Despite being a heavy favorite over Arkansas last Tuesday, Kentucky let the Razorbacks take an 11-point lead at halftime and, eventually, a 15-point lead during the second half. The Wildcats found a way to win, largely thanks to a more-focused defense, Tyler Herro’s hot streak and some clutch free throws down the stretch. Arkansas currently finds themselves near the bottom of the SEC (5-10 conference record, 14-14 overall), coming in ahead of only Missouri, Georgia and Vanderbilt. Tennessee, of course, is a different story.
“We can’t dig ourselves into a hole like that against a great team like Tennessee,” PJ Washington said Friday afternoon. “They won’t let us back into the game. If we do that, it’s going to be a long night. We’ve got to come out and play hard from the get-go.”
Against Arkansas, the team said they felt a lackluster effort during the first 20 minutes of action.
“I definitely think there was a lack of energy in the first half,” Keldon Johnson said Tuesday night after the Cats’ four-point win. “We were very sluggish, and I think we just came in too relaxed… I think it was a lack of focus of everybody. But in the second half we came and picked it up.”
What contributed to that lack of focus? While John Calipari admitted it may have been a “trap game,” Ashton Hagans had a different take.
“I think people were looking at it like, we beat Auburn by 30, Auburn smacked [Arkansas] by 30. We thought it was going to be a cupcake walk,” Hagans said Friday. “They came out as the aggressor. They came out with energy and were running the floor on us. They were knocking down big-time shots. We just kept it going and tried to fight back in the second half.
The Cats won’t have that luxury against the Volunteers.
“We can’t start off slow. We’ve got to come out there fighting,” Hagans said. “We’ve got to come at them first, knowing that last game we started off very slow and picked it up in the second half. But with this team, we can’t let them get to an early start. We’ve got to get it going.”
When the Cats defeated Tennessee the first time around, UK dominated the entire game – Kentucky trailed for less than three minutes. Come this Saturday, they need more of the same: solid basketball for a complete 40 minutes. No cupcakes allowed.