Cats Visit Gamecocks in SEC Showdown

It’s John Calipari’s rule of thumb that he doesn’t run the risk of wearing his team out during the season with long practices.

The rule, however, isn’t a hard-and-fast one. Coach Cal, as in nearly everything he does, is willing to adjust.

Kentucky vs. South Carolina
Tue., Feb. 12 - 12 p.m. ET
Colonial Life Arena
Columbia, S.C.
Game Notes: UK Get Acrobat Reader | SC Get Acrobat Reader
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats UGA
18-6 Record 21-3
8-3 Conference Record 8-3
.475 FG% .438
.397 Opp FG% .393
.340 3FG% .351
.668 FT% .671
78.4 PPG 78.0
38.9 RPG 41.7
5.8 BPG 4.5
13.9 APG 13.7
6.2 SPG 7.1
That’s why Kentucky was on the practice floor for two-and-a-half hours on Thursday.

“I don’t go two-and-a-half hours in the middle of February,” Calipari said. “And it was all body to body. I mean, that’s what this team needs.”

UK needs that work for the sake of its long-term prospects, but it’s important for another more urgent reason. On Saturday, the No. 22/21 Wildcats (18-6, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) travel to Columbia, S.C., for a matchup with South Carolina (21-3, 8-3 SEC).

The Gamecocks attack the rim tirelessly, attempting more than one free throw for every two field-goal tries, the best rate in the country. They are tied for 15th nationally in rebounding margin, ranking eighth in offensive-rebounding percentage and 75th in defensive-rebounding percentage. 

“You gotta be willing to stick your nose in there and mix it up,” Calipari said. “Put your body on somebody. If you don’t put your body on somebody, I can promise you that they will put their body on you. And you’re at a huge disadvantage if that happens. They’re good at it. They’re good at offensive rebounding. They wedge. They tip. They’re going to go after every offensive rebound.”

In Frank Martin’s fourth season, he has a team that fits him.

“I mean, he’s a salt-of-the-Earth kind of guy, but he is also a terrific coach,” Calipari said. “They’ve taken on his personality. ‘He ain’t going to bully me personally,’ but they take on his personality, which is tough. They make faces like he does.”

Michael Carrera is the poster child for that. The senior forward leads South Carolina in both scoring (14.2) and rebounds (7.2) in spite of standing just 6-foot-5.

“Well, I’ll tell you what he’s doing better than ever: They’re going to post him up,” Calipari said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup, but he’s also making shots where in the past you could play him in a certain way that you could meet him in areas. But now he’s making shots and he’s still the – get down in the stance – he’s still an offensive rebounding machine. He’s still the guts of their team, the toughness of their team. He’s good.”

At least a share of first place in the SEC will be on the line as the two teams tangle (LSU – also 8-3 in league play – faces Texas A&M on Saturday), meaning the crowd in Colonial Life Arena will be raring to go for the noon tip.

“It’s definitely going to be a tough crowd, but we have to pull it out. We have to find a way to win on the road,” Dominique Hawkins said. “We haven’t been getting any good road wins. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll get a good one.”

The Cats are coming off two impressive performances in wins over Florida and Georgia, but those came at home. As Hawkins hinted at, UK is 2-5 in true road games and 2-1 on neutral floors. The Cats lost back-to-back away games prior to their two-game winning streak, but played well for long stretches against both Kansas and Tennessee.

“I think just the atmosphere and our fans and stuff like that,” Isaac Humphries said, explaining the difference between UK at home and on the road. “Just the basic stuff. It all helps a lot. We feel very comfortable in Rupp. It helps. On the road, we’re just getting used to road games and we’ll be fine.”

UK does have something working in its favor compared with previous SEC road games coming off a Tuesday home game, though Alex Poythress will again be sidelined due to injury.

“I’m anxious to see how we respond,” Calipari said. “Tennessee was a quick turn and I believe Auburn was a quick turn where we didn’t have much time. This we have a little more time.”

UK has used that time to both prepare for South Carolina and continue the quest to reach its potential. The Cats, no doubt, remain a work in progress, but the difference in them from this time a month ago is unmistakable.

“I’m proud of this team with what they’ve been able to do,” Calipari said. “Are you kidding me? I’m happy with the staff because the staff is about one thing: How do we get individual players better? How do we get them scheming offensively and defensively so that we’re more productive as a team? If you watch what we’ve been able to do offensively and defensively then we’re like this. Now, there are some setbacks, but they’re not machines.”

Fits and starts are to be expected, but the end result Calipari envisions is a team playing its best when it matters most.

