Positively Presidential

Kentucky’s 40-34 victory over Missouri was resoundingly memorable—but probably not in the way you’re thinking. Sure, Stephen Johnson was solid as usual, passing for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns. Benny Snell Jr. was also decent, rushing for 117 yards and two scores, including a career-long 71-yard jaunt in the second quarter. Unfortunately, the Wildcat secondary went MIA all evening, allowing the Tigers a whopping 568 total yards on several humongous passing plays. Despite all the drama, the Cats go to 5-1 on the year heading into their bye week, with a colossal matchup against Mississippi State in Starkville looming on the imminent horizon.

As is so often the case, the personal significance of a particular ballgame lies not so much in the final result, but in the experiences surrounding the people attending. For this game, I was fortunate enough to witness some of the action from the presidential suite of Dr. Eli Capilouto. The UK president had invited my ninety-year-old father and his grandson as personal guests—with my brother, sister-in-law, and I drafting behind as tag-a-long visitors. You see, my dad personifies benevolence on a grand scale. His generous donations creating a series of endowed university scholarships have earned him this special invitation.

I’ve rarely been in a stadium suite, much less the presidential luxury suite. I generally don’t get to mingle with rich people and I’m never comfortable hobnobbing with the academic and political elite, but seeing my dad and his grandson in the presence of royalty–enjoying a Kentucky football homecoming win amongst such lavish surroundings–brought a tear or two even to these calloused eyes. Because even though he’s essentially giving away my inheritance through his altruism, I don’t really care. Seeing him honored in such a personal way, evoked a sense of internal pride I never knew existed.

My father, “Pete” Huang, is a first-generation Chinese immigrant embodying the American dream. In 1967, this amazing man moved his family to Lexington, joined the Civil Engineering faculty, and started a life-long love affair with the University of Kentucky that extends to this day. In addition to instilling in me the importance of a solid education, he also introduced me to a passion for sports—specifically UK basketball and football. Although we never had regular access to tickets, we rarely missed any games—faithfully listening to Cawood’s radio broadcasts while sitting at the kitchen table balancing algebraic equations and factoring polynomials.

Not only did all three of the Huang children obtain UK undergraduate degrees, we all received graduate diplomas and professional doctorates from Big Blue U. You might say we’re entirely inbred. As a result, the UK Colleges of Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Medicine churned out three die-hard Wildcat fans that will forever bleed blue. If you added up the number of years that Pete and his children were affiliated with UK as students and faculty, the cumulative total comes out to an amazing 81 years.

Having already poured out his heart and soul in a lifetime of service to the University, Pete wanted to continue giving in a tangible way. Through these Huang Family Endowed Scholarships, he’s hoping that future deserving students will continue to benefit from some of the same educational opportunities that he provided for us. John Wesley, the Christian theologian credited with leading the Methodist movement, once said, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” My dad, in his lifetime, has certainly taken those simple and direct words to heart.

Early in the game, as Stephen Johnson connected with Blake Bone for a touchdown that put the Cats up 7-0, I glanced surreptitiously over at my dad. He seemed as though he was lost in his thoughts, perhaps reliving the life events that brought him to the incongruity of this particular moment. I found myself doing the same—wondering how first-generation father-and-son immigrants, born of such modest means a world away, could somehow end up in the Presidential Suite together, cheering so passionately for the Blue and White.

In this day and age, when arguments abound of whether student athletes should be paid, it’s validating to see that many still deem the establishment of university scholarships as worthy endeavors. Two of the biggest influences in my lifetime have been my parents and the University of Kentucky. When the two team up in such a magnanimous way, the results become positively presidential.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist and a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at Huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

 

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Why I Like Mark Stoops

Football is a rigorous and carnal sport, so I like my head football coaches fiery and passionate. When the chips are down, I want a leader who’s pacing the sideline, red-faced and emotional, motivating players, yelling at assistants, and arguing with refs. Show me someone calm and collected, reticent and reserved, tight lipped and poker faced, and I’ll show you a coach who looks as if he doesn’t give a damn. Give me Woody Hayes over Jim Tressel any day of the week. I’ll take an animated Pete Carroll over a stoic Bill Belichick just for the difference in energy level alone. Marvin Lewis in this day and age? No thanks! Enthusiasm, spirit, and zeal are what counts in my book.

