Injury postpones Poythress’ hopes for breakout season

Alex Poythress hoped to make 2014-15 a breakout season. But a torn anterior cruciate ligament means he’ll have to wait at least another year to reach that goal.
UK announced Friday that Poythress will miss the remainder of this season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during Thursday’s practice.
Just like that, the goals for a season were snuffed.
In the pre-season, Poythress and coaches spoke of him showing in his third UK season that he was the best forward in the country.
“Mentally, I feel I’m more prepared, more ready,” he said. “Just trying to do what I need to do out there. Physically, I’ve always been there. But, mentally, I feel that’s where I really worked on.”
Poythress looked the part in Kentucky’s six exhibition games against pro teams in the Bahamas in August. He led the Cats in scoring (11.8 ppg). He made 27 of 36 shots (75-percent accuracy), while averaging 5.7 rebounds, making six steals and blocking four shots.
In other words, it was a much more active and engaged Poythress than the player who often seemed tentative as a freshman and sophomore.
“I don’t know if it’s a new Alex,” said Al Cooper, who coached Poythress at Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tenn. “I think it’s a more dialed-in Alex. He’s doing whatever it takes to get on the court and stay on the court.
“I think we saw glimpses of that type of Alex last year in games in the NCAA. It was like he said, ‘OK, I can do that a whole lot more and I need to do it with longer sustained effort.
“I just think his mindset is he’s ready to show he’s one of the best forwards in the country.”
A McDonald’s All-American, Poythress was named to the coaches’ All-SEC Freshman team for the 2012-13 season and made the media’s All-SEC second team for the 2014-15 season.
Poythress became the second UK player in the last three seasons to tear an ACL. Nerlens Noel tore an ACL at Florida on Feb. 12, 2013. That injury ruined UK’s season. The Cats lost by 30 at Tennessee in the next game and ended the season in a first-round NIT loss at Robert Morris.
Given the remaining eight McDonald’s All-Americans on this season’s team, Kentucky will be expected to more easily absorb Poythress’ loss. Not that the injury did not strike a blow.
“When you’re coaching other people’s children and these children have high aspirations and unlimited potential – not only to do things for themselves but for other people – I can’t begin to tell you the feeling when someone gets hurt,” Coach John Calipari said in a news release. “My own son, Brad, tore his ACL last year. All I can tell you is I was physically sick when it happened to him. I feel exactly the same way now that it’s happened to Alex.”
A date for surgery has not been set yet, UK said. The normal timetable following ACL reconstructive surgery is six to eight months.
“Our team was devastated for Alex when I told them,” Calipari said. “There were tears throughout the room because this hurt them to the core. How they will respond I really don’t know, but I will do my best to be there for each of these kids.
“I told them, this is a big blow to our team. No one will be able to replace Alex and what he did for this team. I go back to last year’s NCAA Tournament. Without Alex, we don’t win those games. No one will be able to replace him, but now everybody has to do a little bit more as we try to circle the wagons.”
Poythress was averaging 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in his third season for Kentucky.

Tickets for UK-UCLA available

Tickets for the Kentucky-UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago on Dec. 20 is still available. Tickets range in price from $80 in the upper level to $145 in the lower bowl.

Tickets can be bought at the Joe Craft Center ticket office or by calling (800) 928-2287

The CBS Sports Classic is a double-header. North Carolina plays Ohio State in the first game. UK-UCLA are scheduled to begin at about 3:30 p.m. EST.

UK, UCLA announce 2-year, home-and-home deal

Kentucky will play in famed Pauley Pavilion for the first time. Likewise, UCLA will play in Rupp Arena for the first time.
That’s the news made official Monday when UK and UCLA announced a two-year, home-and-home series beginning next season.

UK will play UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 3, 2015. UCLA will play Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, 2016.

“Steve (Alford) and I have known each other for more than 20 years. When he and I started talking about a possible series, it seemed like a no-brainer to me,” UK Coach John Calipari said in a news release. “One, with the way our schedule is shaking out for next year, it gives us another great opportunity early in the season to learn about ourselves. Two, not only does Big Blue Nation get to see two of the historic programs in Rupp Arena when UCLA returns the trip in 2016, it gives our fans on the other side of the country a chance to see our team in person. I couldn’t be more excited about the way our nonconference schedule is shaping up for the next two years. It should be another challenge.”

