UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: After Wisconsin loss, Kentucky closing in on unanimous No. 1

Kentucky forward Karl-Anthony Towns, center is fired up after scoring in the first half. 

The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Texas, Friday, Dec. 05, 2014 at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky forward Karl-Anthony Towns, center is fired up after scoring in the first half. The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Texas, Friday, Dec. 05, 2014 at Rupp Arena in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

Oh, don't worry. The three voters who put Wisconsin rather than Kentucky at No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll last week heard about it from UK fans.

Wisconsin's 80-70 home loss to Duke on Wednesday made that a certainty.

"I was asked if I'd dropped Kentucky to No. 4 because of Wisconsin's loss," voter Soren Petro said of one tweet he received. He answered sarcasm with sarcasm.

"I thought that was classy," he said in a telephone conversation later in the week.

In a more serious tone, Petro added, "I don't hold that against the Kentucky fan base. The loudest guy in the bar is generally the guy who knows the least."

Petro, a host of a call-in show called The Program on WHB radio in Kansas City, cited Kentucky's recent history as a reason to be cautious about the Cats. (It surely says something to think that the No. 2 spot in a top-25 ballot represents prudent judgment.)

An appearance in the NIT and then relegated to an eight-seed the previous two years raised questions about UK Coach John Calipari's reliance on one-and-done, er, succeed-and-proceed players. "You're wondering if the guy has lost the touch," said Petro, who pronounces his first name "Sore-RIN."

Petro noted how it took Kentucky until March to work out the kinks last season.

"I thought, well, this may take awhile ... ," he said. "My thought was it took Kentucky a little time to come together last year. Not getting going until tournament time came around. I thought, OK, it's going to take a little time for this team to get going."

Petro, a Kansas City native and Syracuse graduate (broadcast journalism), said he thought "long and hard" about Kentucky and Wisconsin.

The other two AP voters who put Wisconsin at No. 1 on their ballots last week were sportswriters Dave Borges of the New Haven (Conn.) Register and Scott Mansch of the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune.

Each said in emails that they had consistently voted the Badgers No. 1.

"I voted Wisconsin No. 1 preseason and wasn't going to punish the Badgers (drop them to No. 2) for winning all their games," Borges said. "Now that Wisconsin has lost, I will vote Kentucky No. 1 this week — provided the Wildcats beat Texas on Friday and Eastern Kentucky on Sunday."

Wrote Mansch: "I had Badgers and Wildcats 1-2 since the preseason. Hadn't seen fit to drop 'Wisky' while still unbeaten. Obviously things will change."

Mansch said he, too, got feedback from Kentucky.

"I have a great deal of respect for the Wildcats' passionate fan base," he wrote. "They have a great program that I've followed going back to Mr. Rupp and Joe B., Goose Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, et al."

Reserving judgment

Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan turns 83 on Tuesday. He played on or has watched all the great Kentucky teams.

Hagan reserved judgment on where the current Cats rank on any list of UK's best teams.

"I think the jury's still out," he said before adding light-heartedly, "I don't know which team we're talking about. The first-half team or the second-half team."

Hagan, who winters in Florida, probably will play tennis on his birthday. He plays four days a week.

"Getting good exercise for someone elderly," he said with a laugh.

Back from the Amazon

It's not often you can say someone returned to UK basketball after a trip to the Peruvian Amazon. Friday night's game against Texas was such a time.

Marcia Stone, a member of the UK stats crew, missed the previous three games because she went on a week-long trip to the Amazon. She and her mother, sister and brother-in-law flew to Lima, connected on a flight to the interior of Peru and boarded a boat on Nov. 23.

Stone said she saw monkeys, three-toed sloths and pink dolphins on the trip. What she didn't see was any update on the three games she missed.

Stone has worked on the UK stats crew for more than 25 years.

Learning through losing?

Top 25 voter Soren Petro suggested that a lot of support for Kentucky as the No. 1 team had been based on the 32-point blowout victory over then-No. 5 Kansas. He wondered if Kansas Coach Bill Self decided at some point to accept an early-season defeat as a teaching tool.

"When he sits back and puts one arm over a chair and crosses his leg, he's just letting them learn a lesson," Petro said.