For this reason, I like Mark Stoops. The fifth-year UK head football coach has always worn his emotions on his sleeve while pacing the sidelines of both Commonwealth Stadium and Kroger Field. He’s been known to give the officials an earful when he thinks his team’s been shafted. I’ve seen him toss a few headphones as the clock winds down and his team fails to execute. In the closing seconds of the Georgia loss last year, I thought seriously that he’d blow a gasket. When he stormed onto the field, shouting at the opposing sidelines during the bowl game against Georgia Tech, I fully expected fisticuffs to follow.

The fraternity of recent Wildcat football coaches hasn’t really been rife with outwardly demonstrative characters. Joker Phillips often appeared comatose on the sidelines and unfortunately his team usually reflected his demeanor. I don’t remember Guy Morriss being much more animated either. Bill Curry was just one notch above the walking dead while Hal Mumme was more flakey than exuberant. Rich Brooks and Jerry Claiborne would occasionally let loose, but in a grandfatherly kind of way. Fran Curci reminded me of a mafia don—too cool to mess with on the field of play.

One of the biggest knocks against the current UK head coach is his lack of sideline management during urgent situations. Immediately after the heart-wrenching defeat against Florida last week, Stoops took a boatload of criticism for the eye-popping mistakes that cost his team the game. Even for someone like me, who has never coached a game outside of my Fantasy football league, those boo-boos were inexcusable. Give the guy credit, though, he owned up to them immediately. “There’s things that we all can do better, starting with myself,” Stoops said during his weekly press conference Monday. “That (loss) hurt (and) that we have to take responsibility for, that we have to do better (and) it starts with me.”

The interesting thing is that as temperamental as Stoops appears on the sidelines, he’s completely different when he’s away from the football field. I’ve seen him at charity events and social functions and he’s as relaxed as my newly permed hair. You won’t see him stomping around the neighborhood kicking yard signs and scaring toddlers. When he’s around friends and family, he appears to be just another normal dude. Heck, I’ve even seen him shooting hoops with his sons and cuddling his puppy.

So when it came time for me to ask him directly about how his emotions play into his coaching style, here’s what he said. “It’s an emotional game,” he acknowledged. “That’s for sure. But there’s also a lot of poise that it takes to execute in this game. Our players are the same way. I want them to have great emotion, but they have to play with discipline. As a coach there’s always that fine line that you have to go with your gut instincts on what those players need at that moment. That’s the way I’ve always been and probably how I’ll always be. But, certainly, you have to have the poise and the execution. That’s what’s most important.”

Take some poise, execution, and discipline, and mix in a heaping helping of passion, emotion, and fire—and you’ve got the ingredients for a winning football coach. Now toss in a generous serving of humility and a big dose of accountability just for good measure. That’s Mark Stoops, and that’s why I like him.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

Beach Bowl Prediction

Hattiesburg, Mississippi, lies a scant 77 miles from the serene blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to covering Kentucky’s road opener, my plans were to spend a few sun-splashed days on the Biloxi beaches preparing my perilous prognostication for the upcoming Wildcat season. Perhaps some glorious sunrises, an abundance of succulent seafood, and a few well-timed luscious libations could conjure up an idyllic vision of how this UK football season will eventually materialize.

Remember, this isn’t your father’s long-suffering Kentucky football team—where dreams of a successful campaign lie in the smoldering ashes of a season opening upset loss to an inferior opponent. Sure, it’s on the road and it’ll be a thousand degrees on the field, but the Wildcats will somehow squeak out a win over Southern Miss in another Shannon Dawson revenge classic.

Kentucky returns home the following week to celebrate the baptism of Kroger Field with an easy victory over EKU. Too many X’s and O’s combined with too many Jimmys and Joes will send the Colonels back to Richmond in an awkward looking blowout.

Cosmic Karma strikes the Cats as South Carolina breaks a three-game losing streak and upsets Kentucky in a blackout thriller in Columbia. The “Jake Bentley for Heisman” campaign begins here as the Gamecock’s star quarterback goes ballistic against a beleaguered Kentucky defense.

One week later, it’s Cosmic Karma again, but this time in a good way as Kentucky finally breaks the three-decade old losing streak against the Florida Gators. After all, no one beats my alma mater 31 years in a row! It’s a signature win for Coach Mark Stoops, setting the stage for a colossal six-game winning streak as the Cats roll over the likes of Eastern Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt in the upcoming weeks. An emphatic win over the Vols will send Butch Jones’ hot seat past the proverbial boiling point as the Wildcats sizzle their way up the top 25.

