Cats Meet Colonels on Wednesday at Rupp

Alex Poythress has been around John Calipari long enough to have an idea what he’s in for before he even steps in the gym.

Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky
Wed., Dec. 9 - 7 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena
Lexington, Ky.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | EKU Get Acrobat Reader
Digital Gameday Program
Gameday App
Game-Day Operation Changes

Radio: UK Sports Network
Watch ESPN
Live Audio
Live Stats
Text Updates

UK 2015-16 Team Stats EKU
7-1 Record 7-2
0-0 Conference Record 0-0
.475 FG% .524
.405 Opp FG% .477
.285 3FG% .443
.676 FT% .732
79.4 PPG 90.4
40.2 RPG 33.3
5.8 BPG 2.6
13.1 APG 18.4
7.4 SPG 7.9
“I know when practice is going to get turned up and when we’re going to have to do more things at practice,” Poythress said. “It’s just how the season goes. There’s always that one point practice gets a little bit harder. You just want to see how people respond to that.”

One such point came after No. 5/4 Kentucky (7-1) lost at UCLA last Thursday. On the heels of a game in which the Wildcats were outmuscled and drew no closer than nine points in the second half, Poythress could have predicted what was coming.  

“He’s turned it up a lot,” Poythress said. “It’s something we need. We need the intensity level to go up in practice.” 

They need the intensity because the Wildcats lacked the fight Coach Cal demands of his team on their West Coast trip. That was magnified when Marcus Lee went down with a head injury early in the game, and the Cats couldn’t muster the toughness to overcome it.

Now, Calipari is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“I think they watched the tape, they got it,” Calipari said. “We had a good practice yesterday. It was really grueling to be honest with you. It’s what they need and we’re trying to hold them to a high standard in what we’re accepting.”

Whether Lee is available when UK takes on Eastern Kentucky (7-2) remains to be seen, but the Cats must work to reach that high standard regardless of his status. Much of that comes down to toughness.

UK lacks the big bodies it had a season ago – when the five starters were all 6-foot-6 or taller and three were 6-10 or taller. Instead, the Cats are a more perimeter-oriented group with slender but skilled post players. They must find a way to allow their skill to shine through while overcoming the physical play opponents figure to throw at them.

“What I would tell you is, I've seen skinny guys battle,” Calipari said. “Just because you're skinny doesn't mean, 'Well, OK.' I've seen them battle. You just have to have that mentality.”

Calipari had mentioned UK’s fight and physicality well before UCLA, but the Cats’ first loss was the first time deficits in that area had bitten them. Painful as it was, perhaps it was necessary.

“It just shows how far we have to go,” Poythress said. “We’re just trying to get better each and every day. We have a long way to go. It’s a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re just trying to chip away at it.”

The end of that chipping-away process will result in Calipari having a team that can withstand any physical challenge and – more importantly – doing it on its own. For now, he’s having to do the pushing.

“When everybody is doing their thing, everybody’s trying, everybody’s playing and battling and you’re fighting, then they come together and they really accept what each other has to do and they can be empowered,” Calipari said. “We’re not close to that right now. If this team is supposed to be, by the end of the year, what we all believe it can be, they got to be empowered.”

The next step on that road won’t be an easy one.

“Now we’re playing a team in Eastern Kentucky who should be 9-0. Scoring in bunches, shooting 45 percent from the 3,” Calipari said. “Athletes at all the positions. They scramble the defense, they press, they trap on different opportunities. They switch a lot. They switch a lot, which means you have to try to take advantage of stuff. They’re a good team. They’re playing good right now.”

Best in the Bluegrass

Kentucky’s meeting with Eastern Kentucky is the 14th in-state foe the Wildcats have faced in the John Calipari era. Impressively, UK has won 12 of the previous 13 contests.

UK is 11-0 all-time vs. Eastern Kentucky, including 2-0 under Calipari. The Wildcats won last year’s meeting in Rupp Arena, 82-49.

Bounce Back

The Wildcats don’t lose very often during the John Calipari era, but when they do, they almost always bounce back.

UK is 27-6 under Calipari following a loss. Kentucky hasn’t dropped back-to-back games since losing a pair to Arkansas and South Carolina on Feb. 27, 2014 and March 1, 2014, respectively.

Wildcats’ Regular-Season Win Streak Haulted at 38

In its first true road test of the season, the top-ranked Wildcats fell 87-77 to UCLA despite a career-high 20- point performance from freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe.

Kentucky jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but consecutive baskets by the Bruins gave the home team a lead it would hold for the remainder of the game. Freshman guard Jamal Murray added 17 points, including five made 3-pointers, while junior Derek Willis tallied 11 points.

The loss to UCLA marked the first regular-season loss for the Wildcats since the final game of the 2014 season against Florida on March 8.

Other notables:
• Junior Marcus Lee sustained a head injury four minutes into the game and did not return. He is day to day
• Sophomore Tyler Ulis had nine points and a career-high nine assists. He is the first UK player with at least five assists in at least five of the first seven games played in a season since John Wall in 2009-10
• Ulis had the most assists by a UK player in a nonconference road game (nine) since Saul Smith vs. Michigan State on Dec. 16, 2000 (10)
• Kentucky made a season-high eight 3-pointers
• UCLA shot 53 percent from the field, the most by a UK opponent since Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 23, 2014
• The 87 points yielded by UK’s defense was the most this season. Previously, Albany’s 65 points was the most
• Willis and freshman Isaac Humphries both pulled in a career-high six rebounds

Briscoe is Third Player to Earn SEC Weekly Honor

Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe was tabbed the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week on Monday after averaging a team-best 19.0 points and 4.5 rebounds against Illinois State and UCLA.

Against Illinois State, Briscoe took over point-guard duties for the injured Tyler Ulis (hyperextended elbow). Briscoe was 7 of 13 from the field en route to a career-high 18-point performance. He also dished out a team high three assists and hauled in seven rebounds, which was the second most of any player on the team.

Playing in the first true road game of his career against UCLA, Briscoe was a team-best 7 of 10 from the field to top his previous career high this time with 20 points. He is the fourth different player to top 20 points this season for the Wildcats. For the week, Briscoe utilized a team-best .609 field-goal percentage of players who shot more than 10 times.

Briscoe is the third different Wildcat to win a weekly conference honor this season. Skal Labissiere took home SEC Co-Freshman of the Week honors on Nov. 16, while Ulis was the SEC Player of the Week on Nov. 23.