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Tennessee looming, but Wildcats not looking past Tuesday matchup with struggling Razorbacks

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky owns a six-game winning streak over Arkansas but that won’t matter when the Wildcats take on the Razorbacks Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.

“Our prep is the same as it’s been for Transylvania and IUP,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said. “You have a little bit more information at this time of year so your preparation is probably a little more intense. I think there is nothing that has changed. We were done at Rupp at six o’clock on Saturday night and started to look at Arkansas.”

The Razorbacks (14-13, 5-9 Southeastern Conference) have lost six straight, including an 87-80 setback to Texas A&M last Saturday in Fayetteville. Like Justus, Kentucky’s players aren’t overlooking the Razorbacks.

Freshman Ashton Hagans turned in a strong floor game for the Wildcats in a win over Tennessee. (Photo by Tammie Brown, Kentucky Today)

“We’re going to approach this game like we approach every other game and work hard and just focus on the game plan and go out there and play as hard as we can,” Kentucky guard Jemarl Baker said.

Justus said Arkansas is capable of defeating the fourth-ranked Wildcats (23-4, 12-2 SEC) with a game looming Saturday at No. 7 Tennessee.

“In this league, you have to buckle your chin strap,” Justus said. “You have to be focused. You have to be ready to score the ball on offense. You have to be ready to defend. Teams are as versatile as they have ever been in this league. It speaks to the quality of coaching.”

Arkansas will be led by sophomore center Daniel Gafford who is averaging 16.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Gafford scored a career-high 32 points in a 90-89 loss at LSU on Feb. 2.

“I heard he’s pretty good,” Montgomery said. “He’s going to be a challenge. We just want to go out there and fight, compete and try to get a win.”

The Wildcats are coming off an 80-53 win over Auburn last Saturday in the team’s first game without forward Reid Travis, who is recovering from a sprained knee he suffered in the Wildcats’ 66-58 win over Missouri last week in Columbia. It took a team effort in the post to help ease the absence of Reid and freshman Keldon Johnson collected 17 rebounds, a career-high against the Tigers.

“We’ll see probably about halftime on Tuesday night and see where Keldon is,” Justus said. “I think (John) Calipari has just been big on attempts. That’s something that we chart. We look at every single shot, both that we take to chart offensive rebounding attempts as well as defensive when we’re on defense. That’s something that he’s been big on. He’s been big with Keldon. He’s been really big with PJ Washington. Our last game, the numbers have been as high as they’ve ever been across the board, so I know he was happy with that.”

Calipari also has been happy with the Wildcats’ performances on defense. During the past 14 games — 13 of which have been wins — Kentucky has limited the opposition to 38 percent shooting and average of 60.1 points per game. The team’s offense also has been on the upswing.

“Not one guy has fallen behind offensively,” Justus said. “They’re getting better, but I think you also see individuals that are now being talked about as great defenders. But most importantly I think the guys in that locker room see themselves as great defenders for the first time probably ever in their life. These guys have never been asked to play defense.”

Travis Update

Justus said Travis is on the mend and “doing what he needs to do” to get back into playing shape. Travis is expected to miss at least another week before making a return to the court from a sprained knee.

“He’s working,” Justus said. “Once again, Reid Travis is the ultimate professional in terms of how he approaches every single day on the floor, off the floor. He’s attacking rehab right now the same way that he attacked his body in the summer, the same way that he attacked playing differently. He’s that guy now that’s got a different challenge ahead of him and that’s getting his body back to being 100 percent and ready to go whenever that time may be.”

Gametracker: Arkansas at Kentucky, 9 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 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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