Carryover effect

After his team lost 92-44 to Kentucky on Nov. 25, UT-Arlington Coach Scott Cross spoke of the game as an aberration. He wanted the team to move forward as if it never happened. Apparently that was easier said than done.

Three days later, UT-Arlington lost 104-81 at Montana State. Or, as Cross said, "got our butts whipped."

No coincidence.

Of the loss at Kentucky, Cross said, "It affected us more than I thought."

The day after losing at Kentucky, UT-Arlington needed more than 20 hours — counting airport layovers — to get to Montana State. Then after having Thanksgiving on the road (always a sad experience), the Mavs still felt the effects of the loss at Kentucky.

"The beatdown took a toll on us," Cross said. "Mentally, it takes a hit on you with your confidence."

By the time UT-Arlington played Texas on Tuesday, the carryover effect had subsided. Texas won, but only by a 63-53 score.

"Probably our best game of the season," Cross said.

The UT-Arlington coach suggested the loss at Kentucky helped his team against Texas.

"Because now you've seen it," he said. "You know, the biggest, baddest, deepest team in the country. ... If we hadn't gone to Kentucky, then maybe Texas is a team that beats us by 30 or 40 points."

'Humblebrag'

The term "humblebrag" gets tossed around now and then. UK Coach John Calipari uses this oxymoron, most recently on his radio show Monday night while noting the 38 victories posted by his Kentucky team in 2011-12, which matched the single-season record set by his Memphis team in 2007-08.

To google "humblebrag" is to see this definition: an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.

Political columnist Joe Klein recently wrote about an example of humble without the brag component. Former Marine Seth Moulton won a seat in Congress in November's election. Moulton will represent a district near Boston.

The Boston Globe researched Moulton's military record, which included acts of heroism.

"Moulton had received two medals for bravery under fire that he'd never mentioned publicly," Klein wrote in his blog for Time magazine. "He hadn't even told his parents. He asked The Globe not to describe him as a hero. 'Look,' he said, 'we served our country, and we served the guys next to us. And it's not something to brag about.'"

Klein saluted Moulton's "taut New England sense of honor."

SEC TV

Mike Taylor, who coached Tyler Ulis in high school, noted that last weekend's Providence game was the only time he will see Kentucky play in real time this season.

"But I got them all recorded at home," he said of the UK games. "The SEC Network is nice to have."

Big numbers

Going into Saturday' game at Arizona, former Cat Kyle Wiltjer was off to a good start for Gonzaga. He was averaging 16 points and 5.3 rebounds through the season's first seven games. He'd made 53.1 percent of his shots (36 percent on three-point attempts) and, maybe most surprisingly, led Gonzaga with six blocks. Those numbers compare favorably with his final UK season of 2012-13: 10.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 42.1-percent shooting and 14 blocks in 33 games.

While taking in Wiltjer's numbers, one other statistic for Gonzaga caught the eye.

Point guard Kevin Pangos, a 6-2 senior, had 41 assists and five turnovers. That was five turnovers in 209 minutes (or an average of one turnover every 41.8 minutes). In the latest NCAA statistics, he ranked third nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (8.2-to-1), and made 58.3 percent of his shots (46.2 percent from three-point range).

Basketball is in Pangos' blood. His father coaches a women's college team in Canada. His mother played for a women's college team in Canada. His sister plays on the college team coached by his father.

Blue Monday

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal cited the website Fanatics.com as the source for its listing of the top selling sports-themed products on Cyber Monday. The newspaper divided the sales into categories like NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.

Among college basketball programs, Kentucky items generated the most sales. Others in the top five, in order, were North Carolina, Duke, Wisconsin and Louisville.

Among NBA players, the top five in terms of sales were LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Not sure what this means, but it doesn't sound encouraging:

Neither the one-for-all San Antonio Spurs nor the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings placed in top five for team sales in their respective leagues. The Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks were No. 1 in the NBA and NHL, respectively.

Happy birthday

To Eric Bledsoe. He turns 25 on Tuesday. ... To Sam Malone. He turned 23 on Saturday. ... To Cameron Mills. He turns 39 on Wednesday. ... To Randy Noll. He turned 65 on Friday. ... To Terry Mobley. He turns 71 on Tuesday. ... To Cliff Ellis. The former Auburn coach turned 69 on Friday.

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