. Maybe I don’t have it.
“We fouled twice in a tie game. Why foul? Why not play disciplined? Well, we have not been disciplined all year. It kind of ended on a note that we have been talking about all year. You can’t win if you play that way.”
Calipari vowed it won’t be that way again. He got caught with little depth, especially after Nerlens Noel went down with a knee injury, and not enough depth. He’s already signed six players for next year and could add another star Wednesday when Julius Randle makes his college choice. Goodwin, Poythress and Cauley-Stein all indicated after this loss they expected to be back next year, too.
“This was humbling. You think you are supposed to win 30 games, win 35 games, get to the Elite Eight, win tournament championships, win the national title. This was a humbling experience, but also a learning experience,” the UK coach said. “I did things I have never done to try and help the team. The things I did to try and save guys, when you have more people they won’t play this much.”
But that’s next year and for now UK can only think about what was supposed to be a rebuilding year that would turn into a NCAA Tournament ready team instead turned into a NIT bust.
WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
MOON, Pa. (AP) – Mike McFadden hit two free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining and Robert Morris shocked defending national champion Kentucky 59-57 in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats decided not to call timeout after the second free throw but Kyle Wiltjer’s 3-pointer before the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the rim, sending hundreds of students onto the court as Robert Morris ruined Kentucky coach John Calipari’s homecoming.
Lucky Jones led the Colonials (24-10) with 15 points but was ejected for a flagrant foul on Archie Goodwin with 3:41 to play. Kentucky, which trailed by 13 in the second half, managed to tie it twice but could never grab the lead.
Goodwin scored 18 points for the Wildcats but couldn’t stop Kentucky’s disappointing season come to a stunning end.
The victory was validation for the Colonials, who won the Northeastern Conference regular season title with ease but were upset in the conference tournament. The loss relegated the school to the NIT, but it hardly felt like a letdown in perhaps the biggest win in the program’s history.
“I know they were disappointed not to get to NCAA tournament. This is a memory they’ll get for rest of their lives.” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said in the giddy aftermath.
Robert Morris will advance to the second round, while Kentucky’s injury-marred underachieving year came to a merciful end. The Wildcats were never the same after center Nerlens Noel went down with a devastating knee injury. Kentucky dropped six of its final 10 games, the last one coming in a somewhat rickety gym in the Pittsburgh suburbs.
The Wildcats let the Colonials race to an early 10-0 lead, only led briefly at the end of the first half and appeared disinterested to spoil the return of a hometown kid made good.
Calipari was born in Pittsburgh, grew up a couple of miles from the Robert Morris campus and played guard at Moon High a couple of 3-pointers away. He returned to Western Pennyslvania to finish up his college playing at Clarion and served as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh in the 1980s before hitting the big-time.
The homecoming, however, was less happy than hostile.
Fans scooped up the 3,500 tickets in a matter of hours on Monday then lined up outside in the blustery March wind well before tipoff of arguably the biggest game in school history. Robert Morris averaged barely 1,000 fans during its 15 home games, yet there were scalpers asking for $75 to get in the door.
Though disappointed in missing the NCAAs, in a way, it may have served as a blessing.
While the NCAAs would have provided Robert Morris with a brief moment in the sun, the NIT gave the school of just over 3,600 undergraduate students an opportunity to host one of college basketball’s big boys on its own turf.
Kentucky earned a top seed in the NIT but was forced to hit the road because Rupp Arena is hosting NCAA games this weekend. Though Calipari warned his team to be ready, the Wildcats hardly looked thrilled to be there, and it showed.
Robert Morris scored the game’s first 10 points while the Wildcats ‚Äî who typically play in front of home crowds in excess of 23,000 ‚Äî stumbled their way through a series of miscues and appeared rattled in a gym with wooden bleachers that swayed underneath the feet of a clamoring student section chanting “Bobby Mo” every chance it could.
