John Clay

John Clay’s notes: Kentucky volleyball battles way back to tourney

Kentucky setter Morgan Bergren (6) scores during the second set at Memorial Coliseum Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amy Wallot
Kentucky setter Morgan Bergren (6) scores during the second set at Memorial Coliseum Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Amy Wallot Herald-Leader

Random notes:

▪ With UK football, women’s basketball and men’s basketball making so much news of late, it may have slipped your attention that the Kentucky volleyball team has made the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight year. Craig Skinner’s program has been so consistent we almost take it for granted.

We shouldn’t. Kentucky plays American on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio. If UK wins that match, it would play the winner of Ohio State and Robert Morris. If Kentucky could come out of the Ohio State site, it would earn a Sweet 16 matchup in Memorial Coliseum.

Ranked 22nd, the Cats are 21-9 on the season, but have had to fight to keep the streak going.

“We’ve certainly had our challenges throughout the year with injuries, scheduling, tough losses and great wins,” Skinner said Tuesday. “I think we’ve certainly gotten through as many challenges as possible to prepare.”

▪ The best college football team in the state, Western Kentucky, plays in the Conference-USA title game on Saturday. Kentucky fans might want to keep an eye on the Hilltoppers’ opponent, however. Southern Miss opens UK’s 2016 season in Commonwealth Stadium. The Golden Eagles went from 3-9 in 2014 to 9-3 in 2015.

▪ Kirby Smart is a Georgia native. He is a Georgia alumnus. He is a former Bulldog. Most importantly, the Alabama defensive coordinator learned his craft under Nick Saban. He seems the perfect fit to replace Georgia Coach Mark Richt, who like Smart had not been a head coach before taking the corner office in Athens.

▪ Last year, then-East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was speculated to be at or near the top of Mark Stoops’ wish list for the same job at Kentucky. Instead, Riley signed on with Mark’s brother, Bob, at Oklahoma. Now Oklahoma is headed to the College Football Playoff and Riley has reportedly been interviewed by South Carolina for its head coaching job. The Sooners averaged 543 yards and 46 points per game this season.

▪ North Carolina got point guard Marcus Paige back from a broken hand on Tuesday night, and the Tar Heels got back to looking like the No. 1 team in the country. With Paige scoring 20 points, UNC knocked off No. 2 Maryland 89-81 in Chapel Hill.

▪ In its history, North Carolina has won 29 games against teams ranked No. 2 or better. No other program has won more.

▪ Speaking of North Carolina, what if the football Heels upset Clemson in the ACC Championsip Game on Saturday night? Would a 12-1 UNC deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff? The fact North Carolina scheduled two FCS schools should work against the Heels.

▪ North Carolina nabbing Gene Chizik as its defensive coordinator this season might have been the best coaching hire in the country.

▪ After comparing Mark Stoops’ three-year record at UK (12-24) to his predecessor Joker Phillips’ three-year record (13-24), I received a message from a longtime Kentucky football fan saying he didn’t care as much about the records as he did watching his favorite team get outcoached.

▪ Patrick Towles’ transfer was not a surprise. It’s obvious Kentucky wants to give quarterback Drew Barker an extended try. Towles will be a graduate transfer next year. He can play right away. He gets a fresh start. And the former Highlands star was all class in his departure.

▪ Letting 5-7 teams go to bowl games goes against everything for which this country stands. Losing teams do not belong in bowl games.

▪ Florida scoring on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game would be Saturday’s biggest upset.

▪ Some coaches find a way to get their name inserted in coach search speculation every year. Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez is one of those coaches.

▪ The Sacramento Kings are 6-5 when DeMarcus Cousins starts and 1-7 when he doesn’t.