Friday, January 30, 2009

Veritek & Sox Agree

Jason Varitek and the Red Sox have agreed to a one-year deal with an option for a second season, a baseball source told the Globe

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whippin’ Wildcats: Rebels hang on to upset No. 24 Kentucky at home

You can’t stop Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, you can only hope to contain him.

If the Rebels wanted a chance to defeat the No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats they were going to have to do just that, contain the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer.

Tuesday the Rebels (11-9 overall, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) did just that in their 85-80 upset victory over No. 24 Kentucky (16-5, 5-1) at C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum.

Entering the game, Kentucky’s junior had been averaging 26.1 points per game and had only been held to 22 points or less in a game eight times.

Thanks to a slew of defensive strategies and pressure defense, Meeks was just 4-for-15 from the field for 21 points (six points came in the waning moments of the game with Ole Miss’ reserves on the court).

The man in charge of defending Meeks, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy’s pick for National Player of the Year, was sophomore Zach Graham.

“I thought (Graham) was tremendous. The game plan was we were really going to team-defend and he was going to chase (Jodie) Meeks. We were going to try to sag. We weren’t going to chase the other bigs away from the perimeter,” Kennedy said. “I thought our guys carried the game plan out as to not giving him easy touches, and then when he dribbled it we were going to have two guys at the ball.”

“They played a lot of zone, they played a little 2-3 zone and little box-and-one, but mostly man-to-man,” Kentucky coach Billy Gillespie said. “That’s when they played their best, when they played us man-to-man.”

Ole Miss’ players and coaches made no attempt to hide the fact that stopping Meeks was the focus of their practices.

“He’s a great player and all week we’ve been practicing how to guard Jodie,” Graham said. “We’ve had sections of our practice, 30 minutes, just on how to guard Jodie.

“Just me working on face-guarding him and everybody else making sure they help off screens.”

Ole Miss also focused on limiting Meeks’ touches, which seemed to be working in the first half. Meeks was 0-for-6 from the field, with six points coming from free throws.

“I think the more touches Jodie has, the more opportunities he’s going to have to hurt you,” Graham said. “We limited those touches so it helped us in the long-run.”

Although Meeks didn’t play against the Rebels a year ago, Graham was familiar with Meeks dating back to his high school days in Suwanee, Ga. at Peachtree Ridge High, where he said he faced Meeks’s Norcross High team six times from his freshman to junior year. Graham also said the two standout prep players played on the Georgia Hurricanes AAU team together and that he was surprised there wasn’t more yapping between the two Georgians on Tuesday.

“There wasn’t a lot of talking going on,” Graham said. “I thought we were going to talk more, but it was strictly business tonight.”

Asking around the locker room, it’s unclear whether players were more surprised Meeks was held to under 40 points or that Ole Miss was able to pull out the victory.
“Yeah, it was pretty scary. The whole team was saying, ‘Meeks, he’s going to get 40 tonight,”’ Ole Miss’ Terrico White said jokingly about the Rebels’ predictions prior to the game.

Huertas comes on strong

Ole Miss led early, but an 8-2 run by Kentucky to close the half gave the Wildcats a 39-37 lead at the break.

Ole Miss’ David Huertas struggled in the first half, shooting 0-for-3 from the field with two made free throws. Due to two quick fouls, Huertas was limited to just six minutes in the first half.

The junior’s luck quickly changed in the second half when he drained a 3-pointer to put Ole Miss ahead 40-39. As the game heated up, so did Huertas, who finished the game shooting 5-for-15 for 21 points.

Kennedy said Huertas rebounding was pivotal for Ole Miss’ success.

“I know without David (Huertas) being productive it’s very difficult for this team,” Kennedy said. “But what a second half he had by making huge shot after huge shot.”

Gillespie echoed Kennedy’s sentiments.

“It’s hard to score from the bench,” Gillespie said. “He got two quick fouls and he came right out at halftime and they had the first possession and we didn’t guard him well enough. He made that 3, probably got a little confidence, and he just continued on. He made extremely hard cuts.”

Malcolm stands out

Malcolm White came to Ole Miss with big-time hype.

Tuesday night the sophomore center cashed in on his potential, registering a career-high 20 points, while also collecting six rebounds and making one block.

“Where’s that guy been? He was the guy we needed him to be tonight,” Kennedy said. “As a coach you want to infuse confidence in the players, but it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes they have to feel good about their performance. I know Malcolm was tremendous tonight.

“He played 36 minutes, stayed out of foul trouble, and was flying all over. Hopefully this is the impetus that he needs to be the player that we need him to be.”

Ahead 62-57, White scored on a putback of a Terrico White missed 3-point attempt. On the ensuing Kentucky possession Malcolm White made a big block on DeAndre Liggins out of bounds.

On Ole Miss’ next trip down the court, Malcolm White made two free throws to extend Ole Miss’ lead to 66-57.

In addition to Malcom White’s 20 points and Huertas’ 21, Terrico White also contributed 21 points on seven of 15 shooting from the field.

