TOP 25 REWIND: No. 16 Kentucky discovering a groove for SEC play

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It appears like Kentucky has figured a couple of issues out, simply in time for Southeastern Convention play.

The 16th-ranked Wildcats gained at rival Louisville on Saturday of their first highway recreation of the season. That adopted a win in opposition to a ranked North Carolina workforce per week earlier and marked their third straight victory in opposition to a power-conference opponent — promising indicators in a season that began with a blowout loss to Duke.

“That is the method you undergo,” Wildcats coach John Calipari mentioned after the 71-58 win in opposition to the Cardinals. “However I by no means misplaced any confidence within the youngsters. I informed them that. However you’re going to need to play completely different.”

Kentucky began the yr ranked No. 2, however perceptions modified throughout that 118-84 loss to now-No. 1 Duke to open the season, a recreation by which the Blue Devils shot 54 p.c, collected 22 assists and solely turned the ball over 4 occasions.

The Wildcats have misplaced simply as soon as since then, falling to Seton Corridor on a 3-pointer within the ultimate seconds of extra time. They’re poised to climb in Monday’s new AP Prime 25 ballot.

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Alongside the best way, Calipari has talked to his workforce about sharing the basketball. And so they’ve turn out to be one of many nation’s finest on the offensive glass, rating third nationally in KenPom’s offensive rebounding proportion (40.8).

There was defensive enchancment, too. Prior to now two video games, Kentucky has held the Tar Heels and the Cardinals to a mixed 39.Eight p.c taking pictures. A number of the credit score goes to freshman guard Ashton Hagans, who’s growing into an on-the-ball defensive presence and has 11 steals previously two video games, together with eight in opposition to UNC.

It was after the UNC win that Calipari famous: “We’re not the identical workforce we had been two weeks in the past. It’s not even shut.”

Good timing, too. The Wildcats open SEC play at Alabama subsequent weekend.

“Final recreation was an excellent stepping stone, and right this moment we made one other huge step in the correct course,” freshman guard Tyler Herro mentioned after the Louisville win. “Each recreation’s going to be one the place they wish to beat us actual dangerous, however (we’re) simply coming in and getting higher.”

Herro added: “We’ve been over that Duke recreation for some time.”

QUIET WEEK

Christmas week meant a lightweight schedule for AP Prime 25 groups, with Kentucky’s journey to Louisville standing out on a slate that lacked any matchups between ranked packages.

HOME SURPRISE

No. 17 Arizona State had earned a few spectacular wins, notably by beating present No. 19 Mississippi State in November and then-No. 1 Kansas within the days earlier than Christmas. But the Solar Devils returned from the vacation with a shocking house loss to Princeton .

It was Princeton’s first win in opposition to a ranked opponent since 2012. The Solar Devils shot 32 p.c in a efficiency that coach Bobby Hurley referred to as “a step again.”

That loss was a part of a tough December for the Pac-12, which has solely Arizona State contained in the AP Prime 25.

ROUGH TRIP

No. 15 Wisconsin suffered its personal upset, this one on the highway at Western Kentucky within the Badgers’ first go to to a mid-major college for the reason that 2014-15 season.

Wisconsin entered the sport ranked within the high 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive effectivity rankings, however the Hilltoppers shot practically 68 p.c after halftime and completed the sport with a 38-31 rebounding benefit.

THE ADDITIONS

North Carolina State (No. 20) and Oklahoma (No. 25) had been final week’s new additions to the ballot, although solely the Wolfpack performed a recreation with that newly earned rating.

N.C. State had no bother beating Loyola-Maryland on Friday in its first recreation as a ranked workforce since January 2013. It pushed the Wolfpack (12-1) to this system’s finest begin since 2005-06, with Atlantic Coast Convention play beginning within the coming week.

“We’ve got gotten higher,” Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts mentioned. “We’ve got been capable of develop our depth with some guys … who bought some taking part in time these days who will actually assist us as soon as we get within the ACC.”

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AP Sports activities Author Gary B. Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

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Extra AP school basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Observe Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap

The Related Press contributed to this report.

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