Alford also welcomed the UK-UCLA series.

“We are excited to schedule this home-and-home series with Kentucky and add to what we already believe is a very competitive non-conference schedule next season,” Alford said in a separate news release. “Coach Cal and I go back a long ways, and I have the utmost respect for him and what he has been able to build at Kentucky. This is a big win for fans of college basketball in Southern California who will now have the opportunity to watch two of the sport’s most storied programs meet in Pauley Pavilion.”

UK has won six of 10 games against UCLA. All but three of the previous games have been played on a neutral floor.

The last time UCLA played Kentucky in Lexington was on Feb. 17, 1961. UK hasn’t played UCLA in Los Angeles since Dec. 4, 1959. Kentucky won both games.

In addition to the trip to UCLA, Kentucky will play Duke in Chicago in the Champions Classic, travel to Brooklyn, N.Y., to take on Ohio State in the CBS Sports Classic, and host Louisville at Rupp Arena next season.

In 2016-17, Kentucky will play Michigan State in New York in the Champions Classic, battle UCLA at home in the second year of a home-and-home series, and face North Carolina in Las Vegas in the CBS Sports Classic.

As previously reported, the UK-UCLA home-and-home will fill a gap in UK’s home-and-home series with North Carolina

Victory over Texas puzzles Cal, maybe encourages opponents

Kentucky Coach John Calipari found Friday’s 63-51 victory hard to fully explain.
“What happened today is our guards shot four-for-27, and we won,” he said. “And we got out-rebounded by 12, and won.
A second straight poor shooting game probably will put thoughts in the minds of future opponents. The Cats made only one three-point shot. Andrew Harrison hit a trey with 2:46 left. That extended UK’s streak of making at least one three-point shot to 908 games, the nation’s second-longest streak.
UNLV has the longest active streak at 913 games.
In the victory over Providence last weekend, Kentucky made only two of seven three-point shots. The first make was by Devin Booker with 8:40 left.
Aaron Harrison made only one of nine shots, and missed all four attempts from three-point range against Texas. That made him five for 27 from beyond the arc in the last five games.
Andrew Harrison made two of eight shots, Booker missed his five shots and Tyler Ulis was one of five.
All the misses made it easier for Texas to crowd the lane.

Stop presses! Cal does not exaggerate

It may be hard to believe, but Kentucky Coach John Calipari did not exaggerate as he offered a few thoughts on his team’s Sunday game against Eastern Kentucky.
“I know they shoot 30 threes a game,” he said.
That sounded an exaggeration. But a check of the statistics shows that EKU is averaging exactly 30 three-point attempts: 180 shots from beyond the arc in six games.
Eastern Kentucky has made 63 of the shots (or 10.5 per game, on average).
“I know they . . . play like Princeton, and their five-man is like a three,” Calipari said.
EKU has lost its last two games: at Brigham Young and to Valparaiso. The Colonels have beaten Savannah State, Kentucky Christian, Cincinnati Clermont and Southern Utah.
Game time Sunday is 6 p.m.

Cal: Overall objective is to keep No. 1 UK ‘engaged’

No. 6 Texas comes to town at a good time. On the eve of the game pitting two top 10 teams, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said his overall objective is to keep UK’s heralded players “engaged.”
Meeting with the media Thursday, Calipari described UK’s team as “smart,” “driven” and “competitive.” But . . .
“My thing is how do I keep them engaged,” he said. “. . . Nothing would be better for us than having a team like Texas come in and hit us in the mouth.
“How do we respond? Still tough? Still have fun?”
Texas, which matches UK’s 7-0 record, can look Kentucky in the eye. The Longhorns have similar size and presence.
Aaron Harrison suggested that UK’s big men would like going against a team of equal size rather than a smaller and perhaps quicker opponent. Calipari was dubious.
“I think we’d rather play against smaller guys,” he said.
Calipari said that Kentucky’s defense is better than its offense that this early stage. He estimated that UK’s offense was running at 50-to-60 percent efficiency, while he rated the defense at 70 or 80.
“If you want to be a world-class team, you can’t do it just on one end,” he said.
Not that Calipari is satisfied with the defense.
“I am harping on defense,” he said.

