KSTV Morning Roundup: Cats Prepare For SC, Timmons Ready To Decide

02/05/2013 12:42 AM

A look back at some of the stories you might have missed while recovering from your Super Bowl party…

It’s Time To Get Tough

If there was an abundantly clear theme to John Calipari’s pre-South Carolina press conference on Monday, it’s that he’s not pleased at all with the (lack of) physicality coming from his team. “We’re soft,” Cal said plainly about his team’s performance against Texas A&M, where the ball was ripped from their hands on several occasions by the Aggies. It’s a problem that has reared its head before this season and one that’s sure to come up again if things aren’t fixed quickly, according to Cal.

“They’ll do what every other team is doing. They’ll be physical,” Calipari said of South Carolina. And that’s been pretty much the entire story of UK’s sec slate so far. None of the teams are all that great, but they’re all going to attack in the same way – by trying to make the game as ugly as possible. The Cats seemed to have finally cleared that hump in beating Ole Miss, but reverted back to shying away from the physicality and contact against Texas A&M. I don’t think the NCAA keeps stats for number of times the ball is just flat ripped from your hands, but UK has to be close to the record.

The Cats haven’t been completely terrible when it comes to responding to physicality, but they’ve been pretty bad. On the scale of softness, they’re probably somewhere between Ultra Charmin and the blankets they sell at Brookstone. And that’s not going to get it done. Calipari is calling on his team not only to be stronger with the ball Tuesday night, but to also show some of the killer instinct that’s been absent as teams have crept their way back into games that appeared to be finished at around the midway point. It’s something that just comes with being a young and must be developed. The good news is that UK will have plenty of chances to acquire it on the remainder of their conference schedule. The bad news? UK will have plenty of chances to acquire it on the remainder of their conference schedule. If there’s anything to be learned in the next two games against terrible South Carolina and Auburn teams, it’s whether or not this team can finally figure out how to play tough and finish off opponents when they have them on the ropes.

Calipari: Harrow’s Minutes To Decrease

Though Willie Cauley-Stein’s ability to play significant minutes still seems to be questionable, Calipari did not hesitate to say that when the freshman big man is ready, it’s Ryan Harrow who would see his minutes diminish. The revelation was as much of a testament to the recent play of Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer, who Calipari credited for making changes to their practice habits, as it is a motivational message for Harrow.

The sophomore point guard played 41 minutes against Texas A&M and scored only 8 points. More importantly, the player who once appeared to have the promise of being UK’s steadying hand committed five turnovers, with two of them coming in the final 1:40 of regulation when UK was clinging to a four-point lead. The public message is classic Calipari and it’s worked in the past on guys like Terrence Jones, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller, as well as a good chunk of this year’s team. The reality of the situation is that someone is going to see their minutes decrease when Cauley-Stein returns. My guess is that Calipari hopes Harrow gets the message and does everything he can Tuesday night to make his coach look elsewhere.

Kyle Wiltjer Is The Example

If the message about the minutes didn’t make it clear enough, Calipari spelled it out for everyone Monday when he said that Kyle Wiltjer has made significant changes to his practice and game habits and it’s showing on the court. In talking about those changes, Calipari talked about having to experience the embarrassment first and then working to get better. “Everything worth having is a dogfight to get,” Calipari said elaborated, and credited Kyle for earning the successes he’s found recently.

While Wiltjer encountered some of the same struggles as Harrow down the stretch (no player wastes his dribble more than Wiltjer still does 3-4 times per game), the overall product has cleary been better. The sophomore forward has seen his confidence grow since going scoreless against the Aggies January 12. In the six games since, Wiltjer has averaged 15.3 points per game on 52% shooting as he’s transformed from a shooter to a complete offensive threat. And though he seemed to be absent for long stretches against A&M on Saturday (as everyone was), his evolution as a player has fulfilled one of Calipari’s prophecies from earlier in the season.

One of the big takeaways from the preseason media day was Calipari’s desire to see Wiltjer become more of a Dirk Nowitzki-like piece in UK’s offense and while Wiltjer’s skill level is still miles behind the Dallas Mavericks superstar, he’s become the versatile focal point of the offense when it’s at its best. Against Ole Miss, Wiltjer was at his best, catching the ball in the high post or just off the block, using his mismatch to either attack off the dribble or create opportunities for his teammates. We’ve often wondered on KSTV if Wiltjer would develop into anything more than just a three-point shooter this season and though he was not at his best in College Station Saturday, taking only 4 shots and scoring 10 points, there’s reason to believe that he’ll bounce back strong Tuesday night. That’s because he’s become a different player over the course of the last six games, one that now has the full confidence of his coach and his teammates. And that’s something this team has desperately needed all year.

Based On Bracket Projections, Cats Still Have Work To Do

With wins in five of their last six games, including a road win over then #16 Mississippi, the Cats are finally over the Bracketology hump, finding themselves in the tournament field in all the mock brackets, including the one created by CBS’ Jerry Palm, who has been down on UK this season. Palm has UK in the field as a #11 seed, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Cats as a #10. The even better news on top of that is that in a field that seems as wide open as any in recent memory, the Cats will certainly find themselves with a favorable matchup, no matter the seed. Both Palm (Butler) and Lunardi (VCU) have UK facing off in the first game with fellow 2011 Final Four members in games where UK would have a considerable talent and size advantage. But those are just projections and change any given day, so the Cats must focus on beating the bad teams in the SEC. UK fans? Well, they can just worry about where they need to be booking hotel rooms.

