UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky's fast start lifts all of SEC

Riding high after an emotional victory over archrival Louisville.

Unbeaten after 15 games for the first time since 1969-70.

The entire Southeastern Conference seeing its No. 3 national ranking as a ticket back to respectability.

With its Southeastern Conference opener not until Saturday, Kentucky has time to rest on a large pile of laurels.

But Coach John Calipari termed this six-day stretch with no games anything but an "off" week.

"This is our last week to really improve," Calipari said on a SEC coaches' teleconference Monday. "From this point on (in the rest of the schedule), it's only experience we'll be gaining."

Game preparation will take priority over individual and team improvement after this week, he said.

Overlooking that Kentucky has another week off between games at Auburn on Jan. 16 and home to Arkansas on Jan. 23, Calipari put a priority on this week.

"We have to use this week to set a tone on what we want to become," the UK coach said.

Calipari identified several areas needing improvement. Those included: certain players becoming less tentative on offense, reducing turnovers caused by players attempting "hero plays" and better defending the pick-and-roll.

For example, Calipari noted that the starting guards committed nine turnovers against Louisville: five by John Wall, four by Eric Bledsoe.

"If our guards are turning over that much in a good game, you're not winning the game," he said.

Meanwhile, the SEC coaches applauded UK's 15-0 start as a good thing for a league still stinging from the puny three NCAA Tournament bids it received last season. None of the three — LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee — advanced past the first weekend.

"They have a lot to do with the perception of our league, whether (the perception) is good or bad," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said of the Cats. "It's good right now because the perception and the reality of it is they're really good."

Georgia Coach Mark Fox, whose team plays at UK on Saturday in a league opener for both teams, is new to the league. But he said a marquee program like Kentucky is important to any league.

"At this level, it's important to have some team that people think are national contenders," he said. "We have a team that's talented enough, that's playing well enough and it well-coached enough to compete for a national championship.

"They've been so good, they may have overshadowed some other great starts in our league."

Vanderbilt, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all have won 10 or more games going into conference play this weekend.

If Kentucky's position now is good for the league, Florida Coach Billy Donovan suggested the SEC will be in even better position in two months.

"What John probably feels good about is with a lot of young kids, he'll probably feel his team will get better as each day goes by," Donovan said. "Because they'll gain experience."

Pearl laments

Having indefinitely suspended four players, including all-SEC forward Tyler Smith, Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl lamented his team's standing.

"I want to keep this in perspective," Pearl said after noting that the players had done good works off the court. "But weapons, drugs and alcohol have no place on the team and no place on our campus."

Tennessee is down to six scholarship players and three walk-ons as regulars in the rotation.

When asked if the Vols might have to re-set team goals, Pearl said, "We'll find out as we put this together. I won't really know until we get tried in competition."

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