After a rocky first half of the season, the Kentucky Wildcats look to have started to right the ship, winning six straight games in SEC play. That is until they played Arkansas on Tuesday, losing due to a poor second-half performance, especially on the defensive end.
With just seven games remaining, Kentucky is still on the bubble, and time is running out for them to solidify themselves as a tournament team. With that said, they will have an opportunity to get back in the win column as they will play the Georgia Bulldogs on the road this weekend.
Currently ranked 131st in the NET (as of this article), Georgia is the lowest-ranked opponent remaining on Kentucky’s schedule and is an opponent that the Wildcats have already beaten once this season. Knowing this, Saturday’s contest is one Kentucky must win.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to the game.
To put it simply, the reigning National Player of the Year has not been playing up to his capabilities in the last two games.
Against Florida, you can attribute a poor performance to Colin Castleton’s length, which is something Tshiebwe has consistently struggled against. However, against Arkansas, he was completely outplayed by a Rhode Island transfer of familiar size that averages 4 points per game, Makhel Mitchell.
For Kentucky to maximize its potential, Tshiebwe will need to regain form, and there is no better way to do that against a familiar foe. In Kentucky’s first matchup against Georgia this season, the Bulldogs played him one-on-one. As a result, Tshiebwe played arguably the best game of his collegiate career, recording a 37-point, 24-rebound double-double.
Defend the Ballscreen
Kentucky’s biggest weakness this season has been their defense, more specifically their pick-and-roll defense.
In recent games, Kentucky had shown slight improvement in this area, but you wouldn’t have known that by watching the second half of the Arkansas game. In that period alone, the Wildcats gave up 28 points in the paint.
Given that the Wildcats have already played Georgia once this season, Saturday’s game will be an opportunity to truly compare themselves to what they were nearly a month ago. In that first contest, Georgia scored a then-season-high 42 points, as Kentucky could not stay in front of any drive.
This go-around, the Wildcats should be prepared for more of the same, which will again start with containing Georgia's Terry Roberts.
Crash the Boards
One thing that has been consistent in Kentucky’s wins has been their success on the boards. In all eighteen victories, the Wildcats have outrebounded their opponent by more than eleven rebounds. Whereas in seven of their eight losses, they have either lost the rebounding battle or it was decided by two rebounds or less.
Given that Georgia is a strong rebounding team, Kentucky must continue to show that they can rebound as a collective unit. If they can limit the Bulldogs’ possessions to just one shot, Kentucky will increase their chances for a victory.
Time/Date: 12:00 pm ET on Saturday, February 11th, 2023
Location: Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia
TV Channel: ESPN
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings Sportsbook has it at Kentucky -8. ESPN’s matchup predictor is confident in the Cats, giving them a 73.5% chance to win. However, Bart Torvik’s computer model continues to be low on the Wildcats and gives them a slight edge at 58%. KenPom has it at 65%.