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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s five-point loss at LSU last month stands out in a list of games the Wildcats feel were missed opportunities for victories.
The 18th-ranked Wildcats outrebounded the Tigers 42-37 and outscored them in the paint 40-32, but never led in Louisiana. Thy were unable to stop forward Johnny O'Bryant III, who had 29 points, and allowed LSU to shoot 51 percent from the field in the Tigers' 87-82 win.
Kentucky (20-6, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) aims to be more assertive defensively in Saturday’s rematch in Lexington and not let LSU (16-9, 7-6) get on a roll like it did the first time.
The Wildcats need to play a complete game against LSU after allowing Mississippi to cut a 22-point second-half lead to single digits Tuesday before beating Ole Miss 84-70.
Especially since the memories of O'Bryant’s hot night remain fresh in the Wildcats’ minds.
“We didn’t do a good job on him,” Wildcats guard James Young said Friday, “so this time we’re gonna trap him as soon as he gets the ball and make him go baseline and try and take away his shot selection.”
Asked why that didn’t happen last time, Young added, “We probably took him lightly. We didn’t come out with as much focus and competitiveness to go out there and win. That’s changed now. … We really just got to execute and play our game.”
Saturday’s meeting against LSU is the first of two straight against SEC teams that beat Kentucky because of defensive collapses. After the Tigers comes a second home matchup on Thursday against Arkansas, which beat the Wildcats 87-85 in overtime last month on a last-second putback dunk by Michael Qualls.
As much as the Wildcats want to contain O'Bryant (15.4 points, 7.6 rebounds per game), coach John Calipari warned that they must also account for the junior forward’s teammates. Though LSU has split six games since upsetting Kentucky, the coach said the Tigers remain a threat because of supporting players such as forward Jordan Mickey (13.7 points, 7.4 rebounds).
“I’m anxious to see how we’ll play against them, but it’s not like they got worse,” Calipari said. “LSU got better. It’s going to be a hard game.”
How hard is it depends on Kentucky’s ongoing adjustment to playing the zone defense. Despite a second-half stretch Tuesday where the Rebels scored four straight baskets against the zone, Calipari is pleased with the progress the Wildcats have made playing it.
The Wildcats came away with their fifth win in six games since losing at LSU by holding Mississippi to just 39 percent shooting with a mix of defenses. Now comes a chance for a follow-up against the Tigers and O'Bryant, one that Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle promises won’t be squandered this time around.
“We didn’t do anything, we didn’t fight,” Randle said of their failed effort against O'Bryant. “We worked all week on how we were going to guard him and we just didn’t do it. It just comes from a lack of attention to detail and a lack of effort. …
“We’ll be fine.”
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