Sports

UK fans showed Hansbrough his act wasn't cute

Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough put in a three-pointer as part of a 19-point first half against UK on Wednesday.
Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough put in a three-pointer as part of a 19-point first half against UK on Wednesday.

Playing well against Kentucky? A pardonable sin. But to enjoy playing well against UK? Unforgivable.

That seemed to be the message when UK fans in Freedom Hall Wednesday night rained boos down on Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough. He drew the ire of fans by preening after each shot he made.

(Of course, DeMarcus Cousins regularly enjoyed his fine play for UK last season, most memorably by pretending to talk on the phone at Mississippi State. But that was colorful.)

When contacted on Friday, Hansbrough said he meant no offense.

"I have nothing but respect for Kentucky's fan base," he said. "I was just out there having a good time."

After the game, Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said he tried to counsel Hansbrough not to relish his baskets so openly.

"I just tried to tell him, 'Relax,' " Brey said. "He said, 'I'm feeling it.' "

Hansbrough, the younger brother of former North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough, said he "got in a little mode."

Swish, swish, swish from farther and farther, much like Tayshaun Prince against North Carolina in Rupp Arena.

Hansbrough punctuated his display of sharpshooting by taking one from the over-sized logo at mid-court.

"If you're not going to guard me, let it fly," he said.

UK redoubled its efforts in the second half. A revolving door of defenders face-guarded Hansbrough in the second half and limited his scoring to two free throws.

"They've got a lot of different fast guards chasing me," he said. "It was pretty frustrating. Obviously, I like to make plays for the team."

Hansbrough's feast-or-famine performance served as the second-biggest surprise of the night. The biggest? How UK's freshmen out-steadied Notre Dame's veterans.

"We were poised at times," Brey said, "and I thought frazzled at times. It's something to talk about and hopefully learn from."

When asked if the highly partisan crowd bothered the Irish, Hansbrough said, "I don't think it fazed us. Their pressure as soon as we got to half-court fazed us. Kentucky's so talented. They've got a lot of pros."

'Duke environment?'

In noting that UK did not match the intensity of North Carolina last weekend, John Calipari said, "North Carolina made it the game of the year for them."

Then the UK coach added, "I was told (by UNC people) that was a Duke environment for them."

Not exactly, according to Steve Kirschner, UNC's associate athletic director for communications.

"I think the atmosphere was certainly better than it is at most non-conference games, but I did not think it was anywhere near the level of a Carolina-Duke game," Kirschner wrote in an e-mail. "In fact, the game against Kentucky in December 1990 did have one of the most electric atmospheres I ever remember in the Smith Center as we came back to win in the final minute. I remember it was so loud that Coach (Rick) Pitino could not get his team to foul for the last 20 seconds until the game was almost over.

"However, I do agree that, for our young team, it was about as must-win a game as we can play on a December 4th. We certainly played like there was a sense of urgency."

Playing in Louisville

The Kentucky State Fair Board repainted the Freedom Hall court with blue trim in hopes of persuading UK to play more than one home-away-from-home game in Louisville each season.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart embraced the tradition of one game in Louisville each season, but he again recoiled from the notion of additional "home" games outside Rupp Arena.

So what to do?

ESPN commentator Jimmy Dykes, a former UK staffer for Eddie Sutton, offered a suggestion.

"Play one game in Louisville," he said, "and maybe play the Blue-White Game in Louisville."

Kanter and Newton

To borrow from colleague Mark Story's bag of tricks, let's play what-I-know and what-I-think concerning Enes Kanter.

What I know: Citing "new information," UK asked the NCAA to essentially restart the process of determining whether Kanter can be eligible to play.

What I think: When the NCAA ruled Auburn quarterback Cam Newton eligible, that gave UK hope. The ruling opened a door to eligibility for Kanter where no door previously existed.

What I know: In the Newton case, the NCAA said it had insufficient evidence to say the player knew his father tried to sell his services to Mississippi State.

What I think: No one has disputed The New York Times story that said Kanter received a monthly salary from the Turkish pro team, Fenerbahce Ulker. The team provided housing and banking records to the NCAA that show Kanter and his family received $33,033 in compensation beyond the money permitted for necessary expenses.

What I know: The NCAA has a two-step process in determining eligibility. First, a group of NCAA staffers decides whether an athlete is academically eligible and an amateur. If the answer is no, an appeals panel made up of people outside the NCAA office makes the final determination.

What I think: UK's real aim was to get the "new information" in front of the appeals panel. NCAA procedures do not permit new information to be heard on appeal. But by re-starting the process, UK got the NCAA staffers to consider Kanter's eligibility in light of the Newton decision. If the NCAA staffers still consider Kanter a pro, a more sympathetic appeals panel might be persuaded to let Kanter benefit from the Mack truck-sized loophole created by the Newton decision.

What I know: There's no timetable on a decision.

What I think: Having been told Kanter is ineligible, UK has nothing to lose in trying to have Kanter ride the Newton decision onto the court. The chances of that happening improved from Justin Bieber is a Hell's Angel to Gwyneth Paltrow gives up acting to become a full-time country singer.

