After being out-rebounded 42-28 as a team and outscored 41-13 among frontcourt players, the Kentucky Wildcats were forced to go back to the drawing board after their loss on the road at Auburn.
But unfortunately for both the players and coaching staff, they don’t have much time before taking the floor yet again, as Kentucky is set to take on Mississippi State at Rupp Arena on Tuesday evening.
To make matters worse, the Bulldogs are led by 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward Reggie Perry, who is averaging 17.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 blocks, and 1.0 steals per contest in the frontcourt. As a team, MSU is also averaging 38.6 rebounds per game with a rebounding margin of plus-8 – good for No. 8 in the nation and No. 1 in the SEC – and 13.05 offensive boards per game – good for No. 16 in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC.
Kentucky got out-worked in the paint against Auburn, and they now have to follow it up with a matchup against a frontcourt that works just as hard and plays just as tough in Mississippi State.
During his pregame press conference to preview the Bulldogs, UK associate head coach Kenny Payne said the Wildcats are faced with yet another “tough challenge,” specifically with Reggie Perry in the paint.;
“Tough challenge. He’s an NBA player,” Payne told the media. “Big, strong, athletic. Can shoot it. Tough around the basket. Going to be a big challenge for our guys, especially when he’s at the four because he’s 6-9, 6-10. Again, athletic, great touch around the basket, can shoot jump shots, can beat you off the dribble, and he’s a great rebounder, so he’s a big part of what they’re doing and a big part of our success is how we handle him.”
When asked if it was a good thing Kentucky will have to take on yet another physical team after losing to Auburn, Payne said there are similarities between both teams.
And if they come out and play without being physical and fighting in the paint, they’ll lose yet again. Plain and simple.
“It’s very similar,” Payne said. “A team like Mississippi State, they’re a great rebounding team, they’re a great offensive rebounding team. They are big, they’re strong, they’re physical. They are probably the most physical team in the SEC. They have good shooters. They play hard. They’re really good defensively, so to follow Auburn up with them, there are some similarities.”
While much of the attention in the Kentucky frontcourt is on Nick Richards, Payne sees it as an opportunity for the team’s entire crop of big man talent to prove their value with NBA scouts in attendance.
“Again, the kid (Perry) is an NBA player,” Payne said. “There will be a bunch of scouts coming here to see him. There’s a challenge there. So, EJ is capable. Nick is capable. How about Keion Brooks (Jr.). [We tell him], ‘You may have to guard him at times when we play him at the four. So, don’t care that he is 100 pounds bigger. You’ve gotta fight.’ So, there is a challenge there that we’ve gotta rise up to that challenge and have success against him.”
As easy as it may be for a team to feel “hopeless” after getting dominated in the paint like they did against Auburn, Payne hopes the members of the Kentucky frontcourt look at it as an opportunity to change the narrative and play with their backs against the wall.
“Well, from the outside looking in it may be (hopeless), but from within you have no choice. You have to fight,” Payne said. “These games, wins and losses, aren’t coming down to strategies and defensive plays and offensive strategies of what you want to do and defensive strategies and how you want to guard this. This is your will to win. Battle by battle, possession by possession, what are you willing to do to fight to help this team win? Doesn’t care that, you know, you give up 100 pounds. We don’t care. Don’t care that you get a bad whistle. You gotta win anyway. That’s why you chose this school. We win, historically, when the odds are against us. There are no excuses here.”