Over the last few weeks, UK has been projected in three cities – Dayton, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. The KSTV crew, just like all UK fans, likes a good road trip. I’ve never been to Salt Lake City or Philadelphia, but both places have received solid reviews from members of the KSTV staff as potential destinations for the Cats. My family is from Dayton and, well, let’s just say I’m rooting for Philadelphia or Salt Lake City. Should the Cats continue to play well and earn a #5 seed as CBS’ Jeff Goodman predicted on the show, UK could end up in Austin. That’s the clear favorite at this point. A weekend in Austin and a five-seed would be a big win for both fans and players.

Ryan Timmons Is Ready To Decide

The Franklin County star will make his college decision Tuesday at 1pm and, according to his Twitter account late Monday, he’s made his pick and now it’s just a matter of announcing it. At this point, it’s believed to be down to UK and Florida, after Ohio State took a commitment from Dontre Willson, a four-star athlete in the same mold of Timmons.

All signs seem to be pointing toward a UK commitment at this point for Timmons, who became UK’s first priority when Mark Stoops’ staff arrived. Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown have spent considerable time with Timmons in the last two and a half months and that attention, as well as the new UK offense, seem to have worked on Timmons. While Trinity’s James Quick has received the majority of the in-state attention this year, there are plenty of people who believe that Timmons is every bit as talented and if they switched schools, Timmons would be viewed much differently. What is set to be an exciting first National Signing Day for Stoops and Co. could get off to a big start later this afternoon.

Be sure to check back here at 1pm to find out where Timmons will play his college football and for video from the announcement. And if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out Leslie Neeley’s one-on-one with Timmons about his college decision. (Part one) (Part two)

Trinity’s Jason Hatcher Could Be A Signing Day Surprise

There’s growing buzz surrounding Trinity defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, who was committed to USC, then uncommitted, then recommitted. Kentucky Scout’s Jeff Drummond was on Larry Glover Live Monday night and said that the UK staff likes their chances of landing the Army All-American. That sentiment echoes what has been whispered around the football program the last few weeks and could signal a huge moment for Mark Stoops.

If Hatcher were to pick UK, it would would be a remarkable coup by the staff not only because of the caliber of player they’d add, but because it means they’ve managed to penetrate Trinity High School in only two months – something that has seemed impossible for as long as I can remember. Also, this is the same Jason Hatcher that, when picking USC over Tennessee, said he couldn’t be a Vol because “when you lose to UK, you lose to everybody.”

KSTV will be on hand for Hatcher’s announcement. Be sure to check back here Wednesday for news and video from his commitment, as well as full National Signing Day coverage.

LSU Commitment To Visit Lexington

Perhaps the biggest development of the week has been the interest in UK by LSU commitment Tevin Lawson, a four-star defensive tackle who committed to the Tigers in March of 2012. After being asked to greyshirt by the LSU staff, Lawson is looking around again and will not sign a letter of intent Wednesday, choosing instead to visit Lexington and hear Mark Stoops’ pitch. The 6’4”, 275 pound Lawson is rated by Rivals as the nation’s #21 defensive tackle and was being targeted by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Auburn and USC before committing to LSU.

The situation brings to mind the saga of Elliott Porter, a three-star offensive lineman who had committed to LSU, but fell victim to a numbers game when the Tigers took too many players in 2010. Porter came to UK, where he redshirted for a year before heading back to LSU. Hopefully, this story has a much happier ending. Simply choosing to hold off on signing and taking a visit to Kentucky sends another powerful message about where the program is under Mark Stoops.

DeMarcus Cousins Ejected…During Halftime?

To say DeMarcus Cousins’ career as a Sacramento King has been eventful might be an understatement and the saga of Boogie took another interesting turn Monday night when he was ejected during halftime of the Kings’ overtime loss to the Utah Jazz. Cousins, who had 10 points and 6 rebounds in the first half, received a technical foul with 2:23 remaining in the second quarter. As the two teams left the floor for the half, the former UK center approached officials at center court and, according to Sacramento beat writer Jason Jones, asked the one that called the tech to not be such a “bleeping female” (edited version). Cousins was quickly tossed.
You can see video of the incident here. The technical fouls were Boogie’s 11th and 12th of the season. Players are automatically suspended when they receive their 16th.

Let’s all just hope for a trade this summer. It’s time for a fresh start.

CBS’ Best College Basketball Images Of January

CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander, a frequent guest of KSTV, puts together one of my favorite blog posts at the beginning of every month, looking back at the best photos captured during the previous month. John Calipari and Julius Mays (above) made the best of January with their interesting teaching moment, as well as a photo of one brave Tennessee fan standing in the ERupption Zone during the UK-UT game. You can check out all of the photos here.


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