A date against the powerful Georgia Bulldogs between the hedges in Sanford Stadium will cool things off a bit. Georgia prevails, knocking Kentucky out of first place in the SEC eastern division and silencing any talk by the Wildcat faithful for a return trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.

In a bit of a hangover from the disappointing Georgia setback, Kentucky falls the following week to their bitter in-state rivals. Louisville takes the Governor’s Cup as the Wildcats finish their regular season with two crushing defeats.

If my calculations are correct, that still means nine wins and three losses—good enough for a New Year’s Day Bowl game somewhere close to the beach. As I’m sitting here with the sun on my face and my toes in the sand, I’m definitely feeling it. Surf’s up. You heard it here first!

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. He can be reached at www.Huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

 

 

Kroger University

Those of you old enough to remember the “Let’s Go Krogering” jingle know that the Cincinnati based grocery chain giant has never shied away from hokey marketing promotions. None of us should have been surprised, then, when we heard of Kroger’s latest takeover of the hallowed grounds of our beloved football venue. Out with Commonwealth Stadium and in with Kroger Field. For a mere $1.85 million per year, Kroger bought not only the naming rights, but a direct path to the mind, hearts, and wallets of the Big Blue Wildcat faithful.

As a former business owner and passionate Kentucky fan, I know a thing or two about marketing gimmicks aimed at an adoring sports-loving public. Not that they asked me, but if I were the Kroger University president, here’s what I would propose for my newly minted Kroger Field.

To begin with, I would automate, automate, and automate. Who needs real-live humans at checkout counters when you can slip in a few more robotic self-checkout scanners. I’m thinking huge, here. Let’s get rid of all the blue coated ushers and replace them with holograms of former UK football stars. Imagine Babe Parilli, Tim Couch, or Randall Cobb scanning your tickets, directing you to your seats, or escorting you to the bathrooms for a much-needed potty break.

Speaking of ticket scanning, I would eliminate that aspect altogether by uploading everything onto your Kroger Plus card. For all you forward thinkers, how about an implanted micro-chip? Forgot your ticket? No worries–Just wave your wrist as you walk by the Kroger Cat altar and you’re good to go. Don’t worry either about Big Brother tracking your every move. As a loyal Kroger plus card member, we already know everything about your secret chocolate addiction, toilet paper preference, and underwear size.

We’ll market directly to the average fan by giving them an out-of-this-world gameday experience. No more locally sourced Kentucky Proud concession items, no more overpriced stadium hot dogs, and no more Papa in the house. From now on, all Kroger brand items 10 for $10. Bring on the low-grade sushi and twice fried chicken. Everyone and their brother loves cheap eats while tailgating! All the while, we’ll slam your cellphones with email spam, bogus digital downloads, and self-serving company ads.

Of course, we won’t forget the Kroger bobbleheads, Kroger fireworks, and the Kroger Kiss Cam. Did you know that Kroger now also proudly sells garments from sweatshops located throughout the world? Be sure to pick up a knockoff jersey just outside of Gate 12. Or better yet, head on over to Gate 14 for a two-for-one flu shot. Whether it’s a Redbox movie kiosk after the game, flowers for the Mrs. from our garden center, a Starbucks Espresso Macchiato, or that extra special Best Buy gift card, Kroger Field will have it all for you. Best of all we’ll even provide workable Wi-Fi, so just “click list” your item and it’ll be ready for pickup before Mitch Barnhart wipes off the wet bleachers.

Let’s not stop at the football fanbase. Now that we’ve got our foot in the door, we’ll just help ourselves to all of the university’s existing client base. Hey UK students, forget the local vendors. Come on over to Kroger for all your partying needs. If you’re a UK patient, switch on over to our pharmacy services. Kroger Pharmacy beats out UK Healthcare any day of the week. The university won’t mind. After all, Mitch and Eli personally signed off on this one. Whether Kroger Field or Kroger University, who really cares? A winning football team by any other name would smell just as sleek. Bring on the Kroger scholarships. I can’t wait for the Kroger All American team to be released. The Kroger Bowl is long overdue. The excitement all starts this season at Kroger Field. See you there for the takeover!