'Unforgettable' victory

Former UK "Unforgettable" John Pelphrey enjoyed his first victory in Kentucky as a head coach when Arkansas beat Seton Hall 71-62 Wednesday in Freedom Hall.

"I'd like to sit here and say I don't think about it," he said. "But when you come into the building, moments and times that you played flash back at you. And then obviously my love affair with my alma mater, you can't really ignore that. It's very humbling.

"But the task at hand is something that becomes even more valuable to me because I want to do well."

Pelphrey-coached South Alabama and Arkansas teams had lost all six previous games in Kentucky. Pelphrey's in-state record was 0-3 at Western Kentucky, 0-1 at Louisville and 0-2 at UK.

The winless streak occurred to Pelphrey as Arkansas left its downtown Louisville hotel and headed to Freedom Hall for the Seton Hall game.

"On the way to the ballpark, I was thinking, 'This may be my first win as a head coach in the state,' and I was kind of dejected thinking about that," he said with a laugh. "I thought, 'We've got to find a way to get over the hump here a little bit.' "

In the final seconds of the Arkansas victory, some fans awaiting the UK-Notre Dame nightcap chanted "John Leslie, John Leslie." Pelphrey remains revered in his home state for his role in helping revive a UK program rocked by NCAA sanctions in the late 1980s.

"But this is about our kids, it's not about me," Pelphrey said in deflecting away attention. "I've had my time and my day."

'No layups!!'

Some coaches are emotionally and physically engaged in the games. Others seem more detached and cerebral.

John Pelphrey fits firmly in the former category. Even at the beginning of the game, his voice was hoarse.

As the teams headed to the benches at the second TV timeout, an enraged Pelphrey got in the face of junior college transfer Marvel Waithe. The player had not rotated to contest a driving layup.

"No layups!! Whatever it takes," Pelphrey told Waithe.

Pelphrey got his message across. Arkansas players blocked the next Seton Hall shot and finished the game with 10 rejections.

Senior forward Delvon Johnson flirted with a triple-double, scoring 10 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking eight shots.

Champions Classic

UK Coach John Calipari gets credit for the idea of bringing together elite programs in a doubleheader to tip off the college basketball season with a bang. He conceived of UCLA participating, but Coach Ben Howland could not fit the concept into his scheduling plans.

Calipari's idea — which he voiced soon after coming to Lexington — led to ESPN's announcement last week of doubleheaders involving Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State early the next three seasons.

Here's what the other three participating coaches said of the games in an ESPN statement.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski: "The Champions Classic is new for college basketball and to be asked to participate with three programs that are at such a high level is indeed an honor for Duke. We applaud ESPN's efforts in having the creativity and foresight to help our sport in such a fashion. It should be a terrific event each year, and we look forward to being a part of it."

Kansas Coach Bill Self: "I thought it was a great idea and I think it's great playing on neutral sites. To come back to Madison Square Garden will be great with three other unbelievable programs. I'll bet each of these programs will sell whatever ticket allotment they have — 4 to 5,000."

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo: "Being a part of the Champions Classic is a tremendous honor for our program. These are some of the premier programs in all of college basketball, not only currently, but in the history of the sport. To be included in that group shows that we've been able to sustain some long-term success, and is also somewhat humbling. This event is a great way to tip off the college basketball season and promote our great sport. It's like having a Final Four in November."

Conflict of interest

UK feared its football bowl appearance might conflict with a basketball game. The school dodged that bullet with the games running more or less back-to-back on Jan. 8: UK and Pittsburgh in football followed by UK and Georgia in basketball.

Arkansas was not so lucky. On Jan. 4. Bobby Petrino's football team plays Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. That megagame begins at 8:30 p.m.

A half-hour earlier, John Pelphrey's basketball team tips off at Texas in what annually marks the program's biggest non-conference game.

While Arkansas fans must choose which game to attend (or stay at home with a fully-charged TV remote control), media outlets have to make difficult decisions on how to cover these games.

The plan for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette suggests that football is the top priority. Executive sports editor/columnist Wally Hall said he and beat reporter Tom Murphy and basketball beat man Bob Holt will cover the Sugar Bowl. A staff photographer will work the whole week in New Orleans with another coming the day before the game.

The newspaper will also hire a stringer to do an Ohio State post-game locker room story.

As for the Arkansas-Texas basketball game, Hall said that the newspaper will hire a stringer to write a game story and use photos provided by The Associated Press.

Happy birthday

To Cameron Mills, arguably the most productive walk-on for UK in at least 30 years. He turned 35 on Friday.

When asked how it felt to reach that age, Mills said, "Don't you hear when you're in elementary school to round up to the next number?"

That would make Mills 40.

"I didn't like 30 very much," he said. "In your 20s, you're still kind of a kid. In your 30s, you have to grow up."

All grown up now, Mills works as a business developer for the LHC Group. He also continues his public speaking in connection with his Christian ministry. And if that wasn't enough, he's part of Lexington radio station WLAP's pre-game radio coverage of UK basketball.

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