Pre-Week Notes: 'Cats burning up nets
But it's not hard to figure out that Chuck Hayes is the Wildcats' MVP.
That's not based on the 10 points and five rebounds he amassed in 25 minutes of Saturday's 89-58 rout of LSU. Against the Tigers, Hayes led the defensive effort that held LSU's Glen Davis to only five field goal attempts and nine points.
Earlier in the week, when the Wildcats were struggling at Ole Miss, Hayes really demonstrated what he means to his team.
It wasn't just the statistics line that showed 10 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks that showed Hayes' worth. It was the plays he made, like his two offensive rebounds that were quickly followed by two picture-perfect passes for easy baskets, which allowed the Wildcats escape with a 53-50 victory after scoring just 16 points in the first half.
Hayes is the nation's active career leader in winning percentage for games started. The Wildcats have won 79 of 93 games he has started, or 85 percent. Next is Duke's J.J. Reddick (67-13, or 84 percent).
For the season, Hayes is average 11.6 points and nine rebounds per game. He has 20 blocked shots (second on the team to Shagari Alleyne's 34) and 27 steals (second to Rojan Rondo's team-high 43).
The 16 points Kentucky scored in the first half against Ole Miss matched the season-low 16 the Wildcats had scored against Louisville earlier. In both games, the Wildcats hit only 5-of-24 from the field in the first half but rallied to pull out the victory.
Junior Patrick Sparks had a hand in the final points of both games. He hit three free throws with 0.6 on the clock for the decisive points in the 60-58 victory at Louisville, then hit two in the closing seconds at Ole Miss to secure the 53-50 Wildcats' victory. The Wildcats had their highest-scoring first half of the season in leading LSU 49-36 their next game.
-- Rallying from a double-digit halftime deficit is nothing compared to what the Wildcats accomplished in 1994. That's the season they trailed by 31 points in a game being played on LSU's homecourt before rallying for a 99-95 victory over the Tigers. The Wildcats outscored the Tigers 65-27 over the last 15:34 to post the largest comeback in SEC history and largest second-half comeback in NCAA history.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Rajon Rondo, shooting guard Patrick Sparks, center Randolph Morris, forward Kelenna Azubuike, forward Chuck Hayes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I like the way our guys are starting to come together and playing hard, executing. When you hold a team to 33 percent, you've done a good job." -- Coach Tubby Smith, after the Wildcats limited LSU to 19-of-57 from the field.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Tennessee, Wednesday, Jan. 25; at Arkansas, Saturday, Jan. 29; at Vanderbilt, Saturday, Feb. 5; vs. Florida, Tuesday, Feb. 8; vs. Georgia, Saturday, Feb. 12.
KEYS: The only undefeated team in SEC play, Kentucky takes to the road for its next three games, including two against East Division rivals Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Wildcats should enjoy the advantage inside against the Vols and Commodores, especially if Tennessee forward Brandon Crump can't play because of his ankle injury. The Wildcats need to avoid falling in an early hole against the likes of a patient Vandy team, however.
ROSTER REPORT: Patrick Sparks was 5-of-7 from three-point range -- his only field goal attempts -- and scored 15 points against LSU. "I just came out relaxed and took good shots," he said. "I was fortunate to knock down some early, and that got us going."
-- Ramel Bradley, who sustained a mild concussion and sat out the second half of the Ole Miss game, returned against LSU. He scored five points during Kentucky's early 23-3 run. All his 10 points came in the first half.
-- Freshman Joe Crawford, who left the team after the Kansas game only to return a week later, sat out the game at Ole Miss but played Saturday against LSU and scored five points. His three-pointer and two free throws halted an LSU rally that had cut Kentucky's lead to eight with 13:43 left.
-- Freshman guard Rajon Rondo had two steals, continuing his streak of at least one steal in every game this season.
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