BY LARRY VAUGHT
It’s really hard to explain just what playing an exhibition game against Kentucky meant to Division III Centre College.
The team spent about an extra hour at its shoot around the day of the game just taking pictures. After losing by 43 points to UK, the team took more pictures on the Rupp Arena court long after the game ended.
Centre coach Greg Mason took his 6-month-old daughter, Lucy, to the postgame press conference with him. She also got in a pregame photo at midcourt with the national champion Kentucky cheerleaders and the Centre cheer squad.
The Colonels had fans — mainly alumni — sitting all through the arena and likely had the biggest contingent of opposing fans ever in Rupp Arena.
“We’re just thankful for Kentucky having us here, and what better way to play than in Rupp Arena? There’s a lot of history behind this arena and we’re really thankful to be able to play here,” Centre guard Tucker Sine, who played in Rupp Arena in the state tournament for Bowling Green, said.
“I can’t imagine a better memory than this,” Perry Ayers, another former Bowling Green High School player, said. “Twenty-years from now, we are going to be talking about this.”
Mason grew up a Kentucky fan. He was as excited as his players about being in Rupp Arena. He also liked what his players had to say about the Cats.
“One thing our guys talked about was how good of guys they were on the floor, and lot of times we don’t talk about that. No talking, they just played, good sportsmanship,” Mason said about the Cats.
Kentucky volleyball had its 14-match win streak ended last week when Florida swept the Wildcats in Memorial Coliseum to avenge an earlier loss to UK when the Gators were ranked No. 1.
“They did better overall. We should have made plays but we didn’t and we have to learn from it,” Kentucky sophomore Leah Edmond said. “There are some things we do well that we did not do as well as we should. I will give them credit. They played very well.”
A record 5, 329 fans came to support the UK volleyball team.
“The crowd was incredible. I have been here (living in Lexington) for six years and been to every volleyball game and I have never seen a crowd like that,” Edmond said. “I really appreciate it and hope they continue to come back out. Even though we didn’t get this win, I promise you there will be plenty more.”
Kentucky started another win streak with a 3-1 win over South Carolina Sunday when Edmond had a match-best 19 kills, a career-high five aces and 11 digs to notch her 14th career double-double.
“This team always has fight and is extremely competitive. We just fight. We are not going to give up just because we lost one match,” she said.
Can Kentucky bounce back from last week’s heartbreaking loss to Mississippi? The Cats lost in the final five seconds when they gave up a touchdown pass with a 34-30 lead. It wasted another stellar running game from Benny Snell — who now leads the Southeastern Conference with 897 yards.
Snell ran for 176 yards and three scores and became the first player in school history with at least five 100-yard rushing games in consecutive seasons. He also became the first UK player with three rushing touchdowns in back to back games since Moe Williams in 1995. He’s on track to become the first UK running back to have two straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Snell was seen crying as he met with his parents after the game. By the time he met with the media, he had regained his composure and said the loss was “not that crushing” but then said “losses are hard on us and on me especially.” He also vowed to do “even better” at Vanderbilt this Saturday.
“Benny did incredible. I’m so proud of him. I talked to him afterwards and told him to keep his head up because he puts his heart and soul into it. You can tell that this loss hit him the hardest even though he did so well,” Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson said.
Kentucky’s biggest issue again was a pass defense that ranks last in the SEC and continues to get torched for big plays. Even worse, coach Mark Stoops said after the game that he tried every scheme possible and nothing worked with the secondary. He even refused to take a penalty that would have taken Ole Miss out of field goal range early in the second half because he didn’t trust his defense not to give up a big play.
Now the question is whether UK can get a seventh win — which would trigger a one-year contract extension for Stoops through 2022 with a salary of $5 million that season for the coach — at Vanderbilt with no lingering doubts due to the Ole Miss loss.
“We can’t let it be. We have to get back to work. We have three big games left, and we’ve got to invest. It should hurt a lot if you invest a lot. It hurts,” Stoops said.