Cats lament ‘sluggish’ start against Notre Dame

Kentucky players suggested the 68-66 victory over Notre Dame Saturday can be a cautionary tale going into the Final Four in Indianapolis.
The lesson to be learned: Try harder to throw a first-round, er, first-half knock-out punch.
“We can’t let anybody come in and we be lackadaisical,” Marcus Lee said.
Notre Dame played Kentucky evenly in the first half. When the Irish led for a bulk of the second half, it marked only the eighth time all season that Kentucky trailed after halftime.
“I don’t know why we started off so lackadaisical,” Lee said. “I just know we figured it out.”
Teammate Trey Lyles, who called UK’s first half “sluggish,” said that Coach John Calipari used halftime to urge better defense.
“Guys were getting on each other,” Lyles said. “Coach got on us. Ripped us a little bit.”
Calipari’s message at intermission?
“Lock down defensively,” Lyles said. “Have more pride defensively.”
In the post-game news conference, Calipari explained his message.
“I said, ‘You’re playing too cool,'” he said. “It’s hard to be loose when the other team is playing harder than you. And I felt their guards were playing more aggressive than our guards on both offense and defense.
“I thought our ‘bigs’ were standing straight up and down, and acting like, ‘Wow, we can get these guys.'”
Of course, the game had a happy ending for Kentucky. But the Cats gave themselves little margin for error.
“We made some plays down the stretch,” Calipari said. “We don’t make them, they’re going to Indy, and we’re going home.”

Brey picks poison, decides not to double Towns

Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey acknowledged the pick-your-poison decision he had to make in defending Kentucky.
He chose not to double-team Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored a career-high 25 points.
“We felt we could absorb two-point shots from their ‘bigs,'” Brey said. “Towns was fabulous. Our two big guys, God bless them, they were on their own most of the night.
“The one time I go zone, (Devin) Booker hits a three. And the one time we tell (players) to help a little bit, (Tyler) Ulis hits a three. So, now, you’re like, the rest of the game, ‘Fellas, you’re on your own.”

Brey: Wisconsin-UK a ‘great match-up’

After his team lost 68-66 to Kentucky Saturday night, Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey was asked what style could test Kentucky in the Final Four.
Brey said the Notre Dame style.
“Wisconsin’s a little bit like us,” he said of UK’s opponent in the national semifinals on Saturday in Indianapolis. “They’re skilled and they can spread people out a little bit.
“They have a little more bulk and front-line size, but they’re really skilled offensive guys.”
Brey said UK’s size got to Notre Dame late in the game, especially down the stretch when the Irish’s scoring leader, Jerian Grant, tried to score.
“As good as Jerian was getting us there, getting us a couple possession leads, it kind of swallowed him a little bit a couple times,” Brey said.

Huggins scoffs at notion UK motivated by WVU’s chatter

West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins scoffed at the notion that Kentucky players were motivated by his team’s pre-game talk.
“Honestly, I think that’s a bunch of BS,” he said. “I think once you throw the ball up, you play. It was a freshman who said it, and I’m kind of happy he had some confidence.”
Daxter Miles, Jr., said West Virginia would beat Kentucky.
“I’m kind of happy he wasn’t hiding under a chair somewhere, you know,” Huggins said. “There’s nothing wrong with having some confidence and wanting to go out and compete.
“They just were way better than we were.”

All goes right in UK’s big night

Andrew Harrison punctuated Kentucky’s 78-39 victory over West Virginia Thursday with a memorable play. He freed himself with a behind-the-back dribble, then threw a reverse layup high off the glass. It banked in.
“Shows you what kind of night we were having,” Tyler Ulis.
The Cats’ big night included a role reversal that would have might have caused seismic cheers. Trey Lyles threw a lob that Ulis could not dunk.
Ulis said he was surprised by Lyles’ lob. “They should have told me,” Ulis said.
When asked if he could dunk, Ulis smiled and said, “Yes, I can dunk.
“I’m going to post it on the Internet someday.”

Cats: WVU talk ‘dumb,’ ‘ridiculous,’ ‘nonsense’

Maybe, West Virginia’s pre-game boasting can inspire a nickname for this Kentucky team: the incredulous Cats.
After beating West Virginia in belittling fashion Thursday night, UK players scoffed at the Mountaineers’ chatter.
“Teams are better off not saying anything and catching us off guard,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “Instead of talking (trash) and now we’re ready to play. We were ready to play last night.”
Of West Virginia’s chatter, Tyler Ulis said, “We felt like that was nonsense. So we came out and killed them.”
Aaron Harrison was dumbfounded that West Virginia players would taunt Kentucky.
“We felt that was really dumb and ridiculous,” he said. “. . . I don’t know why they would do that, at all. I guess they woke us up.”
When asked if the West Virginia talk motivated the Cats, Harrison said, “We were super motivated.”

