Mississippi State wisely will stage a "white out" for Tuesday night's game against Kentucky. Maybe in those conditions no one will notice the men in white coats taking State Coach Rick Stansbury away should there be yet another controversial call that propels UK toward victory.
In each of the teams' last three games, the referees strained Stansbury's patience, if not his sanity. When the teams played in Starkville two years ago, State led 67-60 with three minutes to go. For the rest of regulation and a five-minute overtime period, the referees called 10 fouls on State and none against Kentucky. At the time, State led the nation in fewest fouls because, like UK this season, a preeminent shot blocker (Jarvis Varnado) anchored the defense.
Then there were non-calls on an apparent goaltend by John Wall and a walk by Patrick Patterson.
A few fans vented their frustrations near game's end by tossing cups and water bottles onto the court.
With another UK-State game in Starkville at hand, State Athletics Director Scott Stricklin noted the absence of any other incidents in Humphrey Coliseum since that night. Aside from faith in fans using good judgment, Stricklin said he was not sure how to ensure that no one would throw something onto the court.
"Ninety-nine point nine percent of the crowd acted appropriately," said Stricklin, who formerly worked as a UK basketball spokesman. "I don't know what you do to impact the common sense issue."
On Tuesday, State will use the extra security personnel it has on hand for games against in-state rival Ole Miss, Stricklin said.
Using humor to leaven his reaction, Stansbury joked in the post-game news conference about reporters helping pay any fine he might receive for criticizing the officials.
He could not know that less than a month later, another non-call would help Kentucky beat State in the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals. This time, State led by three with 4.9 seconds left in regulation. Choosing to foul rather than risk a tying three-pointer, Stansbury saw Eric Bledsoe make the first free throw, then intentionally miss the second.
Replays showed Wall enter the lane area too early for the rebound. But no call was made, freeing DeMarcus Cousins to send the game into overtime by making the tying layup at the buzzer.
After the "very obvious lane violation" that went uncalled, Stansbury questioned whether the SEC favored Kentucky. "At Mississippi State, you're supposed to take it and be quiet," he said. Commissioner Mike Slive fined Stansbury $30,000.
Unbelievably, Stansbury and the refs clashed again when State played at Kentucky last season. This time, State led 40-35 in the final seconds of the first half. With two fouls to give, Stansbury ordered Brian Bryant to foul Brandon Knight. On the second foul, Knight tried to heave a shot from near mid-court. The ruling of a shooting foul led to a technical on Stansbury.
Knight made four of five free throws with 1.1 seconds left in the half.
A seemingly inevitable Kentucky victory ensued. This time, Stansbury restrained himself.
"I didn't help our team," he said before adding that he would not comment on the officiating.
'Level playing field'
UK's televised practice last week led to tweets speculating that the party-pooper NCAA would soon make a rule banning such telecasts in the future.
The NCAA has the thankless task of policing college programs that would step on their grandmothers to get an edge. The NCAA makes an effort to ensure all programs roughly have an equal chance of success, hence the styles of elite programs like UK basketball get crimped every once in a great while in service of the ideal that lesser lights get a chance to compete.
In sporting parlance, it's called a level playing field.
Years ago, C.M. Newton scoffed at the concept. Kentucky would always be Kentucky, which would be better than not being Kentucky, he said.
But the NCAA tries to create a semblance of a level playing field. This butts into a network's desire to increase ratings by televising the games of marquee programs.
When asked about concerns of fairness in televising a Kentucky practice, Director of Programming Nick Dawson noted that ESPN does not show, say, as many Ole Miss games as UK games on Super Tuesday.
"Everything's not equal," he said.
The NCAA won't bother with UK practices on television. A precedent was set with the Longhorn Network showing Texas football practices twice a week last season.
The NCAA did ask the ESPN-driven Longhorn Network not to televise the high school games of prospects attached to Texas.
Cats give encouragement
Dilyn Weber, an 8-year-old from Louisville, went to Chicago on Thursday. He's awaiting liver transplant surgery scheduled for Feb. 27.
When Dilyn was 3, doctors diagnosed Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a condition in which the body does not make enough protein to protect the lungs and liver from damage, His rooting interest in UK has shown itself whenever he's needed a blood transfusion.
Dilyn wraps himself in a UK blanket as if to ward off side effects. "He doesn't want red blood," his mother, Nikkie Weber, said with a laugh.
Dilyn and his mother share UK as a favorite team. In a way, his condition heightened his interest in the Cats, she said.
"Laying on the couch, he's watched every game beginning with the second game (this season)," Nikki said. While in Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville last week, he and his family noticed that ESPNU was not available. So they used a laptop computer to watch UK's televised practice.
UK sent Dilyn a signed basketball and a picture autographed by his favorite player, Doron Lamb. Lamb also sent the boy a video message of encouragement.