Championship ambitions aside, Cal wants to be loved

It’s not enough that Kentucky has nine McDonald’s All-Americans, been ranked No. 1 from pre-season to present, hailed as historically great and compared favorably to NBA teams.
Coach John Calipari also wants his team to be — sniff — loved. By everyone.
Following up on a theme he spun after Tuesday’s rout of UT Arlington, Calipari suggested Friday that a bias against Kentucky or himself lessens the praise and appreciation due UK.
Either that or he’s not going to let blowout after blowout dull his desire for us-versus-them motivation.
“What I don’t get (is) if this was another school, they’d say this is all what college athletics is all about: sharing, team before everything else,” Calipari said. “Can you imagine? This is what it should be. I’d be called before a congressional hearing down in D.C. ‘Coach, what are you doing to make this about college athletics?’
“Instead, the dialogue becomes ‘He can’t keep these guys happy.’ ‘There’s no way these guys can be happy.’ If it were at other schools, Wooo, is this great for college athletics? Is this refreshing to see in this ‘me’ society and narcissism and all that.”
Calipari offered his idea of the proper perspective on Kentucky’s team.
“This is the greatest thing,” he said. “We all (have) got to follow this team and cheer that this works.
“Wooo, it’s not happening that way.”
With that, Calipari ended what appeared to be theatre (light comedy?) with an exit line.
“But (pause), I got to go,” he said. “There you go.”

Cal: If UK needs a clutch basket, Aaron will take the shot

When — or if — Kentucky needs a clutch basket in the final minutes of a close game, there should be no confusion about which player on its deep roster will take it.
UK Coach John Calipari said Friday that Aaron Harrison will take that shot. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
“If it’s late-game and it’s tight, who do you think I’m going to go to?” Calipari asked media types. “I don’t care if he’s shooting 12 percent, I’m going to him. And the reason is demonstrated performance. I’ve seen it. I know.
“I’m not testing the waters with other guys.”
Of course, Harrison made clutch shots in three straight games in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. His jumpers helped UK outlast Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in a nine-day period.
“He believes he’s making it,” Calipari said. “Everybody in the building believes he’s making it. The other team believes he’s making it. We just have to create it so he gets it off.”
Calipari dismissed the notion of calling upon another player to make the clutch shot. if only to test that player’s capabilities.
“Game on the line, I ain’t taking any chances,” the UK coach said.

Tickets available for upcoming UK games

A limited number of tickets remain for Kentucky games against Providence (Sunday), Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 7), Columbia (Dec. 10) and Mississippi (Jan. 6), UK announced Wednesday.

Tickets are available online at, or by calling Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000 or through the Rupp Arena Box Office at 859.233.3535. Tickets are also available to purchase through the UK Ticket office by calling 800.928.2287, UK said in a news release.

Cal: the ‘whole story’ of UK’s blazing start is unselfishness

After Kentucky blitzed UT Arlington 92-44 Tuesday night, John Calipari credited the players’ unselfishness as the key factor in the 6-0 start.
The platoon system. The average margin of victory so far at a surreal 36.8 points. Opponents shooting a paltry 27.9 percent. Opponents in the ill-named Cawood Ledford “Classic” combining for 20 assists and 75 turnovers.
All of it boils down to one factor.
“They’re sharing,” Calipari said of the Cats. “The story, everybody wants to talk about defense. They all want to talk about the energy, the blocked shots and the length, and the story is you have 10 guys sharing minutes. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.
“Why is that happening? Because they’re allowing it to happen.”
Calipari noted that the sharing and the sacrifice is not hurting any player’s NBA stock.
“Is anybody being hurt by this? No,” Calipari said in assuming the roles of reporter and coach in the post-game news conference. “Will their NCAA stats be as much as some other players? No. Their team NCAA stats will be way beyond most. And their efficiency stats, the big data stats, will be some of the best in the country. And that’s how they’re evaluated more than anything else.”