Count Jeff Neubauer a believer.
Neubauer didn't mince words Sunday night after his Eastern Kentucky squad fell to top-ranked Kentucky 82-49 in Rupp Arena.
"Our team, I just told them they were just guarded by the best defensive team in the modern era of college basketball," Neubauer said. "And I'm not exaggerating a little bit when I say that."
The Wildcats (9-0) held Eastern to 18-for-69 shooting — 26.1 percent. That's the fifth straight game UK has held an opponent under 30 percent. EKU went 6-for-30 (20 percent) from three-point range.
"I thought our guys did compete very hard for both halves," Neubauer said. "I was really pleased with forcing 17 turnovers. Our full-court pressure did make a difference. It did affect them at certain times. I didn't think our transition defense was very good.
"But the feeling that our guys have in the locker room right now after shooting 26 percent and being held to 49 points, it's not good. It's not something that we're accustomed to, and many teams in the country aren't accustomed to. However, that is what Kentucky has done to every opponent that they've played so far."
Denzel Richardson, a 6-foot-5 junior transfer from Pensacola State College, led EKU with 19 points. He shot 8-for-11 overall, making all three of his three-point tries.
He suggested that UK's defenders weren't that good.
Neubauer, upon hearing of Richardson's comment, shook his head and said "we do need to do more media training with our young men."
Richardson later recanted, having heard that Neubauer termed UK the best defensive team of the modern era.
"It definitely is," Richardson said. "The length, they definitely have an NBA lineup. So that definitely affected us tonight."
"I played well, but I feel like I can do a lot more," Richardson added. "I should have been rebounding more and just getting to spots and hustling more."
■ Eric Stutz, EKU's 6-foot-8 center, did not play because of a foot injury. Stutz, who needs two rebounds to become the 27th Colonel with 500 for a career, watched from the bench.
Neubauer said having Stutz not dress was "a game-time decision, but he certainly has not practiced the last couple days."
"We're a better team with Eric Stutz. However, his not playing has nothing to do with why we lost. I actually thought our guys rebounded relatively well, but it would have been good to have another body."
■ Besides forcing 17 turnovers, Neubauer was pleased with one other stat — Kentucky getting only 10 offensive rebounds.
"So they missed 29 shots and got 10 offensive rebounds. For our team, that's incredibly good," Neubauer said. "That means we had some grit and toughness around the basket."
■ The Colonels (4-3) have lost three in a row for the first time since November 2011.
■ After Wednesday's loss to Valparaiso, Neubauer cited the need for a fifth consistent player to step up alongside Stutz, Timmy Knipp, Corey Walden and Isaac McGlone. Richardson stepped up Sunday.
"Yeah, and the guy that impressed me, too, was Ja'Mill Powell," Neubauer said. "His line doesn't look great — I think he was 3-for-11 from the field — but I liked his response. There was some resiliency there. When things didn't go his way, he still competed. I'm glad Denzel made some shots; Denzel did some good things. I liked the way that Ja'Mill responded."
■ EKU made a couple of mini-runs in the second half. Knipp, scoreless at intermission, scored the first five points in a 7-0 run to open the second half. The Colonels later used an 8-0 run to cut UK's lead to 56-33 midway through the second half.
"It was great coming back here, seeing all the fans," said Knipp, who played for Elliott County in three trips to the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen in Rupp. "You get a lot of energy from them."
■ Knipp took a hard fall with 10:21 left in the game when he was fouled by Marcus Lee on a drive to the hoop. Knipp was down for several moments, feeling the sting in his right arm and back, but stayed in the game.
"It happened so fast," Knipp said. "I was in pain, but I got up from it. When I stopped is when it really kicked in."