Senior Jarrod Polson came off the bench to steady things, and Kentucky recovered to get within 28-27 at the break.
Yet the Colonials never folded, making 8 of 12 shots during one stretch to move back in front 49-36 then holding off a late Kentucky push to send students leaping over tables and onto the floor in a delirious celebration.
KENTUCKY (21-12): Cauley-Stein 4-6 1-4 9, Poythress 3-7 0-0 6, Goodwin 5-8 8-8 18, Harrow 2-3 0-0 5, Mays 1-5 2-2 5, Hood 1-2 0-0 2, Polson 4-5 2-4 10, Wiltjer 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 21-40 13-18 57.
ROBERT MORRIS (24-10): L. Jones 4-5 6-6 15, Johnson 5-11 2-2 14, McFadden 3-4 2-2 8, Williams 2-4 0-0 6, Myers-Pate 3-7 0-0 6, V. Jones 3-7 2-2 8, Appolon 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 0-5 2-2 2, Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0, Armstrong 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-44 14-14 59.
Halftime_Robert Morris 28-27. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 2-10 (Harrow 1-2, Mays 1-4, Hood 0-1, Poythress 0-1, Wiltjer 0-2), Robert Morris 5-16 (Williams 2-4, Johnson 2-4, L. Jones 1-2, Appolon 0-1, V. Jones 0-1, Myers-Pate 0-1, Anderson 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 25 (Goodwin 7), Robert Morris 19 (Johnson 5). Assists_Kentucky 7 (Polson 3), Robert Morris 10 (V. Jones 5). Total Fouls_Kentucky 17, Robert Morris 20. A_3,444.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari said he would have been more “patient” if he knew he would have all the current players for four years. Instead, four freshmen — Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein — have been projected as potential NBA lottery picks at times during the season.
“This may be a group of four-year players. There’s nothing wrong with that. Why is everybody panicked? So they’re four-year players? So? You move, you get another group and now you have a nice big team and you take on the world,” Calipari said.
Kentucky lost to Vanderbilt Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament to cost itself a NCAA bid and hit what Calipari called “rock bottom” for the season. By playing in the NIT, though, he says he has time to work more with the players.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys. Keep coaching them and maybe the light goes on. Maybe reality hits. When you hit rock bottom, you either want to change or you’re delusional. We’ll see if we have delusional guys or if they understand,” Calipari said.
Kentucky has gone 4-4 since Nerlens Noel, its best player, went down with a season-ending knee injury. All four losses were on the road by 10 or more points. However, before that UK lost home games to Baylor and Texas A&M and blew a big lead to lose at Alabama.
“One thing is I have no regrets because I tried everything. Humbling because it’s probably the first group in a long time that wouldn’t respond and change, which means to say well it’s going to happen every year because it happened eight straight years, now it’s like think back to that year because it didn’t happen,” Calipari said.
“Again, learned a lot of lessons that our staff has taken into account as we go forward. What kind of team we have, what kind of personnel we have, what kind of mentalities we have, the guys we’ve always had in the past. It’s a great learning experience. Hate going through it. I would rather learn from someone else’s issues than my own. This was hard. I feel good but it was hard going through it. We never stopped coaching them, we never gave up on guys, so I have no regrets with what we did, yet just disappointed that the response wasn’t there.”
The UK coach even said there was no “anxiety” for him with this team because of its inconsistency.
“There’s no anxiety with this team for me cause why am I worried about it? Cause I have no idea what’s going to show,” Calipari said. “I’m going to say it again, at any point in your life you can change. Start today. Start today at practice, the game tomorrow, and go forward and change.
“Wishful thinking cause I’ve been saying it every day and we haven’t, but that’s my hope and I won’t change off of that. This team can be as good as they want to be. We could have backed into the tournament. We didn’t. No we’ve got to go on the road and play, which is a good thing for us. Do you want to keep the season going? Let’s go, keep it going.”