John Huang is not really the president of Kroger, although he is a loyal Plus Card holder. You can enjoy his writing at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

SEC Tournament Frenzy

For any True-Blue Wildcat basketball fan, a trip to the SEC basketball tournament has become an annual rite of passage. This yearly trek down to Nashville always provides a brazen opportunity to show your unwavering support for the team—a chance to take out a second mortgage, stash the family in the back of the minivan, board your pet, and spend the next four days in a big blue stupor cheering the Cats on to another championship trophy.

The first day and a half of the tournament consists entirely of SEC cellar dwellers and also-rans. The six games in the first two rounds are usually played in front of a sparse faceless crowd composed mainly of friends and family members of the participating teams hoping for a merciful end to the season. This year there seem to be a few more random fans in the stands. For wide-eyed, die-hards like me who arrived early, it’s like a fledgling warm up act before the main event, with the muted conversations and occasional cheers like hollow echoes bouncing off the cavernous walls of a half-empty Bridgestone Arena.

This year’s opening night preliminaries featured a swan song for Johnny Jones of LSU and a near swan song for Kim Anderson of Missouri until a dramatic overtime buzzer beater provided him a last-minute reprieve. His Cinderella run lasted one more round until the fat lady finally sang against Ole Miss. These early preludes provided the perfect acclimatization process for the big blue mist gradually blowing into town, totally engulfing the streets of downtown Nashville prior to UK’s tip-off on Friday. The beautiful weather early on and festive activities amidst the honky-tonks on Broadway only served to enhance a totally epic Nashville experience.

Of course the goal every year is to win it all, but I always felt that in order to make the entire trip worthwhile, the Cats needed to–at the very minimum–advance to the final game. Prior to this year, in John Calipari’s eight seasons as UK’s head coach, Kentucky has made it to that final game in all except that forgettable NIT year. For those who have forgotten, Vanderbilt knocked out an undermanned UK team that season in the very first round. I was so disgusted, I left before the final horn sounded and was back in Lexington even before all the post-game festivities had ended. An early Wildcat loss also left the many Music City merchants somewhat destitute, as the hordes of disappointed UK fans and all their discretionary dollars suddenly evaporated out of town.

Fortunately, that doomsday scenario was not repeated this year as Kentucky shook off their slow starts and took to the floor like a team peaking at just the right time. Even with the early noon tip-off, Friday’s 71-60 quarterfinal victory over Georgia did not disappoint as the Wildcats turned in one of their strongest defensive efforts of the year, holding the Bulldogs to 33% shooting from the field. It didn’t hurt that a frenzied Wildcat nation predictably inundated the arena with their “Go Big Blue” chants. There’s simply no comparison to the grand spectacle of Kentucky fans showing their love at the annual reunion celebration disguised as the conference tournament. I had to pinch myself a couple of times as I took in all the pageantry from my courtside perch directly behind the likes of Dickie V.

On Saturday, as unexpectedly as the freshly fallen snow outside, Kentucky reverted again to a lethargic launch out of the gate by falling behind early by ten points before rallying back to defeat a very physical and energized Alabama squad 79-74. Led by De’Aaron Fox’s career-high 28 points, the Cats survived an aggressive and gutty Crimson Tide effort in the “grind-it-out” contest. Meanwhile, the Arkansas Razorbacks quietly emerged out of the other side of the bracket, setting the dramatic stage for another high-stakes duel on Sunday.

Coaches John Calipari and Mike Anderson don’t have the most cordial of professional relationships, so the 82-65 win over his conference rival had to be extra gratifying for the Kentucky head coach. “I got really good players who are really good kids who are willing to share,” he said. “They say there are other teams more talented, I’ll take mine.” Bam Adebayo and Malik Monk led the Cats in scoring with 17 points apiece, but it was the spirited play of Dominique Hawkins in the first half that propelled UK to a 42-30 halftime lead and made all of us “Kentucky Proud.” Dom was named to the All-Tournament Team together with Bam and Tournament MVP De’Aaron Fox. With smiles all around, the Wildcats returned to Lexington once again as champions of a conference they have dominated for decades.