Aaron Harrison: A ‘different’ UK team will play Saturday

After Kentucky beat Hampton 79-56 on Thursday, Aaron Harrison said the Cats could — and would — play better Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed,” he said. “I expected a lot more out of us. And I expected a lot more out of myself — I should have played better as well. I think everyone will see a different team on Saturday, definitely.”
When asked what would be different when Kentucky plays Cincinnati, Harrison said, “I think we’ll just have a lot more intensity and be ready to play and show everybody what our season’s been all about.
“We’re excited that we got that first one out of the way. And now I think we’re going to go back to playing our brand of basketball. We have something to prove.”
For only the second time this season, Harrison did not make a shot. He missed all five attempts. He missed all four of his shots in the first Georgia game. He finished with three points, but he also contributed seven rebounds and tied the team high with three assists.

Cauley-Stein laments Kentucky’s ‘lackadaisical’ start

Willie Cauley-Stein lamented Kentucky’s slow start and slow finish in a 79-56 victory over Hampton on Thursday night to begin NCAA Tournament play.
“A lot was just focus and continuing to play hard through everything,” he said. “You know we were up a lot, and it was kind of like a practice. We were kind of playing lackadaisical, tossing it around. And, myself, missing five layups is unacceptable.”
Cauley-Stein suggested that Kentucky took a victory over Hampton for granted.
“You play better when the other team has got something against you,” he said. “I don’t want to say that team is bad. But I feel like some guys probably overlooked them. From here on out, dudes aren’t going to overlook people no more. Especially if you played bad. If you didn’t play how you wanted to play — now you’re really not going to overlook nobody.”
UK Coach John Calipari didn’t let the lackadaisical play go unnoticed.
“He is going to let you know that it is unacceptable in a big-time game,” Cauley-Stein said. “All of these are big-time games. We were just fortunate enough that we were so far ahead. But in the future, we can’t miss all of those shots. Guards are going to have to make more shots, and we have to play with more energy.”
Marcus Lee provided a spark off the bench.
“Just being as aggressive and as ready to help my team as much as possible,” he said. “I suppose just trying to help my team out no matter what. …
“As you saw, we kind of picked it up as we went through the first half. Sometimes you just have to feel your way through, and you start yourself up.”

Barnhart salutes Ira Combs as UK ‘fixture’

A statement from Kentucky Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart on Ira Combs, who died Thursday near the Yum Center:

“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.”

Reggie Miller: It would take an ‘act of God’ to beat Kentucky

In pondering a scenario that would lead to Kentucky losing in the NCAA Tournament, Reggie Miller included divine intervention among the necessary ingredients.
“You’ve got to play out of your mind,” the former UCLA and NBA star said Monday, “and hope that on that particular day — on that magical Monday — they are not at their best.”
And even that combination might not be enough, said Miller, who spoke on a teleconference sponsored by the networks televising the NCAA Tournament, Turner Sports and CBS.
“And still then, it’s going to be take almost an act of God,” he said. “That’s how strongly I feel about Kentucky running the table here.
“But can it be done in a one-and-done situation? Absolutely. But you can have the field. I’m taking Kentucky.”
Kentucky takes a 34-0 record into its NCAA Tournament opener Thursday night against the winner of a First Four game between Manhattan and Hampton.
Questions about a theoretical Kentucky loss led analysts for Turner Sports and CBS to note some of the NCAA Tournament’s most famous upsets: Villanova over Georgetown in 1985 and North Carolina State over Houston in 1983.
Miller turned to professional golf to find a suitable analogy.
“Very much the same way when Tiger (Woods) was winning majors,” he said. “Tiger or the field. If you took Tiger, most of the time, you would be right.
“In this case, I’m taking Kentucky. You can have the field.”
Clark Kellogg agreed. He made Kentucky’s advancement to the Final Four seem like a fait accompli.
“This team doesn’t really have weaknesses,” he said. “I don’t see much headwind, quite honestly. . . I just don’t see any of these (teams in the region) really being able to give Kentucky much of a challenge. They’re that good.”
Dan Bonner agreed.
“Maryland has the best chance,” he said of a potential Sweet 16 game against Kentucky. “But they’d have to play a perfect game. They’d have to be Villanova against Georgetown. And I don’t see that happening.”
Villanova made 22 of 28 shots to beat Georgetown 66-64 in the 1985 championship game.