Cats seek to avoid getting 'spoiled'

For those wondering how Kentucky could beat Missouri by 49 points the first time around this season and win by “just” 16 in the second matchup, John Robic has a simple explanation.

“I think we get a little bit spoiled every now and then,” the UK assistant coach said Friday leading up to the Wildcats’ game this weekend against Alabama.

“The numbers were fine (in a 69-53 win at Missouri),” Robic added. “Points scored against us was fine. We had a couple of breakdowns that we typically don’t have, especially in pick-and-roll defense where they scored six or eight points on that, which is pretty unusual against our team. But give them credit. They made adjustments from the first time we played them.”

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Kentucky (20-0, 7-0 SEC) should expect more of that Saturday night at Rupp Arena when Alabama (13-7, 3-4 SEC) takes its second crack at the nation’s No. 1 team. The Cats won the first matchup 70-48 in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 17, suffocating the Crimson Tide with their defense.

Anthony Grant’s team is reeling a bit, having lost four of its last five, including a 52-50 setback to Florida earlier this week.

Do the Cats expect any new looks from the Tide this time around?

“Well they played us all zone the first game,” Robic said. “They played their tandem matchup zone. I think they will mix it up a little bit, with some man and some zone, and have us make shots. We did a good job in the first outing of getting the ball inside, playing inside-out, which was really effective for us. It got them into a little bit of foul trouble. It got us into a good rhythm, and we made shots that game. Our players did a good job of following the game plan pretty well.”

The Cats got a combined 24 points from freshman guards Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis in the first meeting, while big men Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson teamed for 26 points in the paint.

UK knocked down eight of its 17 shots from behind the arc. It was the last time the Cats relied heavily on their perimeter shooting, having attempted only 22 treys in the three games since beating Alabama.

“It wasn’t by design,” Robic said. “If they’re open, then we want them to shoot them. From our standpoint, if they’re not forcing 3s, then we’ll take what they give us. Our big guys have been doing a good job of kicking it back out. We could probably do it more, but we want our guys to be a little bit more aggressive going to the rim, especially Aaron (Harrison). He showed that last night and in the last couple games. Against a zone, it could be different. Missouri played us man to man. We just have to go how the game is flowing and take open shots when they’re there.”

If Alabama can take anything positive from the first matchup, it did post the third-highest shooting percentage against the Cats this season, 44 percent. Only Ole Miss (49) and North Carolina (45) have topped that figure. The Tide will likely need more than the five 3-pointers they hit on 18 attempts in Tuscaloosa, however, to make it a game at Rupp.

Kentucky will be playing on a short-turnaround Saturday after getting back to Lexington at 1:40 a.m. Friday from the late tip-off at Missouri. The UK staff will try to turn it into a learning experience.

“We’re going to face that in the SEC Tournament,” Robic said. “We’re going to face it in the NCAA Tournament.

“But these kids are used to playing AAU basketball, playing four or five times a day. That’s a good thing about playing as many players as we’re playing. They should be somewhat OK physically.”

Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

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