After winning on the road in Lubbock against then No. 18 in the country Texas Tech, Kentucky next goes back to conference play, facing against Vanderbilt tomorrow in Rupp Arena.
The Commodores are the lone team without a win in conference play in the SEC (0-6) and are 8-11 overall, but that does not mean the Cats should not be focused knowing how balanced college basketball has been this year and how many teams often play at their best against UK.
UK Assistant Coach Joel Justus hinted at keeping the team focused in the pre-Vanderbilt press conference today, saying that focus is key no matter who is next on the schedule.
“Whether you’re playing Texas Tech, whether you’re playing Vanderbilt or whoever you’re playing next, the most important day for us is the present day,” said Justus. “I think our guys are focused on having a good practice today and tomorrow we’ll get another opportunity to get better.”
When it comes to keeping focus, Justus pointed towards staying competitive and professional as the way the players can stay in tune and ready.
“You look for individuals to continue to look more competitive, and it’s something that when you have young people every game that step out there, it’s a competiton,” Justus said. “I think when guys are still continuing to master their craft, it’s about being professional every single day.”
Even though Vanderbilt lost their 3-point streak that lasted 1,080 games over 34 years against Tennessee recently this season, they still as a team rank second in the SEC in 3-pointers made per game (8.3) and fourth in 3-point percentage (32.9), something Justus says the Cats will focus on containing.
“You don’t want to allow a team at any point, whether it’s a home game or a road game, to see the ball go in the hole without having to really go through a stressful possession,” Justus said. “You don’t want to have mental lapses, you don’t want mistakes where you’re not having the opportunity to be at your best.”
Kentucky ranks second in the SEC in opponent 3-point field goal percentage, holding opponents to just 28.6% from downtown this season.
Outside of Kentucky’s main contributors (Hagans, Maxey, Quickley, Richards), the team had struggled to find consistency really until recently as players are figuring out their roles. Joel Justus feels more and more confident that they will continue to become more consistent, especially for Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks Jr. as they recover from illnesses that put them behind.
“Our guys come into games and they’re all ready to play,” Justus said. “Those guys (Juzang and Brooks) have really had opportunities taken away by illness, and I think you move forward in hopes that they’re all ready and that they’re all healthy.”
The Cats face off against Vanderbilt tomorrow night at 6:30 in Rupp Arena.