Coaches pleased with Kentucky’s first spring scrimmage

Eli Brown (32) reacts to a big play during Saturday's scrimmage. (Alex Otte)

Eli Brown (32) reacts to a big play during Saturday’s scrimmage. (Alex Otte)

By GUY RAMSEY, UK Athletics

Mark Stoops was running down his team’s schedule for the week, describing a planned full-contact Saturday practice to assembled media. Wheels churning, he decided on the spot to open the practice.
What Stoops wants, Stoops gets. He is the head coach after all.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Stoops said. “It’s nice to get out here. And I know y’all needed to get in here and watch a practice. You know, I got nothing to hide.”
The goal of opening practice to fans and reporters was to see how players executed the things they’ve been working on through four practices in a live environment. Stoops and his staff got exactly that on a sunny Saturday morning and early afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium.
“We just wanted to say, ‘Hey, do what you know right now. Let’s see what happens,’ ” new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “You’re in the stadium. You got some people out here. That was fun. It’s tackle and so when the bullets were flying how do you react?”
Though there were some inevitable bumps and miscues, the answer, overall, was encouraging.
“There was a real chance they could have come and had a letdown,” Gran said. “We had a pretty good practice on Thursday and they matched the intensity. That’s what I was excited about.”
There were good and bad plays on both sides of the ball, with the first-team offense getting the better of the action against its counterpart and the second-team defense doing the same.
“For the first scrimmage, I thought that are twos did a good job,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “You gotta have depth and nobody’s earned a job. Maybe some of those guys will get into the starting lineup.”
A player whose spot is as secure as any on the defense is linebacker Courtney Love, though even he is still learning UK’s defensive scheme. The Nebraska transfer has been named a leader by nearly every coach and teammate, with Stoops leading the pack.
“He’s real important, because as you’ve heard us talk about, he’s special when it comes to a person and leadership. He’s special. He’s way above the norm. And he’s a great kid. I think that’s important to have in your locker room.”
Considering the presence he’s so consistently provided, it should come as no surprise that he was the first to say the defense needs to step up after Saturday.
“The first team, we got scored on every time,” Love said. “We gotta come back and we gotta respond to that. We gotta stop the offense every chance we get next time. We’re going to get another chance, we’re going to get another opportunity and we’re going to have to make 100 percent out of those opportunities every day.”
But it wasn’t that the first-team defense was all bad. The offense opposing it was good too.
With bruising back Mikel Horton – who sustained a leg injury Stoops believes is minor – taking advantage, UK created plenty of running room.
“You have to have that,” Stoops said. “You hear me talk about it and anybody – you watch enough football – you have to have some balance. I don’t care what the numbers say, but you have to have some physicality about you to get the tough yards and move it when you can and we’re seeing some of that.”
With the running game functioning well, Drew Barker was able to thrive in the passing game. He took all first-team reps in the full-scrimmage portion of the practice and played well. And once UK hit the red zone, he often looked for C.J. Conrad. The versatile sophomore tight end – who caught a pretty play-action pass for a touchdown on the final play of the practice – looks to poised to have a big year in Gran’s offense.
“That’s what he brings to the table,” Gran said. “Matched him up out there with a linebacker and ran a corner route, and that’s what you want to do. You hope you can win those battles more often than not, so that was really good. It’s nice that you don’t have to change personnel and you can split him out.”
Conrad is making the leap you’d expect in his second year, and the same is true for UK as a team in Stoops’ fourth season. UK’s capacity is growing rapidly.
“We’re nowhere near where we want to be, but our guys are able to handle more,” Stoops said. “We’ve been grinding these guys early in the morning throughout the week. We let them sleep in today – our first meeting was at 9 – but they handle work from 9 until 1. That’s all we’re allowed in a day: four hours. They’re able to do that now. That’s an improvement.”
And with that long day, the Cats did not lapse.
“They’re concentrating more,” Stoops said. “Like I said, we’ve got a long way to go, but I like the way we’re competing. You can see. For yourselves today offensively, the tempo, the attitude, those guys are doing some good things. We have a long way to go, but it’s a good starting point.”

Stokes’ Big Day, Prince’s Complete Game Wraps Up Series for UK

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Senior shortstop Christian Stokes’ big day at the plate and multi-RBI game in addition to a complete game from junior pitcher Meagan Prince clinched No. 12 Kentucky’s third straight Southeastern Conference series win on Saturday at Bogle Park as the Wildcats powered past the Arkansas Razorbacks, 7-1.

