Kentucky and Ole Miss haven’t played a Southeastern Conference game in a week.
The No. 22 Wildcats (16-7, 6-4 SEC) lost a nonconference home game against Gonzaga 89-85 on Saturday, four days after beating visiting Vanderbilt 109-77 in their most recent conference game.
The Rebels (18-5, 5-5) didn’t play at all over the weekend as they tried to regroup from consecutive defeats, most recently a 68-65 loss at then-No. 15 South Carolina on Feb. 6.
Kentucky and Ole Miss both have seen fast starts in SEC play give way to inconsistency as they prepare to play Tuesday night in Lexington, Ky.
“I don’t know, I wish I had the answer to it,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said of the inconsistency. “We know we are capable. We’ve got a chance to win at the end of the game even if we don’t play great. And we have our chances.
“Most of our breakdowns come down on the defensive end. And I’m spending a lot of time on it and we are working on it. Thank goodness we have time. We’ve got a tough schedule. Our league is really good.”
The Wildcats won four of their first five conference games but have lost three of their last five and four of six contests overall after the loss to Gonzaga.
“Nothing has changed in my mind with this team,” Calipari said. “We have the ability to do what we want. We are just going to have to do it together.”
The Wildcats, who were ranked as high as No. 6 in the AP poll earlier in the season, have fallen behind four teams in the conference standings and are tied with two other four-loss teams.
Ole Miss is a game behind Kentucky after losing four of its first five road games in the conference.
The full week between games gave Rebels coach Chris Beard extra time to try to get his team back on track. Ole Miss lost at home for the first time this season in 14 games this season when Auburn shot 73.3 percent from the floor while outscoring the Rebels 56-33 in the second half of a 91-77 victory on Feb. 3.
The defense’s struggles continued three nights later as the Gamecocks shot 62 percent from the floor in the first half and made 7 of 14 3-pointers in building a 43-31 halftime lead. Ole Miss played better in the second half, limiting South Carolina to 32.3 percent shooting, but never caught up.
“No adjustments, just trying to get back to what the original game plan was supposed to be,” Beard said of the second-half improvement.
The return of 7-foot-5 center Jamarion Sharp from a one-game absence due to illness contributed to the defensive improvement after halftime. After playing just three minutes in the first half, he played 15 in the second half and had all of his six points, three blocks and two rebounds.
“For him to come back and respond like that is a real positive for our team here in early February,” Beard said. “He protected the rim. … He was aggressive, he was dialed in. That was one of his better halves of basketball.”
–Field Level Media
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