I also left Nashville for the drive back home a happy man. Any time Kentucky wins, it’s always a great experience in my mind. Despite a flooded hotel room, some bad tournament food, and five days of sleep deprivation, Wildcat victories are a soothing salve for whatever else ails you. I’ve said many times before that the mood and outlook of BBN depends entirely on the fortunes of our beloved basketball team–especially in March. They call it March Madness this time of the year for a reason. It’s time to put the finishing touches on the Calipari reboot and to fine tune all the subtle tweaks. As much as these SEC tournaments are fun for the fans, the real hunt for happiness begins now.

This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Rocked, Chalked, JayHawked!

I’m not a big fan of the Kansas Jayhawks. Their coach, Bill Self, seems like a decent enough chap, but his teams are known primarily for losing big time NCAA tournament games. In their past twelve tournament appearances under Self, the heavily favored Jayhawks have lost to the likes of mid-major schools such as Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa, VCU, and Wichita State. I know they’ve also won their share of big games, but even when Kansas made the finals in 2012, they were kind enough to hand Anthony Davis and company the championship trophy. Generally speaking, Jayhawk players spend their entire college careers trapped in desolate wheat fields through the dead of winter with only nightmarish upset memories haunting them upon graduation. Given all that, I should feel sorry for the Kansas Jayhawks—and yet I can’t stand them. I want them to lose every game.

OK I’ll admit–maybe it’s just competitive jealousy on my part–but I don’t like Kansas Basketball for all the following reasons. 1) Although lagging behind in National Championships (8 to 3), Kansas remains hot on the heels of Kentucky for total NCAA victories (2,222 to 2,204). I certainly don’t want them to catch up. 2) They compete annually with UK for some of the game’s biggest recruits. Andrew Wiggins, Xavier Henry, and Cheick Diallo at one time inexplicably all chose Kansas over Kentucky. 3) Their program tradition and coaching pedigree is as good as you’ll find anywhere. James Naismith, Phog Allen, Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, and Larry Brown all have ties to the Jayhawk program. 4) Rupp Arena may occasionally rock, but historic Allen Fieldhouse remains arguably the best venue in all of college basketball. “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk” and “Beware of the Phog” are iconic chants that resonate resoundingly from the unmatched hallowed halls. 5) If that weren’t enough reason to dislike Kansas, I’ll never forget the time in 1989 when the Jayhawks ran up the score in a 55-point whooping of our beloved Pitino’s Bombinos. 6) And finally, adding insult to injury, remember that KU also edged out UK last year in overtime.

Over 24,000 wild “Cat” fans appeared in force on Saturday evening, together with a national television audience, the ESPN GameDay crew, and a plethora of NBA scouts to watch Kansas dismantle Kentucky 79-73. Rupp Arena can sometimes be as quiet as a Methodist church service, but once a year, it rises dramatically from the grave, taking a life of its own as it swallows the visiting team in tidal wave of Guinness Book of World Record crowd noise. This was the case on Saturday but Kansas refused to buckle.

Behind Michael Buffer’s “Let’s Get Ready to Round-Baaaall” introductions, Malik Monk’s acrobatic baskets, and Derek Willis’ three-point shooting, Kentucky came out of the gate quickly, pulling out to a 12-point first-half lead before Kansas chipped away to close within 32-27 at halftime. The second half was all Jayhawks, though, as Kansas went on an 11-0 run and Kentucky reverted back to the undisciplined, defenseless team Coach Cal has been railing about.

There’s no cheering on press row, but at the point in the game when Josh Jackson missed two chicken biscuit free-throws and Isaiah Briscoe hit a three, I literally rocketed out of my seat. It was goose bump city in Rupp, a shot of unexpected adrenaline and emotion coursing through your Big Blue veins—like whenever Randall Cobb scores a touchdown or Marlana VanHoose sings the anthem. Unfortunately, the elation was short-lived. Frank Mason’s 21 points and Josh Jackson’s 20 points and 10 rebounds steadied the Jayhawks and sealed UK’s fate.

This was a big loss for several reasons. Kentucky’s regular season slog through the SEC provides few remaining opportunities to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee. A victory over the Jayhawks would have gone a long way towards contending again for that coveted #1 seed and a possible first round date in Indianapolis. A win over a top ranked team would have also provided for a shot of much needed confidence to a young team still looking to hit its championship stride down the stretch. Most importantly, it would have been just a great feeling to be able to kick the living daylights out of your perennial nemesis. For one horrific evening at least, I’m absolutely devastated. For a die-hard Wildcat fan, a loss to the Jayhawks sends me in search of the nearest serotonin cocktail.

