Kentucky suffered a deflating 71-67 home loss to Florida this past weekend, breaking a three-game winning streak that had fans across the Bluegrass State in a giddy mood looking towards the future.
Now at 8-14 overall and 7-8 in the SEC, a double-bye in the conference tournament is virtually out of reality, meaning the Cats will have to at least win four games for the automatic bid. With a win against their next opponent, Ole Miss, now at 13-10 overall and 8-8 in the SEC, they can at least boost their seeding to a six or seven.
When it comes to their matchup in Oxford, the Cats are looking to gain back some momentum and extend their road winning streak to five games. Assistant coach Jai Lucas said today that the team does not need any extra motivation, and still feels they can make noise in the postseason.
“They have pretty good motivation right now. They haven’t folded. They haven’t stopped working or anything like that, so that’s been the one positive with, like you were saying, how the season has gone,” he said. “I think they still understand what we have ahead of us. We take it one game at a time and then we’ll just focus, once we get to the SEC Tournament, one game at a time there and see what happens.”
No matter who the opponent is, Kentucky has to be able to react in scenarios of defensive changes better than they did against Florida. Once the Gators switched to a zone midway through the first half, UK was basically shut down, finishing 9/27 from the field in the second half and just seven assists overall.
The Rebels actually like to run a 1-3-1 zone, possessing another threat to Kentucky’s ability to score efficiently. Coach Jai Lucas feels however that the Gators’ zone will help them get ready for different zones and presses from opponents.
“With Ole Miss, their 1-3-1 (zone) is kind of more aggressive and they’re out pressuring you a little bit more, and it kind of transitions back to a 2-3 or a man. So, it’s kind of a completely different type of concept. So, you know, I think with us having played against Florida and the zone, that’s something that will help us the rest of the year, especially when you get in that tournament situation and it’s one game. You’ve got to be able to change things at the drop of the hat, so we’re kind of thankful Florida did throw that curveball at us so it can get us ready.”
Senior guard Devontae Schuler leads the team with 16 points per game, and is one of two players in the SEC to rank in the top ten in scoring, assists and steals conference wise, so stopping him will also be a challenge for the Cats.
Once again, this will be a test to see how consistent UK can be on both sides of the ball, and if they can quickly bounce back after a tough loss.