Just a short time ago, the Kentucky Wildcats were on an unprecedented six game losing streak and essentially in a complete free fall.
Even the most loyal fans began to question whether or not this team had the mental toughness to salvage a season that at one time had lofty expectations. Some debated whether or not there was even enough talent on this roster to start winning games consistently.
Those concerns were put to bed in Gainesville on Saturday when the Cats demolished the Gators 76-58 in what was definitively their best performance of the young season.
The most noteworthy tidbit from the big win besides the score was the return of sophomore Keion Brooks Jr., who had yet to play this year due to an undisclosed leg injury.
Many folks, myself included, didn’t expect a ton from Brooks on Saturday evening considering he hadn’t seen live action in nearly a full calendar year. Instead of easing his way back into things the former five-star recruit poured in 12 points and grabbed six rebounds.
If that wasn’t enough to convince the Big Blue Nation that he’s back — Brooks also added a jaw-dropping fast-break slam dunk where it seemed like he took off from halfcourt.
Yeah, he’s back, and Kentucky is now a completely different team moving forward with Keion Brooks in the lineup.
“And I give this whole team credit, everybody came in with a new mindset to continue to push through, play together, make the right plays and trust our coaching staff that they will put us in a position to win every night.” Brooks said after the road win.
Kentucky vs. Alabama Tuesday, January 12th at 9:00 pm on ESPN
The typically dreaded 9:00 PM weeknight game will have some extra flare when the Cats meet the Tide on Tuesday.
Along with Kentucky, the Alabama Crimson Tide are the only other undefeated team in the SEC.
Nate Oats has him team playing well at 9-3 overall and a perfect 4-0 in conference play.
Most recently the Crimson Tide held off Auburn 94-90 in a barn-burner on Saturday. They now hold impressive wins against Auburn and #7 Tennessee.
There’s no doubt about it — Alabama is playing some of the best basketball in the conference and Tuesday night will be another legitimate test of the Cats’ ability to lock-in for a full forty minute game.
Will they revert back to the old habits that were responsible for their abysmal 1-6 start? Or capitalize on the momentum from punishing the Gators?
To star, Kentucky will have to slow down an Alabama offense littered with scorers.
The Crimson Tide have four players averaging over 12 points a game, including John Petty, a familiar face for Kentucky fans, who’s scoring about 12.5 per game.
He’s joined by sophomore Jaden Shackelford’s and Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly who are both averaging 13 points a contest.
The Cats will have to guard on Tuesday night if they want to keep their perfect conference record in tact. Bama has poured in over 83 points per game through four conference games.
Olivier Sarr, Isaiah Jackson and Keion Brooks staying out of foul trouble and on the floor protecting the rim could prove to be critical.
A week ago it would have sounded completely insane but Kentucky has an opportunity to start SEC play 4-0 and put the conference on notice.
As of Sunday morning, ESPN’s match-up predictor is starting to regain faith in the Cats, giving them a 53% chance at victory.
Kentucky at Auburn Saturday, January 16th at 1:00 PM on ESPN
After playing the top team in the SEC the Cats will go on the road to face Bruce Pearl and the struggling Auburn Tigers.
As of Sunday they’re still winless in conference play after falling to Alabama over the weekend.
Despite their poor record, Auburn got some big news recently when freshman superstar Sharife Cooper was cleared to return.
In his first collegiate game Cooper filled it up with 26 points on 8/19 shooting along with nine assists.
Cooper was one of my favorite players in the class of 2020 and a guy I really wanted to see at UK. As he showed in his debut, he’s the type of the point guard who can control a game and force it to be played at his pace. Cooper is a mastermind at getting to the foul-line. He went 9/10 from the strip in Saturday’s loss. Containing him now becomes priority number one for John Calipari and the Wildcats.
The Tigers will play Arkansas on Wednesday before their Saturday showdown with Kentucky.
ESPN likes UK in this one giving them a 58% nod to get the win.
It’s going to be an exciting week for Kentucky basketball. The additions of Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks have totally changed the dynamic of this team.
Expectations have went from the floor to the sky in just a matter of a few games.
Can the Cats keep it rolling?
We’ll know soon enough.