Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Backwoods Swami in the sticks. I hope you and yours are having a wonderful Holiday season, and if you aren’t I hope things change for you very soon.
With the coming of the Holidays, that usually means that the Kentucky Wildcats are wrapping up their football season and the men’s and women’s basketball teams are picking up steam toward the start of conference play in January.
To say that the news coming out of Lexington is totally unpredictable and a bit crazy right now is, well, so 2020.
Let’s take a look at the headlines, shall we?
Cats hire a new offensive coordinator in Liam Coen- The Cats and coach Mark Stoops have moved on from the Eddie Gran/Darin Hinshaw era by hiring the Los Angeles Rams assistant quarterbacks coach to revamp the Cats offense, specifically the passing game. Look for the Cats to go under center more and utilize the play-action game to get the ball out to their receivers and tight ends while still running the ball in inside and outside zone run concepts.
Sounds like fun.
They also hired a new offensive line coach- Stoops also replaced beloved late line coach John Schlarman with Eric Wolford from South Carolina. Wolford has 25 years of experience as a line coach and will be tasked with continuing the run of excellence on the line in Lexington. Known as a fine recruiter, in Wolford’s first day on the job he offered a scholarship to a five-star lineman.
We’ll take it.
The Cats will play NC State in the Gator Bowl- UK will face the 23rd ranked Wolfpack on January 2nd in Jacksonville. This is the fifth-consecutive bowl appearance for the Cats under coach Stoops, tying a school record. The Cats, despite being 4-6, open as a three-point favorite over the Pack (8-3.) But UK has played a ten-game SEC-only schedule and four opponents ranked inside the top 10 when they played, so the Cats deserve that respect.
National Signing Day was productive- The Cats signing 18 players (seven from Kentucky.) The Cats addressed needs at the receiver position and building depth in the offensive line and on defense. Some names to remember include receivers Christian Lewis, Devontae Ross, and Dekel Crowdus. All three could play big minutes next season in Coen’s system. They also added Georgia Tech transfer linebacker Justice Dingle and his brother and tight end Jordan. Justice could be a day one starter at outside linebacker for UK.
Now, let’s discuss UK men’s basketball and its current situation.
The Cats drop to 1-5 with a loss to Carolina- After playing really well in the first half, the Cats imploded in the second half and lost to the Tar Heels 75-63 in the CBS Sports Classic. The loss was complete with coach John Calipari losing it on Terrence Clarke, forward Cam’Ron Fletcher losing it and leaving the bench during the game, and the team sending Keion Brooks Jr. out for media interviews, despite not playing in the game due to injury, because the others didn’t want to speak to the media.
It’s a mess in Lexington.
The Cats are on a historical trend right now, and it isn’t good- With the loss, UK is now 1-5 on the season, its worse start since 1926-27 and the first time it has lost five straight games since 1989-90 season that finished 13-19 and began probation for the Cats in 1990-91.
It doesn’t get any easier for Big Blue- Up next for the Cats is arch-rival Louisville, who would love nothing better than to add to the current misery. The Dream Game revisited will tip Saturday at noon in Louisville.
However, let’s take a glance at one of the hottest teams in the country, the Kentucky Wildcats women’s team.
The Women though are smoking hot right now- The Wildcats are rolling along at 7-1 and ranked number nine in the country. The only blemish on their record is a 86-82 overtime loss to 24 DePaul on the road. The Cats are getting production up and down the lineup with guards, Chastity Patterson, Rhyne Howard, Robyn Benton, and Blair Green, forwards Dre’una Edwards and KeKe McKinney, as well as center Olivia Owens.
Coach Kyra Elzy was promoted to full-time head coach- After taking over the program after coach Matthew Mitchell’s sudden retirement, Elzy has steeped in and the team hasn’t missed a beat, prompting the athletic director Mitch Barnhart to make Elzy the permanent head coach for the Cats.
It’s very well-deserved.
The schedule does get harder for the Cats- After taking care of business in their non-conference slate, the Cats now begin their march through the SEC with their next three opponents being 12 Arkansas, at Tennessee, at 10 Texas A&M, and 5 South Carolina. We will get a gauge on the team for sure.
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports columnist from Speedwell, Tenn. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, local media outlets The Corbin Times-Tribune and London Sentinel-Echo, and online at A Sea of Blue, KySportsStyle.com Magazine, HarlanCountySports.com, and at Wildcat Sports Talk among others.