Kentucky must defeat three entities this week: Arkansas, Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference schedule-makers.
The Cats will play two games in less than 48 hours: at Arkansas on Thursday night and against visiting Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s the hardest thing to do,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said of the quick turnaround made more difficult by travel.
Coaches do not take lightly schedules that include two games within a three-day period.
“The first thing you do is look at how many turnaround games you have,” said Greenberg, the former coach at Virginia Tech. “Because that is something you really have to prepare for.”
Such quick turnarounds can affect practice and game preparation, he said. A coach must decide whether to back off the intensity of practices earlier in the week in order to keep players fresh.
Incidentally, after the loss at Auburn on Saturday, UK Coach John Calipari seemed to suggest a move to football-like intensity in reaction to what he saw as referees abandoning the move to reduce physical play in games.
During an ESPN-sponsored teleconference, Greenberg asked what teams Kentucky would play in this week’s turnaround. When told the schedule was at Arkansas and then home to Vandy, he said, “That’s really hard.”
Arkansas and Vanderbilt play distinctly different styles, which complicates preparation for the second game, Greenberg said.
He mentioned another factor that could work against Kentucky.
“It’s easier, in my opinion, when you go home-to-away than when you go away-to-home,” Greenberg said.
By playing the first game at home, the players can get a good night’s sleep and practice at home the next day before traveling to the second game site, he said. “Sort of stay in your routine.”
But Kentucky’s schedule will require a near midnight return to Lexington after the game at Arkansas.
Looking on the bright side, UK assistant coach John Robic pointed out that the Cats do not play the late game Thursday. While the preference would be to play Vandy on Saturday night, Robic acknowledged who decides these things. “TV dictates,” he said.
Kentucky is the only SEC team with two Thursday-Saturday turnarounds on its schedule this season. The Cats also play Tennessee at home on the night of Feb. 18 before playing at Texas A&M on Feb. 20. No tip-off time is set for the game at Texas A&M.
One other factor to consider: The trip to College Station, Texas, is the longest Kentucky will take in SEC play (972 miles). Lexington to Fayetteville, Ark., is the fourth-longest trip for UK (698 miles).
Alabama lost both games in a Thursday-Saturday turnaround earlier this month. The Tide lost at the inaugural game of the Ole Miss arena, The Pavilion, on Jan. 7, then lost at home to Kentucky on Jan. 9.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as much of a challenge as it was,” Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said. “I didn’t really recognize our team in terms of our energy in that second game.”
Johnson said he tried to compensate for the travel by not practicing the day between games.
“We were a little glassy-eyed in timeouts,” he said. “They weren’t alert. . . . We were just a step slow.”
Skal: Pressure off
Freshman Skal Labissiere said he feels the pressure is off trying to live up to expectations.
“Definitely, now, I’m just playing,” he said. “I’m not worrying about anything anymore.
“I was too hard on myself. I think I’m over that, now.”
Labissiere and Robic noted how senior Alex Poythress has helped the freshman adjust to playing for UK.
“He talks to me when I need help,” Labissiere said. “He walks me through things.”
Opponents have regularly tested Labissiere’s mettle with an elbow or bump. Not so incidentally, referees hit him with technical fouls at Alabama and Auburn.
“I don’t know why (opponents try to intimidate),” he said of the first two technicals he’s ever received. “I’m definitely not going anywhere.”
Arkansas recruited Labissiere, who spent his high school years in Memphis.
“I came here,” Labissiere said. “I’m glad I came here.”
Defend the three
No doubt Kentucky will look to defend the three-point line better. Auburn’s 12 treys were a season high for a UK opponent.
Arkansas ranks third in the country in three-point shooting accuracy (44.7 percent). Only Oklahoma (45.7) and Kansas (44.9) have shot it better.
Anthlon Bell and Dusty Hannahs lead the way for the Hogs. In the last four games, Bell (17) and Hannahs (14) have made 31 three-point shots.
Hannahs has made 14 of 23 shots from beyond the arc in the last three games.
After averaging no more than 4.0 points and 3.2 rebounds in his first two seasons, Arkansas forward Moses Kingsley has blossomed as a junior.
A 6-foot-10 product of Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, he’s averaging 16.9 points and 9.4 rebounds this season. Those numbers hold up well compared with what Bobby Portis averaged after 17 games last season: 18.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg.
Kingsley has posted eight double-doubles. He’s scored double-digit points in every game.
▪ Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson has a 75-9 record in Bud Walton Arena. Only Kentucky (79-4) and Ohio State (78-12) have a better home record in that time.
▪ Kentucky has won the last two meetings. Arkansas has won four of the last seven meetings.
▪ Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham will call the UK-Arkansas game for ESPN.