Early tests show SEC play will be difficult for UK


Kentucky fights for the ball during the game against Georgia on Sunday, December 31, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 66 to 61. Photo by Olivia Beach | Staff

Chris Leach

Kentucky basketball’s first two SEC wins over Georgia and LSU have shown fans what they believed to be true all season long – SEC basketball is better.

The Cats were only able to manage five and three point victories over teams that were predicted to finish in the bottom half of the SEC. However, the opening week of conference play has shown that no team is safe when they take the court against conference opponents.

Just yesterday, No. 23 Tennessee was beat by Auburn by 10, Vanderbilt defeated Alabama, and Florida took down No. 11 Texas A&M by 17 on the road. The SEC’s four ranked teams– Texas A&M, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas– are a combined 3-5 to start conference play.

“Think about Mississippi State, think about Auburn, you talking Vandy and you’re saying well they’re – what? Those teams can play, and they’re good,” John Calipari said in a postgame press conference.

In eight seasons with Calipari as the head coach, UK has at least won a share of five SEC regular-season titles, and made the SEC Tournament championship game seven times. However, the path to the SEC Championship could be tougher this year with the increased competition in the SEC.

In order for the Cats to repeat their success in the SEC, they’ll need to play confident against these teams looking to upset them night in and night out. That can be tough for freshmen to do sometimes, especially considering they haven’t played in environments like this during their whole basketball careers.

However, the freshmen handled themselves well against LSU, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and P.J. Washington both had big second halves to lead Kentucky to the road win. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 18 points and four assists while Washington had 18 points of his own with six rebounds.

Recap: Young Cats win first road game in nail-biter with LSU

Both Washington and Gilgeous-Alexander made big plays at the end of the game to help the Cats avoid being upset.

“We’re 12-13 games into the season, we don’t see ourselves as freshmen anymore, we see ourselves as upperclassmen and we try to play with that confidence and with that swagger,” Gilgeous-Alexander said after the game.

If the Cats hope to keep winning in the improved SEC, they’ll need to keep playing with the confidence they showed on Wednesday night. There will likely be many bumps on the road of the SEC schedule, but the 2-0 start should have fans feeling good to start conference play.

The Cats will now get ready for what should be their biggest SEC test of the season on Saturday when they travel to Tennessee. Tipoff in Knoxville is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.