“I feel refreshed knowing now it’s the middle of February,” Calipari said. “You know what that means? The middle of February, it’s on. This is it. This is why we all coach and play. Or if you don’t you’re in the wrong profession. This is it. Let’s get this right.

“Gonna be a really hard game for us to win down there. We know that. This is about our progress and we’re making progress. I told them, ‘I’m pleased, but I’m not satisfied.’ “

Wildcats’ Defense Shines in Dominating Win Over Georgia

In the most dizzying display of defense of the season, the Kentucky Wildcats rode an 18-minute scoring drought, its best field-goal percentage defense of the season and a mere 11 made field goals for the visiting Georgia Bullodgs in a dominating 82-48 win in Rupp Arena on Tuesday.

UK utilized a 24-2 run to end the first half and begin the second while holding the Bulldogs without a field goal for nearly 18 minutes of game clock en route to its best defensive performance of the season. The Wildcats limited the visitors to just 11 made field goals, the fewest for a Kentucky opponent since the historic 2014-15 defense held Providence to just 11 made field goals on Nov. 30, 2014.

Kentucky frustrated the Bulldogs into 15 turnovers and limited Georgia to a mere 22.0 percent field-goal rate. It was the lowest since limiting Montana State to a 19.7 clip on Nov. 23, 2014.

The stout defensive effort paved the way for the most efficient offensive performance of the season for the Wildcats. UK used a season-best 1.30 points per possession mark behind a game-high 24 points from Jamal Murray in the victory. Murray tied Terrence Jones for the most points in two-game stretch by a Wildcat in the John Calipari era with 59 points. Tyler Ulis chipped in with 14 points and eight assists, while junior Derek Willis had 11 points, which included a trio of made 3-pointers.
• UK extended its Rupp Arena winning streak to 34 games, the second-longest winning streak in the venue’s history
• The Wildcats shot 51.8 percent from the floor, the fifth time in the last six games they’ve shot better than 50 percent
• Ulis tied Roger Harden at 17 consecutive games with four or more assists, a school record
• Murray is the first Wildcat since Jodie Meeks in 2008-09 to hit six or more 3-pointers in back-to-back games
• Freshman Isaiah Briscoe has passed out three or more assists in seven straight outings
• Freshman Skal Labissiere matched a career high with a team-leading seven rebounds
• Junior Dominique Hawkins had nine second-half points, the most since scoring a career-high 13 vs. Louisville on Dec. 28, 2015
• Freshman Isaac Humphries had a career-high four blocked shots. He’s led the team in blocks in each of the last two games
• It was Kentucky’s largest margin of victory against Georgia (34 points) since Jan. 29, 1959 (53 points)

Murray, Ulis Spectacular in Rout of Florida

Kentucky was facing its first three-game losing streak of the John Calipari era, but Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis didn’t let it happen. With two standout individual performances and a hot shooting day from behind the arc, Kentucky improved to 32-7 following a loss in the John Calipari era with an impressive 80-61 victory over Florida.

Freshman Jamal Murray torched the nets for a career-high 35 points against the Gators. The 35 points tied Terrence Jones (Jan. 11, 2011) for the most points by a freshman in a single game. It also tied Jones’ mark for the most point in the Calipari era.

Murray simply would not miss against Florida, making his first six 3-point tries and 8 of 10 overall. His eight 3-point field goals tied for the fourth most in a game in school history and was just one shy of tying the Rupp Arena record.

Though Ulis’ streak of 20 or more points came to an end at five games, he still managed one of his best performances of the season with 18 points and a career-high 11 assists, the most assists in a game since John Wall dished out 11 vs. East Tennessee State on March 18, 2010.

The Wildcats appeared to receive a crushing blow before the game when they learned just before tip that Alex Poythress was out for the game with a right knee injury. However, using a “next man up” mentality, UK stormed out of the gates to a 10-2 lead and eventually completed a 22-3 run to gain a 24-5 advantage. Another Kentucky run -- this one 14-3 -- gave the Wildcats their biggest bulge of the first half at 42-18.

Florida responded with an 11-0 spurt in the second half and got as close as 42-29, but Murray’s career day and UK’s big shooting day from 3-point land was ultimately too much. The Wildcats ended the game with a season-high 12 3-pointers on a season-best .600 3-point shooting percentage.
• Kentucky won the rebounding 37-28, improving to 16-1 this season when winning or tying the rebounding battle
• Murray is now the only freshman in school history with multiple 30-point games in a season
• Junior forward Derek Willis notched 12 points and tied for the team lead with six rebounds, the sixth time in the last seven games he’s led the team on the boards
• Filling in for the injured Poythress, freshman forward Isaac Humphries logged a career-high 15 minutes and scored four points and a career-high six rebounds