Kentucky’s big-man, Patrick Patterson, finished with a game-high 24 points on eight of 12 shooting from the field. He also grabbed seven rebounds.

Tuesday’s victory was the Rebels’ first win against Kentucky since Ole Miss won 65-55 in Oxford in 2001. The win also snapped a three-game skid for the Rebels that included losses at South Carolina and Alabama, and at home against LSU.

Ole Miss returns to action Saturday when it travels to Starkville to face Mississippi State at noon. The game is scheduled to be televised on Raycom.

Rebs Upset Kentucky at the Tad Pad

Terrico White and David Huertas each scored 21 points and Ole Miss upset No. 24 Kentucky 85-80 on Tuesday, snapping the Wildcats' five-game win streak a day after they entered the Top 25 for the first time this season.
Neither Kentucky's Jodie Meeks nor Huertas - the Southeastern Conference's Nos. 1 and 3 scorers - managed a field goal in the first half. But Huertas hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds gone in the second half and the injury-ravaged Rebels (11-9, 2-4 SEC) managed to overcome 24 points from Patrick Patterson for a rare win over the Wildcats (16-5, 5-1).

The win snapped Ole Miss' current three-game losing streak and its nine-game slide to Kentucky, which had won 11 of 12 overall coming into the game. It was just the 12th win for the Rebels in 107 games against the Wildcats.

The Rebels, without three of their best players due to season-ending knee injuries, managed one of their best defensive games of the season.

The Wildcats were fourth in the nation with a shooting percentage of 50.2 percent per game, but struggled against Ole Miss' 2-3 zone and shot 34.3 percent (25-of-65). It was an especially difficult night for Meeks, the nation's No. 3 scorer coming in with 26.1 points per game.

The Rebels held him without a field goal for the first 28:04 and he finished 4-for-15 fro the florr with 21 points. He had eight in the first half, all on free throws, after scoring in double figures in the first 20 minutes of nine of the Wildcats' last 10 games and 14 of 20.

Huertas quickly got open on the left wing on the opening possession of the second half and buried a 3. That spurred Ole Miss to a 16-4 run to open the half that featured four 3-pointers. Graham's second 3 of the run put the Rebels up 53-43 and Kentucky never crept closer than three points after Meeks hit his first two field goals of the game to make it 58-55 with 11:18 left.

Malcolm White scored five points and Huertas hit another 3 during a quick 8-2 run to put the game out of reach.

Ole Miss hit 10 of 26 3s in the game and outrebounded Kentucky 45-40. The Wildcats were just 7-of-28 from the 3-point line.

Terrico White had an especially big game for the Rebels. The freshman finished a point shy of his career high, set one with seven assists and had five rebounds in 37 minutes despite being a game-time decision due to a bruised knee.

Ole Miss led much of the first half, only succumbing to a quick 7-2 run by Kentucky to end the half with a 39-37 lead.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sox Set Saturday as Deadline for Veritek Signing

The Red Sox should know by the end of the week if Jason Varitek, their primary catcher since 1999, will be part of their 2009 squad.
The Boston Herald -- citing a "source close to the negotiations" -- reported that the Red Sox have given Varitek a deadline of Saturday to either accept or decline their formal offer that was made last week.

If Varitek doesn't accept the offer by Saturday, the Red Sox are likely to proceed with alternate catching plans.

One possibility is that the Red Sox will ratchet up trade talks with the Diamondbacks for Miguel Montero and with the Rangers for Taylor Teagarden or Jarrod Saltamacchia.

As a matter of fact, even if Varitek does return to the fold, general manager Theo Epstein is still likely to continue his pursuit of a talented young catcher of the future. Under that scenario, part of Varitek's role going forward would be to mentor that prospect.

The Red Sox did sign catcher Josh Bard to a contract in late December, though he is viewed more as a backup. Dusty Brown and George Kottaras are both coming off solid years at Triple-A Pawtucket, but only time will tell if either player is ready for the Major Leagues.

Varitek, who will be 37 in April, is coming off the worst offensive season (.220, 13 homers, 43 RBIs) of his career. However, even through those struggles, he remained a glue for the pitching staff and a respected leader in the clubhouse. Varitek has been Boston's captain since 2005.

The market for Varitek hit a snag on Dec. 7, when the catcher declined Boston's offer of salary arbitration. Had Varitek accepted that, it would have solidified his return to Boston for 2009 at an approximate salary of $10-12 million.

However, Varitek was looking for a multi-year offer and also might have been leery of the fact that salaries awarded in arbitration are non-guaranteed.

The arbitration offer made by the Red Sox hurt Varitek's market, as prospective suitors were reluctant to sign the Type A free agent because they didn't want to give up the compensatory draft pick.

On Jan. 16, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry flew to Atlanta to meet directly with Varitek. The meeting was requested by Varitek, and did not include agent Scott Boras.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 12, the Red Sox are eager to get the Varitek situation resolved one way or the other.

By Saturday, they should have a far better read on what their catching situation will look like for 2009.

Varitek, a three-time All-Star, has played 1,330 games, all with the Red Sox. He is a career .263 hitter with 161 homers and 654 RBIs.