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Cats want to get off to a better start against Texas A&M in regular-season finale


By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Writer

Kentucky is developing a knack for comebacks. Despite the success rate, the Wildcats don’t want to make close calls a common occurrence this late in the season.

The Wildcats (25-5, 15-2 Southeastern Conference) had to rally from 19 points down to fend off Vanderbilt 83-77 earlier this week and overcome a 10-point deficit to defeat Florida 76-66 last weekend. The latest victory gave the ninth-ranked Wildcats a share of the league title with one game remaining in the regular season.

De’Aaron Fox hopes the Wildcats can get off to a faster start in the regular-season finale at Texas A&M Saturday (Bill Thiry Photo)

Kentucky can clinch the SEC title outright with a win at Texas A&M Saturday in the season finale for both teams. Despite two close calls in the past week, the Wildcats will be seeking a better start against the Aggies.

“We’ve just go to learn how to play desperate the whole 40 minutes,” Kentucky freshman guard De’Aaron Fox said Thursday. “We’ve been getting down and having to fight back and it being a close game. So, I feel like if we play desperate from the start we don’t have to worry about 10-, 12-, 15-point lead that we have to cut into and then try to get up ourselves.”

Fox, his teammates and the Kentucky coaching staff aren’t putting the lackluster first-half performances on the back-burner and are working on a solution to the problem, especially in practice.

“I think that’s the thing we’re trying to figure out and address verses play ostrich and put your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening,” Justus said. “The players and coaches, and are aware that we need to focus in a little bit on that.”

Fox thinks the problem comes down to a lack of energy and not playing with a sense of urgency during the opening half. Once the issue is fixed, Fox said the Wildcats will become invincible.

“It’s just effort, things like that,” Fox said. “Trying to play with desperation from the beginning to the end of the game. Some games we’ve done that and win by 30, then some games we didn’t, we get down and come back. If we can do that for the full 40 minutes it’s hard to beat us.”

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Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

Fox added that building a lead earlier and avoiding large deficits, will make things easier for the Wildcats.

“Sometimes we just don’t have energy at the beginning of the game and then we kind of kick it in a little bit too late,” Fox said. “I think if we can start the game like then it’ll be much easier and better for us.”

Justus agreed and said even learning to put away teams with ease also is a work in progress.

“When we get up double digits, how do we play with a lead?” Justus said. “How do we close teams out? By this time of year, you’re addressing both of those situations.”

In the midst of the struggles, Kentucky carries a seven-game winning streak into College Station. In an earlier-season contest between the two conference foes, the Wildcats dealt the Aggies a 100-58 setback on Jan. 3. The Wildcats haven’t suffered a defeat since an 88-66 blowout loss at Florida on Feb. 6 in Gainesville.

Fox said the team’s five losses, especially the letdown at Florida, have been beneficial learning experiences.

“We have a few losses we probably shouldn’t have,” Fox said. “That’s when we really learned. After, I guess, those three losses in four games we kind of tried to turn it up. We changed practice a little bit, flipped a switch and I feel like we’ve been playing a lot better since then.”

The Wildcats hope to continue that trend and build momentum going into the postseason.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Texas A&M, noon, Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter


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