With football season in the rear view mirror and conference play on the hardwood set to begin it is time to turn the focus of out three keys articles to basketball. The timing really couldn’t be any better as the Wildcats open up SEC ball on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa against Alabama. The No. 13 ‘Cats are 10-2 with the bulk of their non-con games complete.
Here are the three keys:
Don’t be fooled by the records
By Steve Wright
This is a game that sees the 10-2 Wildcats take on the 9-3 Crimson Tide. Those records would suggest that the two teams are well matched in terms of talent level and skill, but it is worth digging a little deeper to see why that is not the case.
The two losses for Kentucky on the season were against No.1 Duke, a team playing at a different level, and against Seton Hall (in overtime) in a game Kentucky would love to have back. Alabama, on the other hand, has losses to Northeastern, UCF, and Georgia State, with their best wins coming against Arizona and a Wichita State team that is young and finding its feet.
There is no Collin Sexton in the back court for Alabama this season and, as a result, the team has rapidly regressed from where they were a year ago.
Continue to grow
The Seton Hall game seems to have been just what this squad needed.
It showed the Wildcats that they cannot be passive and just cruise through games to pick up a positive result. The one-point overtime loss has been followed by a three game winning streak against Power Five opposition, with Kentucky downing Utah, North Carolina, and Louisville in comfortable fashion.
While the Wildcats might not be blowing out teams, their energy and dedication on the defensive end has picked up after losing to the Pirates. It is that growth that coach Cal will want to see in his 2018-19 squad’s first conference road test, knowing that controlling the flow and tempo of the game will be all important.
Stop Kira Lewis Jr.
Sexton may be gone from the Crimson Tide, but Alabama has reloaded with another dynamic guard in the form of freshman Lewis.
The 6-foot-3, 167-pounder may by slight in stature, but he averages 15 points per game and is the Crimson Tide’s most reliable and dangerous offensive threat. Last time out against Stephen F. Austin, Lewis scored 18 points and had eight assists while going 7-of-8 from the free throw line in an effort where he did everything required to lead Alabama to victory.
Kentucky has guards with the size and defensive skill to slow down Lewis and make other Alabama players beat them. By taking away the single biggest threat that the Crimson Tide possess, Kentucky should find it much easier going in Tuscaloosa.