Kentucky shows improvement in SEC
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)
Now that John Calipari's young Kentucky squad has shown it's capable of playing with the intensity and teamwork needed to dominate a conference opponent, the Wildcats coach would like his team to do it consistently.
Kentucky (12-5, 3-1) is looking for its third consecutive win in Tuesday night's Southeastern Conference game at Alabama. The Crimson Tide (11-6, 3-1) is shooting a league-best 46 percent on 3-pointers in SEC games using a four-guard lineup that plays physical.
The Wildcats are still learning how to play physical but Saturday's 75-53 rout at Auburn shows their improvement. Kentucky shut down the cold-shooting Tigers in the second half. The Wildcats pushed Auburn around on the boards, increased their defensive pressure and turned a five-point halftime lead into a blowout.
''I'm trying to convince them that the wins and losses, they come and go,'' Calipari said Monday. ''You're not going to be judged just by that. You're going to be judged by your effort, your fight, your scrappiness. ... Believe me, 20 years from now they're going to say, `are you a competitor or not? Were you a battler ... played hard, made great decisions.'
''That's how you define yourself. I'm trying to get them more on process and less on results because we're so young.''
Encouraging signs emerged in the second half of Kentucky's 75-65 win over Tennessee last Tuesday, when the Wildcats held the Volunteers to 38 percent shooting. But Calipari said the absence of 7-foot freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein at Auburn following a ''minor procedure'' on his left knee might have ignited Kentucky's second-half performance against the Tigers.
''This team, I hope learned some stuff and I think Willie being out put a sense of urgency in the team; that sometimes happens,'' Calipari said.
In the final 20 minutes against Auburn, the Wildcats shot 67 percent, outrebounded the Tigers 19-11 while holding them to 12 of 32 shooting (38 percent).
Kyle Wiltjer's 17 points led five players in double-figures for Kentucky, which has won both of its SEC road games so far. And despite foul trouble, Wildcats freshman forward Nerlens Noel finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. That follows his 12-point, nine-rebound, six-block, four-steal performance against Tennessee and earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors on Monday.
Calipari didn't say what Cauley-Stein's availability would be against Alabama but Kentucky's objective will be containing the Tide's guard contingent. They're led by junior Trevor Releford, who averages 16.2 points per game overall but ranks third in SEC contests at 18.7. He's helped by sophomores Trevor Lacey (12.5), Rodney Cooper (11.6) and Levi Randolph (8.3). They're long and athletic, ranging from 6-3 to 6-6.
Lacey and Releford combined for 29 points in Alabama's 50-49 win over Texas A&M on Saturday, the Crimson Tide's third victory in a row.
To slow down Alabama's backcourt, the Wildcats will need strong defensive efforts from Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. Both had 12 points and seven rebounds against Auburn, drawing praise from Calipari. The coach said Goodwin's shot selection was better on Saturday while Poythress showed more effort offensively and defensively, adding that he needs to sustain it longer.
''They are pretty much a typical SEC school. They have really good guards,'' Polson said of Alabama. ''Coach Calipari says it will be a big test for our guards. Their bigs are physical, so we have to be physical and come out and compete for 40 minutes.''