Maybe we’ll see KU again in the tournament. But maybe we won’t. Kansas being Kansas means they’ll probably choke beforehand. As for UK, just hang on. Time to reset. Coach Cal likened coaching this team to landing an airplane before you run out of runway. “We got out-toughed, and we didn’t guard the way we need to guard, which is all curable,” he said. It’s the end of January. The end of the runway is in sight. It’s time to start landing the plane.

This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

 

Crushed by Orange

In 2017, a Tuesday night in January usually means another SEC road trip for the Basketball Wildcats. I’m tagging along as usual, negotiating the perils of Jellico Mountain to bring you all the action from Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, as the Cats take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Less than 12 months ago in this same building, UK pulled a Jekyll and Hyde–jumping out to a 21-point first-half lead and then watching helplessly—as their Big Orange rivals staged a comeback for the ages. My hopes are for a different outcome this time around but all Cat fans know that a date with the Vols is frequently wrought with uncharacteristic surprises.

Thompson-Boling Arena sits like a massive octagonal mausoleum overlooking the Tennessee River. Built in 1987, and named for the late business magnate B. Ray Thompson and former UT President Dr. Edward J. Boling, the impressive venue initially seated over 24,000 patrons. UK fans insist to this day that the last couple of thousand seats were added solely because of Rupp Arena envy. Unfortunately for UT, bigger wasn’t necessarily better, as the fans never showed up for Men’s Basketball. If not for the success of Pat Summitt and her Lady Vols, Thompson-Boling would have become the whitest of elephants within its first few years of existence.

Objectively speaking, it’s really not a bad place to watch a SEC basketball game (Although one could argue this year that there are no good SEC basketball games being played anywhere). The sight lines are clear and chair back seating extends up through the nose bleed sections. The luxury suites are located well above the game action, allowing the orange haired big donors to drown their football sorrows out of ear shot of the raucous fans below. The court-side student section seats include party couches, further generating a frenzied fraternity type atmosphere within the basketball venue itself. The set-up for media is sweet—a nice barbecue buffet, fact sheets at your fingertips, and a fantastic viewing position courtside.

The venue becomes even more enjoyable whenever Kentucky plays well enough to win. Remember Jodie Meeks and his record setting 54-point performance? That was here. On this particular evening, however, there was no Jodie Meeks and unfortunately no win either. Tennessee limited the Wildcats to two fast break points in the first half and took advantage of a poor UK defensive effort to pull out an 82-80 win.

Behind Bam Adebayo’s 21 points and Isaiah Briscoe’s career-high 14 rebounds, the Wildcats almost overcame an improbable double digit second half deficit. Trailing by two points with 3 minutes left in the game, Kentucky just couldn’t come up with the crucial defensive stops it needed, sending most of the 19,349 fans (not a sell-out, mind you) into a state of pandemonium. You knew there would be nights like this on the road— a young team, shots not falling, hostile crowd, Rocky Top blaring, and Bernard King in the house. Hopefully there’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in all that adversity.

In his post-game press conference, Coach John Calipari seemed exasperated, hinting that the team just isn’t getting it. “You do what’s right for the team, not necessarily what’s right for you as an individual player,” he said. “I am not getting through to some guys. I told them after, they will continue to lose. I have done this 30 years. You cannot do this stuff that they are doing and win basketball games.”

I left Thompson-Boling for the middle of the night drive back to Lexington with a burdened heart. One laid egg shouldn’t stink up your whole season, but there’s something still horribly missing from this Wildcat team. Maybe it’s defensive intensity, maybe it’s perimeter shooting, maybe it’s leadership–maybe it’s not doing what the coach tells them to do– Kentucky should be better than this. They have all the parts necessary for a championship run. They’re just not meshing together quite yet in the Calipari symphony we have come to expect.

Cal’s “buzzwords” for the team this year have been “trust, discipline, and empowerment.” When I asked him a couple of games earlier if any of these areas are cause for ultimate concern, he shook his head adamantly. If he wasn’t worried then, he certainly has to be after this lackluster performance tonight. We’re almost half way through the conference schedule. It’s definitely not November anymore and some difficult games are yet to come. With every loss, a chance at a #1 tournament seed is slipping away. I’m not panicking yet and neither should you. Let’s all see what happens in the next couple of weeks.

This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.