Cats ready to run?

When Kentucky signed its latest top-ranked basketball recruiting class, the Big Blue Nation had visions of the Wildcats racing up and down the court for one easy basket after another in many lopsided wins. Is it starting to materialize?

When Kentucky signed its latest top-ranked basketball recruiting class, the Big Blue Nation had visions of the Wildcats racing up and down the court for one easy basket after another in many lopsided wins.

Reality hasn't exactly lived up to the expectations.

But it may not be too late. The Cats showed signs during their 84-70 win Tuesday night at Ole Miss of being that type of team. Among their 25 field goals on the night were eight dunks and many other run-out baskets in some of Kentucky's best transition offense of the season.

Sign up for AllWildcats!

"The biggest thing is we got out and ran and got some easy baskets, which we've been begging them to do," UK head coach John Calipari said Wednesday during his weekly radio show. "Rebound the ball and sprint – outrun the guy next to you. Just run faster than he's running. And then when you can't run, sub yourself."

It worked to near perfection in the first half against the Rebels. Kentucky built a 42-25 lead at halftime via 59-percent shooting and 12 assists on 17 baskets.

The second half, however, UK could not sustain it. The Cats saw a 22-point lead sliced to six within the final two minutes before holding on by hitting 19 consecutive free throws. That sharpshooting helped them compensate for making only one basket in the final 9:10.

"The first half, we were very, very good defensively," said UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, who sat in for a majority of Wednesday's radio show as Calipari departed for a recruiting trip. "And when we were good at getting stops, we flew up the court. We didn't just run fast, we were flying up the court. When we play basketball like that, it's exciting for the kids, it's exciting for you guys to watch, and it's very good for us as coaches because you're seeing them play with confidence.

"When we play with confidence, we're one of the best teams in the country. Go out and play with a swagger."

That confidence has to start at the defensive end, Payne said. The Cats sometimes have a tendency to think the opposite, and when shots aren't falling, it affects both ends of the floor.

"Everything that we do is predicated on our defense, and if we're able to get stops and fly, they'll have the freedom to go make plays and attack people and we're tough to deal with," Payne said. "We're a talented group. We're a very good team. Our offensive efficiency, we're one of the best teams, and our defensive efficiency, we're getting better. We just gotta continue to play like that and use our defense to ignite our offense."

Johnny O'Bryant poured in 29 points in the last meeting between LSU and UK. (USA Today Sports)
Their next chance will come Saturday as LSU (16-9, 7-6 SEC) visits Rupp Arena for the second meeting between the two clubs this season. On January 28, the Tigers romped past UK in Baton Rouge, 87-82, in a game that wasn't nearly as competitive as the final score indicated.

Junior forward Johnny O'Bryant shredded the Cats for 29 points as LSU led by as many as 16 points in the first half and by as much as 15 deep into the second half before a late surge by UK.

"He does that, it will be a tough night for us again," Calipari said of O'Bryant.

The UK boss is optimistic, however, that the Cats (20-6, 10-3) are starting to show signs of the team people thought they could be entering the season.

"We played 30 minutes against Florida and that first half against Mississippi, and you start seeing what we could become," he said. "Most of the second half (at Ole Miss) we played pretty well. But about the 5:50 mark to the 1:50 mark, there was about three minutes in there that we lost focus, didn't have the mental discipline, and let them back in.

"We're going to go back and show them how good we can be when we can eliminate this from happening."

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports and recruiting for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for Scout since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

Facebook | Twitter| E-Mail |

AllWildcats Top Stories