Despite losing its entire starting five to the NBA Draft and eight of its top nine scorers from last season’s SEC championship team, Kentucky was ranked in the preseason top-10 of both major polls on the strength of a No. 1 recruiting class highlighted by a pair of top-10 prospects and the nation’s top transfer.
Its 81-45 season-opening win over Morehead State left some wondering aloud how the Wildcats weren’t ranked even higher.
The euphoria was short-lived, however, as UK proceeded to lose six straight games, its longest losing streak in over 30 years. Kentucky’s 1-6 start, its worst start in nearly a century, had some fans not only suffering from John Calipari fatigue and questioning his entire approach but also had a growing vocal minority even ready to move on from the 11-year head coach.
But three games into 2021 and its SEC schedule, Kentucky has the rest of the league singing a different tune.
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« Kentucky will have the rest of the SEC going to bed tonight thinking … uh oh, » SEC Network analyst Jimmy Dykes tweeted following the Wildcats’ 76-58 win at Florida Saturday night, its largest win over the Gators in Gainesville since 1998.
Already dead and buried just over a week ago, Calipari’s club has sprung back to life and during its current 3-game win streak, has looked like a completely different team.
Through its first seven games, Kentucky ranked near the bottom nationally in assists (233), 3-point field goal attempts (235), free throw percentage (245), field goal percentage (259), turnovers per game (264), turnover margin (282), points per game (286), assist-to-turnover ratio (304) and 3-point field goal percentage (321).
After starting the season making 30 of 120 three-point field goals (25 percent), the Wildcats have now made 22 of 47 (46.8 percent) over its last three games, thanks in large part to the emergence of Dontaie Allen, who’s hit on 11 of 19 shots from beyond the arc during that stretch (57.9 percent).
Following wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, UK put together its most complete performance of the season against the Gators, shooting 55.8 percent overall, making 6 of 13 three-pointers and 12 of 13 free throws with 18 assists on 29 made field goals vs. just 14 turnovers.
Saturday also marked the first game of the season for sophomore forward Keion Brooks. In his first game in over 10 months, Brooks finished with 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting, six rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes off the bench. UK’s win streak has also come without starting guard Terrence Clarke, who has missed the last three games with a foot injury.
Kentucky now ranks 43rd in college basketball statistical guru Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency ratings and 16th defensively. After debuting at No. 144 in the NCAA’s first NET ranking, a tool used by the selection committee to seed the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats are now up 56 spots to No. 88.
All of a sudden, the Wildcats’ (4-6, 3-0 SEC) matchup with the Crimson Tide (9-3, 4-0) at Rupp Arena on Tuesday will be for sole possession of first place in the SEC.
Kentucky and Alabama tip off at 9 PM ET on ESPN.