Cats have work to do ahead of SEC opener

Published 11:37 am Thursday, January 4, 2024

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky is in the midst of two-a-day workouts in preparation for the Southern Conference start of the schedule.

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The sixth-ranked Wildcats (10-2) have spent most of their time on rebounding, an area of concern following a 90-76 win over Illinois State last Friday night. Kentucky was outrebounded by the Redbirds 45-40 and surrendered 24 offensive rebounds, which alarmed Kentucky coach John Calipari.

“There was no boxing out, there was no screening the guy to get free,” Calipari said. “It was just you and that man and they blocked us out. We didn’t go get any balls. We got a few but not like they did. So that will concern me, but we have got time.”

Kentucky guard and leading Antonio Reeves, who has scored 57 in the past two games, agreed.

“We have been having trouble rebounding,” he said. “(We have to work on) getting better at boxing out players and to make sure to square up on a guy and being physical to keep up.”

To combat the issue, Calipari plans to take the same approach he has traditionally used in practice such as blocked out rims during rebounding drills.

“(You have to) keep doing it and then, basically, keeping it real with guys,” Calipari said. “If you are not going to rebound, I am not going to play you. I don’t care who you are. …We are going to work on it.”

Illinois State coach Ryan Pedon doesn’t see many flaws within Kentucky’s structure and said the Wildcats’ “elite speed and quickness” make Kentucky tough to stop on both ends of the court.

“They are a hard guard, a very hard guard because of their elite speed and athleticism and Reed Sheppard is the real deal,” he said. “He separates them from years past when they did not have a Reed Sheppard but now they do as well as the talent around him. They are going to be hard for anybody to guard.”

Aside from a non-conference game against Gonzaga on Feb. 10, the Wildcats will compete against league foes, starting with Florida on Saturday in Gainesville. The Gators are unbeaten at home this season (6-0) and Calipari is expecting a tough encounter.

“It is going to be a hard game down there,” Calipari said. “It is always a hard game. It is sold out already, sold out weeks ago. They are good. They have got size, their big kid’s good, their guards play good. Florida is good.”

Going into conference play, each team in the league has a winning record with the exception of Vanderbilt. The early surprise is Ole Miss, which is 13-0 under Chris Beard. Four teams, including Kentucky, are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week. Tennessee (9-3) is No. 5, followed by Kentucky at sixth, Ole Miss at No. 22 and Auburn (10-2) made its debut this week at No. 25.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, 12:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.