"He just sat there and kept staring at it," Nikki said of the Lamb video.
The Feb. 27 surgery in Chicago forced a change of plans. Dilyn had hoped to attend UK's home game against Vanderbilt next Saturday. He initially balked at going to Chicago, but his mother persuaded him to go.
A family friend will donate a portion of his liver to Dilyn, his mother said. Within six weeks of surgery, Dilyn and the donor should have healthy livers that are 80 percent regenerated.
Jeremy Lin's remarkable out-of-nowhere run as a New York Knick guard moved NPR's sports commentator, Frank Deford, to note the value and rarity of creative thinking.
"Nobody in basketball had the perception or the guts to say: 'You know, I don't care what anybody else thinks, this kid Jeremy Lin has it. Whatever it is.'" DeFord said in his weekly commentary. "It's not like he was tucked away in Bulgaria. Lin was hidden in plain sight. He led his high school at Palo Alto to the California championship. No, Harvard is not Kentucky or Carolina, but he was on display for four years in Division One. ...
"But none of the geniuses — not one scout, one coach, one general manager — could see what everyone sees now when it's fashionable. None of the people paid to envision, could envision. ... It's just the usual common stupidity of stereotyping. It wasn't just a matter of race. Scouts tend to be uncomfortable with anything different.
"Now it's wonderful for Jeremy Lin that he finally got his chance. ...
"But, in counterpoint, what is so dispiriting is to contemplate not only how many basketball players, but how many other athletes, how many artists and actors and musicians and writers, how many special creative talents never get fulfilled because the so-called experts are always looking in the same places."
Two men, two votes
Who stands between Kentucky and a unanimous No. 1 ranking? Sportswriters Nick Jezierny of the Idaho Statesman and Scott Johnson of The Herald of Everett, Wash. Each said last week that their votes for Syracuse as No. 1 should not be interpreted as a belief that the Orange are noticeably superior to UK, which held the No. 2 spot on their ballots.
"I could probably switch them and go to sleep and not feel guilty," said Jezierny, who covers Boise State and the Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences. " ... They're 1 and 1-A. They're that close."
Johnson, who covers Washington, echoed the sentiment.
"I don't think anybody can say Kentucky's résumé is that much better," he said. "I see arguments for both sides."
Jezierny and Johnson noted that Fab Melo did not play in Syracuse's one loss. That made a difference for both.
Jezierny acknowledged that he hasn't watched Kentucky closely since the North Carolina and Indiana games in early December.
Johnson said that last week's one-sided victory over Florida made him think about elevating Kentucky to No. 1.
"I was wavering," he said.
Except for the two times it wasn't true, Kentucky will have played in sold-out arenas for every game on the opponent's homecourt this season. The exceptions were at LSU and South Carolina, where announced attendance at both arenas fell about 1,500 shy of listed capacity.
UK's final two road games will be sellouts. Here's the rundown:
■ The Kentucky game Tuesday will be Mississippi State's fourth straight sellout, spokesman Gregg Ellis wrote in an email.
■ The Kentucky game on March 4 is a sellout for Florida. The Gators also had sellouts in home games against LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee this season, spokesman Denver Parler wrote in an email.
To summarize, Kentucky's nine games this season on an opponent's court included seven sold-out arenas.
Louisville is its No. 1 city in terms of most viewers for college basketball this season, ESPN said last week. That marked the 10th straight year the city of Louisville led ESPN's ratings, spokesperson Keri Potts wrote in an email.
According to Nielsen, Louisville retained the top spot from 2010-11 and has increased its rating five percent (4.4 to 4.6).
The top five markets for ESPN's college basketball telecasts are: Louisville (4.6), Greensboro-High Point (3.5), Columbus (2.9), Kansas City (2.7) and Raleigh-Durham (2.6).
Charlotte and Cincinnati are Nos. 6 and 7.
ESPN is on pace to break last year's record for most-viewed regular season ever and is up 3 percent in viewing households (1,062,309 to 1,089,316).
Before a vote on disbanding the UK Athletics Association of Directors, school president Eli Capilouto opened the floor for discussion. No one spoke in favor or opposition to the foregone conclusion.
But after voting unanimously to disband, the board heard one last comment. Member Jack Brown, the president of the K Association, suggested that an absent colleague, Dermontti Dawson, be recognized for being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Capilouto noted that UK would look for another way to recognize Dawson.
To former UK players Tom Heitz, who turns 51 on Thursday. ... To Rajon Rondo, who turns 26 on Wednesday. ... To former walk-on Jarvis Walker, who turns 25 today. ... To Al Robinson, who turned 74 on Friday. ... To former UK assistant coach Herb Sendek. He turns 49 on Wednesday.