Big Blue Links for Friday:
Jennifer Smith of Herald-Leader: Every shot, every cut, every pass. Every minute of the game, South Carolina wanted to make Kentucky as uncomfortable as possible. The No. 18 Gamecocks succeeded and upended the fifth-ranked Cats 55-50 Thursday night, ending UK’s 17-game win streak. “They played much harder than we did,” Cats Coach Matthew Mitchell explained. “They played much more physical. Their desire was much stronger to win tonight. When that happens, then we get beat.”
Patrick Obley of The State: Kentucky breezed into Colonial Life Arena on Thursday with two 100-point performances, averaging more than 80 points per game and had but one loss on the season — to top-ranked Baylor. During their 17-game winning streak, the No. 5 Wildcats made their bones by breaking the backs of their opponents. Facing one of the most physical teams in the nation, USC women’s coach Dawn Staley knew the Wildcats were going to punch her Gamecocks in the mouth. “You have to hit first,” Staley said.
Chris Hays of Orlando Sentinel: Tallahassee Lincoln linebacker James Hearns’ decommitment from Florida on Thursday wasn’t exactly his idea. He said it was the Gators’ staff that decommitted from him as he was shoring up a couple of classes via Florida Virtual School in order to gain acceptance to UF. . . . Hearns, who visited Auburn last weekend and said he wasn’t sure if that had anything to do with UF’s decision, lists the Tigers as being among the teams he will be considering. The others are Kentucky, where he will visit this weekend, Houston and Louisville.
Matthew Harris of The Advocate: Johnny O’Bryant III’s teeth kept chomping on a piece of gum, and a wry grin stretched across his face when asked for his thoughts on venturing into Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. The sophomore chuckled, perhaps revealing as much about his state of mind as LSU’s reward for its first Southeastern Conference victory: a visit to the Wildcats, who until a November loss to Baylor had built a 54-game home winning streak under coach John Calipari. “It’s something I definitely want to experience,” O’Bryant said. “You’ve just got to stay even-keeled and be ready to play a good ballgame.”
John Calipari of CoachCal.com: Over the years, we have always taken great pride in getting guys to accept roles, to play for their teammates and to play to win versus playing not to lose. Our teams have always played tough both mentally and physically. This team is doing none of that right now, but that comes back to me. They are going to give you what you demand. If you demand a lot, you will get a lot. If you accept mediocrity, you will get it every single time. That’s what I must be accepting right now. Either we’re not training the right way or I’m not communicating the way I need to communicate. People will say, “Well, they’re a young team.” I’ve had young teams before and they have performed.
Jerry Tipton of Herald-Leader: In Wednesday night’s victory over Texas A&M, LSU point guard Anthony Hickey made eight steals. That equaled the fourth most in a game ever by a Southeastern Conference player. Or close enough to business as usual for the 2011 Kentucky Mr. Basketball. Going into Saturday’s game at Kentucky, he leads the nation in steals (3.9 per game, on average). When asked Thursday what it meant to him to lead the nation in steals (UK’s Nerlens Noel is tied for 10th), Hickey said, “I love that I’m doing that, right now. But, there’s a lot more I’m looking forward to doing.”
Guy Ramsey of Cat Scratches: Six different former Wildcats who just finished up their Kentucky football careers have been tabbed to participate in national all-star games as they pursue professional careers, but one in particular is getting quite a bit of attention. Offensive guard Larry Warford will play in the Senior Bowl – the premier pre-draft event – in Mobile, Ala., which the NFL Network will air live at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. Scouts will be watching the game closely, but have been watching practices this week even more intently as the nation’s best seniors go head-to-head.
Ben Cohen of Wall Street Journal: The prevailing wisdom before this men’s college basketball season was that Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari had figured out a way to beat the game. The Wildcats went 38-2 last season and won the national title, only to reload with another class of freakishly precocious freshmen to whom Lexington is merely a pit stop before packing off to the NBA. Then the season started. More than halfway through this year’s college basketball campaign, those of us who predicted back-to-back titles for the Wildcats don’t have egg on our faces so much as Western omelets with a side of hash browns and bacon.