Guest post: Despite predictions, NCAA has lacked bevvy of upsets

Vicky Graff Photo

Vicky Graff Photo

By RICHARD CHEEKS

I don’t know if UK could have beaten North Carolina  or not, but I believed they had been playing at a level that made that not just possible but likely.  Then the wheels came off against Indiana, exposing all of the team’s early season deficiencies all at once. That is what usually happens in this tournament to frauds when a good coach gets a week to prepare a plan to expose those deficiencies.  That is what happened to UK against IU.  If IU had not done it, I now think UNC would have.

Janee Thompson: “It’s been a fun ride”

Janee Thompson, left, and Makayla Epps after Friday's loss (Vicky Graff Photo)

Janee Thompson, left, and Makayla Epps after Friday’s loss (Vicky Graff Photo)

Here is what Makayala Epps and Janee Thompson had to say after Friday’s loss to Washington in the NCAA Tournament.

Matthew Mitchell: “Disappointing night for us”

Here is what Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell had to say Friday night after his team lost 85-72 to Washington in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals in Rupp Arena.

COACH MITCHELL: Well, what a great game tonight for the University of Washington. Just congratulate them. They were outstanding. They were prepared and they played hard, and they made tough shots and big shots and really, really impressed with their performance tonight. So we congratulate them and wish them well as they move forward.

Kentucky-Washington postgame notes and numbers

POSTGAME NOTES

WASHINGTON 85, KENTUCKY 72

MARCH 25, 2016

REGIONAL SEMIFINALS, LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

 

WASHINGTON NOTES

  • Washington improves to 25-10 overall.
  • The Huskies are in their 18th NCAA Tournament and second consecutive.
    • UW is 18-17 all-time in the tourney.
    • This marked UW’s eighth overall Sweet 16 and first since 2001.
    • UW is now 3-6 in the regional semifinals.
  • Washington hit 11 of 28 from the 3-point line (39.0 percent).
    • Marked the most 3-pointers since netting a season-high 12 at Washington State on Dec. 29, 2015.

Gran on Cats: “They’re not entitled to anything”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky players have offered “no resistance” to new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran because of the culture he says coach Mark Stoops has built.

“This is how it is. You either buy in or you don’t. The ones that aren’t receptive aren’t going to be here. But I haven’t sensed any of that. Matter of fact, it’s been the opposite. They’re hungry, they’re excited,” Gran said Thursday.

Matthew Mitchell does not just have a fastball but now has a curve, changeup and slider to throw at teams

Vicky Graff Photo

Vicky Graff Photo

By LARRY VAUGHT

Want to know why Kentucky has been able to have such a successful season with a young team and roster depleted by preseason defections?

Let Washington coach Mike Neighbors, who sends his team against Kentucky tonight in Rupp Arena, explain in baseball terms what UK coach Matthew Mitchell has done.

“I think Matthew’s done a really good job changing the depth, taking the pressure off full court all the time and becoming a really good half-court team when he needs to be, and I think that’s made them a lot harder to play against,” Neighbors said Thursday.

Washington coach’s girlfriend is a UK fan

Amy, left, and Holly Ratliff (Larry Vaught/Verizon Photo)

Amy, left, and Holly Ratliff (Larry Vaught/Verizon Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

What are the odds of the women’s coach at Washington bringing his team to Rupp Arena to play in the NCAA Tournament and his girlfriend happens to be a Kentucky fan living in Lexington?

Well, that is exactly what has happened.

Washington coach Mike Neighbors dates Amy Ratliff, who normally works for the game day operations staff at Rupp Arena. Both Amy and her twin sister, Holly, were both wearing their Washington shirts Thursday and will be again tonight when the Huskies play UK.

Rupp Arena does not guarantee UK Final Four berth

Janee Thompson hugged coach Matthew Mitchell after a NCAA win. (Vicky Graff Photo)

Janee Thompson hugged coach Matthew Mitchell after a NCAA win. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Playing in Rupp Arena this weekend doesn’t guarantee Kentucky its first Final Four trip. Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell only has to point out last year’s home loss to Dayton in NCAA play to make his point.

Friday night UK hosts Washington and if it wins will play the Notre Dame-Stanford survivor on Sunday for a Final Four berth.

Washington won at Maryland last week to advance to Lexington, another fact Mitchell was quick to note Thursday.