Cats staying the course, breaking through at the right time

Published 10:37 am Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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Kentucky is starting to live up to the preseason hype.

The Wildcats (16-7, 7-3 SEC) have won six straight SEC games going into Tuesday night’s contest against Arkansas (16-7, 5-5) and have lost just once since a 63-56 victory at No. 9 Tennessee on Jan. 14 in Knoxville. Kentucky is coming off a 72-67 win over Florida Saturday night.

“This team is coming together, and I told them they would breakthrough, just stay the course, and they’re breaking through,” Calipari said.

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The breakthrough began against the Volunteers and has carried over, especially against conference foes. The Wildcats are tied with Auburn for third in the conference standings going into Tuesday’s contest against the Razorbacks.

“We know that games in conference right now, at this point in the season, are all hard,” Kentucky associate coach Orlando Antigua said. “We need to be at our best. I think we’re playing at a great pace and with great rhythm right now, and we want to continue that.”

A tweak to the lineup — inserting Cason Wallace in at point guard and giving sixth-man Antonio Reeves more minutes — combined with a new mental approach has made a difference for Calipari’s squad during the past four weeks.

“We’re trying to win now Sunday — that’s all we’re worried about,” Calipari said. “We want to have a win on Sunday. Then we want to have a win on Monday. And then let’s play the game and see how it turns out. We’re just trying to win days.

That’s what we’ve been doing since Tennessee, just win days. And these guys have been terrific.”

Kentucky’s upcoming schedule appears to be favorable, but Calipari isn’t taking anything for granted.

“They don’t stop coming (and) they are one after another,” Calipari said. “We’ve got another tough game Tuesday. We’ve got to play better in certain areas…With this schedule, you know, we just, what we’re doing is staying the course.”

Kentucky hasn’t been ranked in six weeks but received one vote in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll released Monday. Purdue is No. 1, Alabama is fourth and Tennessee is ranked ninth this week.

“You’re seeing teams all over the country get beat,” Calipari said. “I only read about us when we get beat, but there are teams across the country that are getting beat, and it’s because that happens. You play a good schedule, you’re going to lose some games. You play a team that’s trying to figure themselves out, it takes some time. Now, it’s not done.”

Repeat for Wallace

Wallace was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week by the league office on Monday.

He scored 20 points, had two assists and a career-high three blocks in Kentucky’s win over the Gators on Saturday night. It marked the third time Wallace has been named the SEC’s top freshman three times this season. The freshman guard averages 11.7 points, two steals and 3.5 assists per game.