At long last, the Kentucky Wildcats will get to play some tough competition after over a month of cupcake games since the Duke opener.
Learning how to win on the road now will give the ‘Cats a big boost before SEC road trips begin in early January. The Wildcats have looked like a top-10 team in the last several weeks, cruising to 20, 30, and even 40-point victories in their seven-game winning streak.
This is much better than in years past, where they’d only win those kinds of games by 9 or 12 (or in the case of the Evansville game, actually lose). This team has learned how to win with each other, and if they can do these three things they should cruise to a double-digit victory in South Bend Saturday evening:
1. Have a high points-per-minute rating with heavy offensive rebounding
Thanks to Big O, Kentucky has been one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, and when they’ve combined that with a fast-paced dribble drive offense they’ve scored 80+ points most nights. That’s been a rarity for UK in recent years (and especially last year), and Notre Dame’s only averaged 69.0 points per game thus far. If UK can crash the glass and put up lots of shots like they have, the Irish won’t be able to keep up.
2. Win the turnover margin
One of the chinks in the armor for UK this season has been a few too many turnovers (hey just like the football team!), and the game against Southern Tuesday showcased that again. Southern uses a lot more pressing than most teams, though, and is one of the better teams in the country at forcing TOs. The Irish have been able to force about 11 a night from their opponents so far but have coughed up just as many. If UK can force more turnovers than they give up, they’ll have a big leg-up in this one.
3. Get to the line
Kentucky’s got another fantastic free-throw shooting team this year, and this can be a secret weapon that can make the difference between the Elite Eight and the Final Four. If UK needs a bucket late down two or three, getting fouled on their shots will generate free points that can decide the game. Few teams that shoot lots of free throws and make lots of free throws throughout their games find themselves losing. This weapon, as well as their offensive rebounding skills, have to be used to their full potential every night.