The University of Kentucky will be looking for a momentum restart when it travels to Mississippi for an important SEC men’s basketball game Tuesday night.
The Wildcats had a three-game winning streak broken in a disappointing 71-67 defeat by Florida last Saturday at Rupp Arena.
If UK could’ve kept its winning streak going, it had been suggested in the media that it could start building a case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament by closing the regular season with two more wins, then get on a run of some kind in the SEC Tournament.
Instead, the Wildcats are playing for the best possible seeding for the SEC Tournament. They would be the eighth seed if the season ended today. The consensus is that UK will have to win the SEC Tournament and the league’s automatic bid to get into the NCAA field.
Late-game execution foiled UK again in the loss to Florida. The Cats are 8-13, 7-8 in the SEC, with the Ole Miss game and South Carolina coming to Rupp Arena for a makeup game on Saturday.
So far, UK has kept working, trying to improve, despite all of the losses and missteps in the last four minutes of games.
“They have pretty good motivation right now,” UK assistant coach Jai Lucas said. “They haven’t folded. They haven’t stopped working or anything like that, so that’s been the one positive with how the season has gone. I think they still understand what we have ahead of us. We take it one game at a time and then we’ll just focus. Once we get to the SEC Tournament, one game at a time there and see what happens.”
UK is No. 65 in the latest NET rankings, and it has the worst Quad 1 record (2-11) among the top 65 teams.
What needs to happen at Ole Miss is for UK to have a better understanding of what it will be seeing with the zone defenses the Rebels use.
UK didn’t handle Florida’s zone well on Saturday.
“They did something that they really hadn’t done all year. They played a completely different zone than what they had put on film,” Lucas said of Florida. “He did a really good job of making it a really untraditional 3-2 (zone). It was more of a matchup, man-to-man 3-2 (zone). So, he did a good job with that, and it just kind of, it made us stagnant.
“With Ole Miss, its 1-3-1 (zone) is kind of more aggressive and they’re out pressuring you a little bit more, and it kind of transitions back to a 2-3 or a man. So, it’s kind of a completely different type of concept.”
UK as a team needs to do better moving for open shots in the zone.
“It’s the thing of having young guards,” Lucas said. “You have Devin (Askew), BJ (Boston), and you know, you say Davion (Mintz), he’s old, he’s a senior and stuff like that, but this is really his first time, you know, at this level. This is a different level.”