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February 17, 2012

Wildcats aim for perfect SEC season

Pick whichever streak you'd like.

Behind door No. 1 is UK's overall win streak, which has reached 17 games and dates back to December. Door No. 2 conceals a 49-game home win streak that dates back to 2009. And behind door No. 3 is an 11-0 start in Southeastern Conference play.

The Wildcats (25-1, 11-0 SEC) haven't lost a conference game in nearly a calendar year - dating back to a 77-76 loss at Arkansas on Feb. 23, 2011. With just five games left, they have a chance at their first undefeated SEC campaign since the 2002-03 season.

"We're trying to (go undefeated in conference)," sophomore guard Doron Lamb said. "But we've got to keep fighting and keep playing how we're playing so far and see what happens."

That's not the primary goal. Winning a national championship is still what the Wildcats are after. Freshman point guard Marquis Teague and freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer said the team hasn't even talked about the possibility of an undefeated run through the conference.

"Honestly, not really," Teague said. "That's good, hopefully we can go undefeated. But it's not something we're really focused on."

The 2002-03 UK team bowed out from the NCAA tournament in the Elite Eight, but the last UK team to go undefeated in conference before that, the 1995-96 team, won the school's sixth national title.

Perfection is the goal, Wiltjer said. But that doesn't start or end in SEC play.

"(Going undefeated in conference play) would be a great accomplishment," Wiltjer said. "That wouldn't mean anything because our main goal is the national title."

The Rebels (15-10, 5-6 SEC) endured a 102-76 loss at home against Vanderbilt on Thursday. Things got worse afterward when freshman forward Jelan Kendrick and junior forward Reginald Buckner argued with each other following the game.

Teague said he didn't watch the Ole Miss game. He's not concerned about the beating the Rebels suffered at the hands of a team that UK had just beaten.

"We know that doesn't matter," Teague said. "We know when everybody plays us, we always get their best game. So we know when they come in here tomorrow, they're going to play great."

Ole Miss has only won one road game in the SEC this year, a three-point victory over Georgia on Jan. 21. They seem like an unlikely candidate to break any of Kentucky's win streaks, especially given the Wildcats' play recently.

"We're on the same page right now," Lamb said. "We've got a lot of confidence in each other and ourselves, really. We just know we're going to win games."

Kentucky's only loss this season came when the Wildcats went through a week-long layoff before traveling to Indiana on Dec.10. The Wildcats haven't played since last Saturday's win in Nashville, but the win streak isn't weighing on UK head coach John Calipari.

"I don't even know what it is to be honest with you," Calipari said. "I have no idea. I know we haven't lost in awhile, but it's not about that, it's about getting better."

There's still one option left, though. A loss to the Rebels would reset all those streaks and set the Wildcats back with only a few weeks left before postseason play.

"They're the best offensive rebounding team in our league," Calipari said. "If they have their way on the backboard they'll beat us."

That's what's behind door No. 4.


Game Information

Ole Miss at Kentucky
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Rupp Arena
Lexington, Ky.

TV: SEC Network
Radio: UK IMG Network
Series: UK leads 98-13
Last Meeting: Kentucky won 75-66 on March 11, 2011, in an SEC Tournament quarterfinal in Atlanta.

No. 1 Kentucky (25-1, 11-0 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (492-151; 89-13 at Kentucky)
Ole Miss (15-10, 5-6 SEC)
Coach: Andy Kennedy (141-86; 120-73 at Ole Miss)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Marquis Teague Fr. 6-2/189 9.8 2.6
G Doron Lamb So. 6-4/210 13.7 3.3
F Terrence Jones So. 6-9/252 12.2 6.5
F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Fr. 6-7/232 12.3 7.7
F Anthony Davis Fr. 6-10/220 14.0 9.9
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Jarvis Summers Fr. 6-4/184 10.2 2.2
G Nick Williams Jr. 6-4/210 10.1 3.5
F Terrance Henry Sr. 6-9/210 11.5 4.6
F Reginald Buckner Jr. 6-8/225 7.2 8.3
F Murphy Holloway Jr. 6-7/240 10.8 9.0

Key Storylines

Cats vs. Off Week
Kentucky's only loss this season came at Indiana after a week between games. The Wildcats haven't played since last Saturday, and that's enough of a concern for John Calipari that he resolved not to let the Cats get too relaxed this week. His strategy included an open practice designed to keep his team on its toes. Kentucky's been on a roll. Did time off let the Cats catch their breath, or did it slow some of their momentum?

Second Chances
A 102-76 home loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday did serious damage to any NCAA Tournament hopes Ole Miss had. But Saturday presents the Rebels a sure-fire beeline back to the bubble. A win at Kentucky would be as good a win as any team has this season, and it would put Ole Miss back in the NCAA discussion. It's a safe bet the Rebels will be motivated to bounce back.



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