What was the key for Kentucky in win over Kansas?
Fast-break points from the Rupp Arena roar:
21. 2018-19 Kentucky Wildcats. UK’s 71-63 win over then-No. 9 Kansas on Saturday night made it three in a row over ranked teams in consecutive games for John Calipari’s Cats. Kentucky also won 82-80 at then-No. 14 Auburn and bested then-No. 22 Mississippi State 76-55.
20. How common? I wondered how unusual it is for UK to win three straight games over ranked teams.
19. Common in NCAA Tournament. As one would expect, deep Kentucky runs in the NCAA tourney tend to involve win streaks of at least three games vs. foes in the AP Top 25.
18. All but one. In the past 30 years, UK has sent eight teams to the Final Four. Seven of those teams beat at least three ranked teams in consecutive games — 1996 (five straight); 1998, 2012 and 2014 (each four straight); 1993, 1997, 2011 (each three straight) — during March Madness.
17. The exception. Kentucky’s 2015 Final Four team went 2-1 in the three straight NCAA tourney games it played vs. ranked foes after falling to No. 3 Wisconsin in the national semifinals.
16. An in-season rarity. It is not unprecedented for Kentucky to register wins over ranked opponents in three consecutive games during the regular season — but it is rare. In the past 30 years, it’s happened only twice before.
15. 2003-04. The smallish but tough-minded Cats of ‘03-04 — coached by Tubby Smith and featuring seniors Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels and Cliff Hawkins — beat No. 9 North Carolina (61-56), No. 20 Vanderbilt (75-63) and No. 20 Mississippi State (67-66) in three straight games.
14. 2002-03. A season before, Smith’s best Kentucky team — the Keith Bogans-led squad that won 26 games in a row before losing to Marquette in the Elite Eight — beat No. 10 Notre Dame (88-73), No. 24 Auburn (67-51) and No. 15 Alabama (63-46) in consecutive contests.
13. UK hype again building. The buzz around Kentucky’s 2018-19 season was immense in the preseason. That hype got shut down by UK’s shocking 118-84 loss to Duke in the season opener. Now, the Cats’ (16-3) recent uptick has Final Four talk again percolating.
12. Gently tapping the brakes. UK is clearly improving and there is more upside on a youthful roster. Keep in mind, however, that Kentucky’s victory at Auburn came with the Tigers without their best post player in Austin Wiley and the win over Kansas came with the Jayhawks minus starting center Udoka Azubuike due to injuries.
11. Tennessee. The No. 1 Volunteers (18-1, 6-0 SEC) have five games before they will visit Rupp Arena on Feb. 16. Can Rick Barnes’ Vols run the table and come to Lexington 23-1 and unbeaten in league play?
10. Tricky road games. Tennessee faces road games Tuesday at South Carolina (10-9, 5-1 SEC) and Saturday at Texas A&M (8-10, 1-5 SEC) this week. Simply put, conference away contests tend to be testing.
9. Manageable home games. If UT survives this week, it will have three straight contests in Knoxville — Missouri (Feb. 5), Florida (Feb. 9) and South Carolina (Feb. 13) — between it and Rupp Arena.
8. One last “big game” in super-sized Rupp. The showdown with the No. 1 Volunteers will be the last “big game” in a 24,000-seat Rupp Arena before the venue is downsized to some 20,500 for next season. If both teams take care of business in the run-up, the atmosphere should be insane.
7. Plan your hoops calendar. Besides UK-UT men, college basketball fans inside the commonwealth should have some other boffo entertainment ahead.
6. UConn dynasty. On Thursday night at the KFC Yum Center, No. 2 Connecticut (18-1) will face No. 3 Louisville (19-1) in what will be the marquee women’s college hoops game played in our state this season.
5. Rising Dawn. That same night in Memorial Coliseum, Matthew Mitchell and the No. 19 Kentucky women (17-4, 4-3 SEC) will seek to snap an eight-game losing streak vs. Dawn Staley and No. 16 South Carolina (13-5, 5-1 SEC).
4. Duke dazzle. On Feb. 12, Zion Williamson and the No. 2 Duke (17-2, 6-1 ACC) men will be in Louisville to test the surprising No. 15 Cardinals (15-5, 6-1 ACC) of Chris Mack.
3. Ja comes east. On Feb. 16, Murray State and national sensation Ja Morant will be in Richmond to face Nick Mayo and Eastern Kentucky.
2. Ja comes east again. On Feb. 28, Murray State and national sensation Ja Morant will be at Morehead State to face the Eagles.
1. Ja mania. According to nbadraft.net, Morant, the sophomore point guard, is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
For local fans, Morant’s visits to Richmond and Morehead are the chance to catch a rising star.