JOHN: Cats ready to take on post season

After a season that has consisted of multiple disappointments and only rare celebrations, the Kentucky Wildcats arrived in Gaylord Center, seemingly prepared to take on the post season and determined to leave the past behind.

After a season that has consisted of multiple disappointments and only rare celebrations, the Kentucky Wildcats arrived in Gaylord Center, seemingly prepared to take on the post season and determined to leave the past behind.

"I really don't want to get into discussing what has already happened. It's a new season," coach Tubby Smith said, "we have made a lot of progress over the last few games, but then had the setback against Florida. But overall, we have had a lot of positive things happen."

Positive, indeed. Take away the second half of last Sunday's game against Florida when the wheels just came off, and the Wildcats had indeed showed a great deal of improvement:

• Four wins in the last six games, including road wins over South Carolina and SEC East Champions Tennessee. The other loss was a tight contest on the road against SEC overall champions, LSU.
• In all four of those wins Kentucky shot over 50% from the field.
• The Wildcats shot over 43% from three point range in four of its last seven games.
• Kentucky has out-rebounded its opponents in five of its last seven games. • The Wildcats have even improved at the free throw line, shooting 72% from the charity stripe in the last five games.
• The Cats have dished 18 or more assists in four of its last six games. In the previous 24 outings, the Cats eclipsed 18 assists a total of only four other times.

"We had a few games this year where one or two plays could have made all the difference," Tubby observed, "but we lost 11 games and when that happens, I am not happy, the fans aren't happy – nobody is happy."

Ramel Bradley appears to be ready and Tubby Smith says he will play. At the one hour practice today, Bradley appears in good shape and practiced well, drawing smiles from the coached and other players with his efforts.

"Ramel has the ability to do a lot of good things," Smith said, "we can use his scoring." Indeed, in an 8-game stretch between the High Point and Central Florida games, Bradley averaged 12 points a game, providing a tremendous spark off the bench. Having him back and in apparently good condition, is no small thing.

"We faced a lot this year," Smith said. "Randolph Morris was not able to join us early. Joe Crawford was hurt for a while. Ramel broke his hand. Not to make excuses but all these things add up."

Some of the other players are peaking at the right time. Sophomore Joe Crawford led the team with 21 points on Sunday and has scored in double digits in four of his last five contests. He has also improved his shooting to 56% over that same span, a huge jump from his season average of 40%.

Randolph Morris is averaging over 17 points per game in the last three games despite playing limited minutes due to an ongoing concern with fouls.

"We need to figure out how to get Morris some more minutes," Smith said. Before even thinking about the SEC Championship, the Wildcats need to take care of business on Thursday against Ole Miss. Though Smith and the Cats play down the importance of this single game, a loss would put the Cats at 19-12 for the season with no SEC Conference championship, and a poor showing in the SEC Tournament – not exactly fodder for the NCAA selection committee.

"We know we have to go out and win Thursday," senior Brandon Stockton said, "we won't overlook them."

Ole Miss' best player, Dwayne Curtis, did not play against Kentucky in the lopsided loss to the Wildcats, and Tubby understands the role that the Rebels' big man plays, "He is one of the best players in our league," Tubby said, "his presence will make a tremendous difference for them Thursday. We know that and we are prepared for it."

Vegas.com has Kentucky as a 10 point favorite.


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