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Calipari pleased with Kentucky’s progress, but Kansas will be another great challenge for Cats

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Keldon Johnson has no problem get hyped up for a game. The energy level will likely reach epic proportions when Kentucky takes on Kansas Saturday at Rupp Arena.

Johnson admitted Friday he is anxious for the Top-10 showdown between the eighth-ranked Wildcats and the ninth-ranked Jayhawks in the fifth SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

“I’m excited to get out there and put everything we’ve practiced into play,” said Johnson, who listens to music and gets in the zone before each contest. “We just have to come out prepared to play. Your emotions are going to be high, but you have to control them. We just have to go out there and get after them.”

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson goes in for an easy shot in a recent game. Johnson and the Wildcats take on No. 9 Kansas Saturday at Rupp Arena. (Photo by Tammie Brown, Kentucky Today)

Johnson is the opposite of fifth-year senior Reid Travis, who doesn’t get rattled when it comes to game day. Travis is considered the calmest player on the squad and the Wildcats will glean from his experience in a game that will be an NCAA Tournament resume boost for the winner.

“He’s been through it,” Johnson said. “He has been through this process a lot. He stays calm and has the right energy and performs.”

Kentucky (15-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) carries a five-game winning streak into the contest and is coming off a 76-55 rout of Mississippi State earlier this week. Kansas (16-3, 5-2 Big 12) edged Iowa State 80-76 in a Big 12 encounter and has won four of its past five games. The Jayhawks have won the last three games between the two bluebloods, including a 65-61 win in the Champions Classic a year ago in Chicago.

“This is (a game) where we will learn about each other — who is amped up and who is calmed down,” he said. “They’re terrific. They’re a Top 10 team and (Dedric) Lawson is as good (of a player) we’re going to play against. … Their guard play is good and they shoot the ball quick. The kind of play like us, they don’t shoot as many threes. They attack that rim and they rebound the ball. They’re a Top-10 defensive team. We know they’re going to be good.”

Kentucky has beaten its past three ranked opponents — Louisville, Auburn and Mississippi State — but Calipari still wants to see how far the Wildcats have progressed during the past three months.

“I just want to see where we are at this point against that kind of team,” Calipari said. “This is a team you will be playing if you are lucky enough to get into the (NCAA Tournament) and advance. At some point (you will be) playing a team like this and let’s see how good we are. Right now, with them being more of a veteran team, they’ll be a little more advanced.”

The Kentucky coach has been pleased with his team’s recent performances, especially in road victories at Georgia and Auburn, but isn’t sure the Wildcats have fully turned the proverbial corner.

“We still have those breakdowns and let teams back in the game,” Calipari said. “At some point, they’ve got to learn it’s going to end your season if you play that way. It will be a great challenge for us.”

Gametracker: Kansas at Kentucky, 6 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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One Comment

  1. JamesBeits says:

    If Kentucky wins their next two games against Mississippi State and Kansas I really think that we do win those two games in my opinion However if they do win these games and continue to finish the SEC strong what kind of seed do you think that we may be looking at come tourney time??? Don’t get me wrong I know there are still plenty of time before selection Sunday but just curious what everyone opinions are at the moment Will be a very impressive streak to win these three games in a row

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