UK goes for 10 straight wins Saturday in Starkville

Improved team defense has keyed the Wildcats latest win streak

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There were some serious questions about Kentucky's defense early in this college basketball season, not the least of which stemmed from the Wildcats 118-84 blowout loss to start the season against Duke.

But even outside of that game, the Wildcats had problems, especially defending the three-point line. Yet as often seems to happen with John Calipari-coached teams, UK has improved as the season has progressed.

Heading into Saturday's meeting with Mississippi State, the Cats have held six-straight opponents to 63 points or less, the longest such streak in four years. During the team's current nine-game win streak, UK has given up just 58 points a game, and opponents are shooting 37 percent from the field. Kentucky has risen to eighth in adjusted defense, according to the Ken Pomeroy College Basketball Index.   

"The guys are taking a personal challenge on individually not being the guy that breaks us down," assistant coach Tony Barbee said. "When it comes that important to you individually to protect each other collectively, then we become pretty good, especially with the pieces that we have: the length, the size, the physicality and size, the quickness on the perimeter ... And then when you’ve got a couple of pit bulls at the top of your defense in Ashton (Hagans) and Immanuel (Quickley), it makes it really hard for the other team.”  

Barbee was asked about an earlier comment from Calipari about this being the worst defensive team he has had.  

“It was 100 percent true," Barbee said. "We were bad through the first seven, eight, nine games of the year. It was just the young guys getting a feel for it at this level and us collectively trusting each other defensively. And that just comes with young teams like we have every year, and you see the breakthrough usually happens — late-December, early-January — when we have that Christmas break, when we do a lot of practicing, a lot of film work, and then you see the guys grow and improve rapidly during that period. And that’s what’s happened again this year.”

Questions continue to come up about whether or not overlooking teams will become an issue for UK. They beat Mississippi State, 76-5,5 on Jan. 22 at Rupp Arena.  

"I’ve heard a couple of times trap games and this and that. Not with this team," Barbee said. "This team is focused. I mean, you see it every day in practice. Practices are so competitive that you can’t expect a letdown in the games. These guys have been practicing, going after each other, competing against each other. They’re having fun together, and so it doesn’t matter the opponent on the floor. They’re going to come to play every night.”

Kentucky goes for win No. 10 in a row Saturday at 1 p.m. in Starkville against the Bulldogs.

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