Kentucky Hosts LSU on Senior Day
The ultimate goal every season for Kentucky basketball is to win a national championship and hang a ninth banner in the rafters at Rupp Arena.
|Kentucky vs. LSU|
|Sat., March 5 - 2 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | LSU
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||LSU|
They may not hang Southeastern Conference championship banners at the famous venue, but the Wildcats would still like to get at least a share of their 47th on Saturday.
“That’s definitely a goal,” said UK forward Alex Poythress, who will be going through Senior Day festivities prior to tipoff. “Winning any title that we can, SEC title would be the first step in our goal, then the next step would be to try to win the national title. We’re just trying to chase titles, just trying to win games.”
In the SEC, Kentucky is the standard bearer. It’s the program that every other school in the league circles on their calendar in the preseason. As Coach Cal says, UK is every school’s Super Bowl. The reason being, if you can beat Kentucky, it’s not only great for your program, it’s a big mark for your résumé.
Such is the case, yet again, on Saturday. Kentucky (22-8, 12-5 SEC) is a projected No. 4 seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projection of the 68-team field. LSU (18-12, 11-6 SEC), on the other hand, is the fourth team listed on the outside looking in.
“We’re going to play a desperate team, but I’m not worried about it,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Every team we play is desperate. Every single team, every night, at home, on the road is desperate, and they’re going to be desperate. It’s good for us. That’s what prepares us for March, and that’s why our teams historically have played well in March: Because we never get an off night. Every game means something.”
LSU is led by freshman forward Ben Simmons, the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 NBA draft pick this summer. The 6-foot-10 freshman from Melbourne, Australia, is averaging 19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game this season.
In these two teams’ first matchup, an 85-67 victory for the Tigers in Baton Rouge, La., Simmons finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. The key to holding the rookie phenom below his averages? Throwing plenty of bodies at him.
“He’s a great player, great talent,” Poythress said. “He can do a lot of things, mismatch problems. But we’re going to throw multiple defenders at him and just try to contain him and control him and guard him.
“We try to hang our hats on defense, but we’ve still gotta do it (Saturday) too.”
One player Kentucky will have back Saturday is junior forward Derek Willis, who hadn’t yet emerged as a key contributor in the first UK-LSU game which took place Jan. 5. In a 10-game stretch from Jan. 16-Feb. 18 that included nine starts, Willis averaged 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and hit 46.6 percent (27-58) of his 3-point attempts.
“I don’t think I’ll start him,” Calipari said. “I might. You know me. I don’t really care. But I doubt if I start him. But it was great yesterday having him out there.
“He made us a different team.”
In that earlier matchup, Kentucky’s frontcourt was marred by foul trouble, with Poythress fouling out in 26 minutes and Lee exiting with five fouls in just five minutes of action.
“The first game was real frustrating, a lot of us were in foul trouble,” Poythress said. “Just wasn’t a good game from the start. Hopefully we’ll have a lot more energy tomorrow. We’re playing better as a team, individuals are playing better. So hopefully we’ll have a different outcome.”
The energy at Rupp Arena, where Kentucky has won 36 consecutive games dating back to the 2013-14 season, figures to be at a fever pitch for Poythress’ Senior Day. The beloved forward who was once a top-10 prospect coming out of high school is one of just 15 players in school history to accumulate at least 800 points (896), 500 rebounds (569) and 70 blocks (73) in their career.
“These kids are all on different paths,” Calipari said. “Proud of Alex. He’s such a great kid. The injuries and the things he’s had to overcome, you just root for a kid like that.”
With a win, Kentucky would guarantee at least a share of the SEC title, and a No. 2 seed at worst. Prior to the Wildcats and Tigers tipping off at 2 p.m. ET, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M will face off at 12 p.m. ET in College Station, Texas. A Commodore win over the Aggies paired with a Kentucky win over LSU would give the Cats the SEC title outright.
It isn’t UK’s ultimate goal, but it would be a first step along the way to it.
“I’ll probably hear about (the score of the Vanderbilt-Texas A&M game),” Coach Cal said. “Someone will tell me. I’ll come out the game, and (UK Deputy Director) DeWayne (Peevy) will be wide-eyed. I’ll be, ‘What? Tell me what.’ So he’ll probably say something. I won’t be watching the game at all. … It’s really funny the top four teams are playing each other the last day, which is really kind of interesting that you find out where your seed is going to be between you four by playing each other.”
What’s in Play on Saturday?
With a win over LSU, the Wildcats would clinch at least a share of their Southeastern Conference-leading 47th conference title. With a win and a Texas A&M loss, the Wildcats would clinch the title outright. With a loss and a Texas A&M loss, Kentucky would still clinch a share of the championship.
UK has nearly as many conference titles (46) as the rest of the league combined (49). John Calipari has directed his teams to 13 total conferecene titles including three while at the helm of Kentucky.
Perfect Home Season
With a win on Saturday, UK will complete its 13th perfect home season in Rupp Arena in program history, including five in seven seasons under the direction of Calipari. Kentucky is in looking to extend its home winning streak to 37 games, which dates back to the 2013-14 season.
Kentucky to Honor Alex Poythress on Senior Day
Kentucky will celebrate senior forward Alex Poythress on Saturday for Senior Day. The Wildcats are 92-19 all-time on Senior Day, including a perfect 6-0 under Calipari.
The ceremony will include a video tribute, more than 23,000 fans singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the presentation of a framed jersey. The ceremony, which the late Al McGuire once called “the most touching moment in all of sports, will begin at approximately 1:45 p.m.
Approaching 900 career points, Poythress is the 15th player in school history with 800 points, 500 rebounds and 70 blocks in a career. He’s played in a team-high 106 games in his Kentucky career with 56 starts.