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Halfway up the mountain, Cats need to stay hungry and humble — and ‘in right frame of mind’

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky is on a roll and John Calipari wants the Wildcats to stay on the current path of success that has led to nine straight victories.
“I’ve got to keep these guys in the right frame of mind,” Calipari said following a 76-48 win over South Carolina Tuesday night. “My job now is (to keep the team staying) hungry, yet humble. We don’t need anybody arrogant right now. We need to be humble and we need to be hungry in what we’re trying to do.”
Part of the reason the Wildcats have turned the proverbial corner is because of the team’s emphasis on defense rather than offense. The fifth-ranked Wildcats have held their last six opponents to 63 points or less and the past three opponents — Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina — have scored less than 55 points.

Keith Taylor

“Defense is a big part of why we’re winning,” Kentucky forward PJ Washington said. “Without our defense, I don’t think we would be in a nine-game winning streak. We’re stopping teams and forcing them to get out of their game plans and it’s just great to stop teams like that.”
A top priority on the scouting report is to keep the opposition from staying within their game plan. Washington said the team’s mission is to make “their strengths their weaknesses” and the scheme is working perfectly.
“When we play any team, that’s the biggest thing we try to do,” he said. “(South Carolina) was a denying team on the defensive end, so we tried to do the same thing to them.”
Going into the second half of the Southeastern Conference schedule, a tough task awaits the Wildcats. The list of contests includes a home-and-home against top-ranked Tennessee as well as home contests against Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, and Florida. It all starts Saturday at Mississippi State.
“Mississippi State going to Mississippi to win is a big deal,” Calipari said earlier this week. “To do that (Mississippi State coach) Ben Howland has them on the right track. We have hard games (ahead).”
In order for the Wildcats to keep climbing the proverbial mountain, Calipari expects more from his squad, mostly his post players, including reserves EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. Montgomery posted career highs with 11 points and 13 rebounds against the Gamecocks, a sign the freshman center is starting to realize what it takes to be a regular contributor.
“We need Nick,” Calipari said. “Nick has to give us 15 to 20 minutes a game. He’s got to be playing. It has nothing to do with jump hooks or shots. I like that because it makes him smile, but get in there, fight like crazy, rebound, block shots and fly up and down (the) court. Let us throw you lobs. There’s no one in the game of college basketball like him, but he’s got to perform.”

In addition to steady contributions from Richards, Calipari wants the rest of his team to continue to strive for excellence on both ends of the court.
“That’s what we’re looking to do — get better,” he said. “Let’s get better. Let’s get more consistent (and) let’s play 40 minutes. Let’s use each of those games to learn about our team. Let the results speak for themselves.”
So far, those results have been favorable and encouraging in moving forward.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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