Kentucky hit proverbial rock bottom after a shocking three-point home loss to South Carolina on Jan. 10.
It was the first of two straight Southeastern Conference setbacks but one that inspired the Wildcats. Since the disappointing setback, Kentucky has won two straight, including a signature road win at Tennessee last Saturday.
A players-only meeting after the loss to the Gamecocks led to a quick turnaround.
“It helped us understand who we are as individuals, how we could get better,” Kentucky senior Jacob Toppin said Thursday. “We all looked at ourselves in the mirror and understood what we needed to do to get better. Not just for our individual selves but for this team in order to win. It was definitely important for success.”
Kentucky senior Oscar Tshiebwe provided the spark for Kentucky in a win over Georgia Tuesday night, scoring a career-high 37 points while grabbing 24 rebounds.
It was a performance that even caught Georgia coach Mike White in awe.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of (anything) this,” he said. “He was unbelievable. Credit him and his mentality, his motor and physical toughness, his physicality that he played with, even defensively. We just didn’t match it. At all.”
Although the Wildcats (12-6, 3-3) notched victories over the Bulldogs and Volunteers, Kentucky trailed 8-0 early at Tennessee and rallied from an 11-point deficit against Georgia.
“We were just ready to go fight again,” Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves said after the win over Georgia. “We knew it was going to be another war, and we’ve been talking about stacking wins, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Those wins are a product of the team meetings and regrouping after the loss to South Carolina, which has dropped two straight since the win over the Wildcats.
“We have a lot of guys that are starting to take on that (leadership) role,” Toppin said. “Even Cason [Wallace], a freshman, he’s taken on that leadership role.
“I like that for him because he could be a leader for this team. But everyone’s been vocal on and off the court, making sure everyone’s staying disciplined and understanding of what we need to do to continue to win and do something special.”
Kentucky freshman Chris Livingston added the Wildcats are on the right path, with the coaches and players coming together and bonding.
“Just having player-only meetings or even when we have meetings with coaches, we’re allowed to have our inputs and say what we got to say, and they really listen to us,” Livingston said. “They really take in what we’re saying, and it really comes into effect. So definitely player driven with coach leadership.”
Now the team’s attention shifts to Texas A&M, one of the conference’s hottest teams. The Aggies (13-5, 5-0) will bring a seven-game winning streak to Lexington following a 54-52 victory over Florida Wednesday night at College Station.