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Sports Notes: Most eyes are on Indy this weekend, but some are looking ahead, too

Kentucky survived a scare from Notre Dame to advance to the Final Four, where Wisconsin awaits for a rematch of last year's semifinal contest (UK Athletics Photo / Chet White)

Kentucky survived a scare from Notre Dame to advance to the Final Four, where Wisconsin awaits for a rematch of last year’s semifinal contest (UK Athletics Photo / Chet White)


As the eyes of Big Blue Nation (and the rest of the basketball-watching country) turn toward Indianapolis to see whether top-ranked Kentucky can close the deal, some eyes are being trained on next year’s team.

Reports last week indicated that guard Tyler Ulis is trying to persuade big man Dakari Johnson to return for his junior year and give the team “some pressence” down low. And there’s a chance the 7-footer from Brooklyn might just do that. Here’s why:

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His play has been a bit inconsistent this year and he could benefit from another year in college to improve his offensive game. That approach has certainly worked for Willie Cauley-Stein.

With Cauley-Stein and fellow interior players Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles expected to enter the NBA draft after this weekend’s Final Four, there should be ample playing time available, even with the prized recruiting class arriving on campus next fall. Johnson and junior-to-be Marcus Lee would give UK a solid and experienced front line.

Johnson was on the floor for just eight minutes in Kentucky’s record-tying 68-66 win over Notre Dame. Although he blocked three shots, he didn’t have a shot from the field, missed both of his free throws and grabbed just two rebounds.

He was much better in the win over West Virginia, with 12 points and six boards, before fouling out after 24 minutes. But that followed another eight-minute effort against Cincinnati that resulted in just three points and three rebounds.

Against Hampton? Seven points, two rebounds in 12 minutes on the floor.

Johnson would likely be drafted by some NBA team should he decide to declare, but another season in Lexington could only increase his stock. And give Ulis a big target to throw to under the basket.

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What about the rest of the Wildcats’ plans for next year? We predicted who will stay and who will go a few weeks ago and on the draft list along with Cauley-Stein, Towns and Lyles were the Harrison twins and Devin Booker. They seem certain to go after this year, no matter what happens in Indy. Some say Towns has progressed so much that he’ll be the top pick.

Johnson should stay another year. What about the injured forward Alex Poythress? How highly would Kentucky be ranked in preseason polls next year should he decide he would improve his NBA stock by coming back and proving his knee is sound? Almost forgotten during the pursuit of perfection that early in the year, Poythress was Kentucky’s best player.

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At 38-0, Kentucky stands two wins short of achieving its goal of becoming college basketball’s first 40-game winner and cutting down the nets for a ninth national championship. The Wildcats are making their fourth Final Four appearance in five years and are looking for their second title.

Only two other teams, Memphis and Kentucky in 2012, have won as many as 38 games in a year, a mark that would be eclipsed with a win over Wisconsin Saturday night. All three of the previous 38-game winners were coached by John Calipari.

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It was also a successful weekend for the Kentucky baseball and softball teams. Both played LSU, and both Tiger programs were ranked No. 1 in the country heading into play.

Playing at home, coach Rachel Lawson’s softball team captured the first two games in the series before losing the third game 2-0 on Sunday. The baseball team split the first two games on the road, but managed a late rally to win the rubber game behind some late home runs, taking a 12-10 11-inning victory.

The softball team (23-9) will travel to Louisville for its next game on Wednesday while the baseball squad (18-10) hosts Indiana Tuesday before welcoming Texas A&M for a weekend series at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

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Western Kentucky will have a pair of former standouts inducted into the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame on July 11 in Elizabethtown.

Bobby Rascoe, who lettered at WKU from 1960-62 and scored 1,687 points in his career, is going in along with Lillie Mason, the women’s program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,262 points.

Rascoe led Daviess County High School to the state tournament in 1957 and 1958, and he had 103 points in the 1958 Sweet Sixteen while suiting up from 1954-58. Mason averaged 34 points and 15 rebounds as a high school senior and she had more than 2,500 career points at Olmstead High School from 1977-81. She was named Miss Basketball as a senior in 1981.

Mason was a three-time All-American, including becoming WKU’s first Kodak All-American honoree in 1986. She led WKU to a 94-32 record in her career and two Final Four appearances.

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Jeff Neubauer is one of 16 finalists for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award, given annually to a coach that exemplifies high moral integrity off the court and success on it. If he wins on April 3, it won’t be as coach of the Eastern Kentucky men’s basketball team.

The Colonels were the preseason choice to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference’s Eastern Division. Instead, he guided them to the division title and overall No. 2 seed behind Murray State.

That drew the attention of Fordham University, which lured Neubauer out of Richmond. The 44-year-old coach has been at EKU since 2005, taking the Colonels to a pair of NCAA tournaments. He came to Eastern after serving as an assistant at West Virginia.

Some local names that could draw interest from new EKU athletics director Steve Lochmueller? How about former WKU coach Darrin Horn or Kentucky Wesleyan’s Happy Osborne? Would a pair of Division III coaches like Centre’s Greg Mason or Transylvania’s Brian Lane be possibilities? Maybe Bellarmine’s Scotty Davenport, who took the Knights to the NCAA Division II title in 2011 and to the Final Four this year.

Or would Lochmueller, a former UK letterman, go the route Morehead took and try for someone who played for the Cats like Sean Woods?

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