LEXINGTON — Despite a deflating 69-59 home loss to the Florida Gators Saturday night, the 18th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats suggest they’ve never been more positive as they head into a big Southeastern Conference game tonight at Ole Miss (7 on ESPN).
Kentucky brings a record of 19-6 overall and 9-3 in the SEC into the game, while the Rebels are 16-9 and 7-5.
“Just to let you know, obviously coming off the game on Saturday night, yesterday was a really, really good day for us as a program,” said UK assistant coach John Robic, who sat in for head coach John Calipari Monday. “Everybody, from the players to the staff to Cal, was very, very upbeat ... really positive.
“It’s the most positive I’ve seen Cal and the staff after a defeat in a long time.”
Robic and the players focused both on the first 30 minutes of the Florida game when Kentucky played very, very well, while also eyeing mistakes made down the stretch when the game got away.
“It just showed that we can play with anybody,” said freshman guard Aaron Harrison of the Florida game. “We just have to fix a few things down the stretch and just finish games. Florida is a very good team, but we definitely think we can play with them. We just made some mistakes down the stretch that we shouldn’t have.”
The 23-2 Gators have moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 in the latest Associated Press poll, by the way, trailing only undefeated Syracuse.
“We took a lot away from it, and it was mainly all positive,” Robic said. “Now we know what corrections we have to make. We had a good workout yesterday, we’re getting ready to go to practice today, hit the road and play a very, very good Ole Miss team.”
Tonight’s game promises to be oh so dangerous for the Wildcats. The Rebels have lost two straight games, including a 61-60 heartbreaker at Georgia Saturday, to arguably fall off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Florida is up next for Ole Miss, Saturday in Oxford, and the Rebels likely cannot afford to lose to both UK and Florida if they want to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
The Wildcats pulled away in the second half to beat the Rebels, 80-64, Feb. 4 at Rupp Arena. But Kentucky expects to get the Rebels’ best shot in the rematch.
“I definitely think losing back-to-back games will make you a pretty desperate team, especially when they’re at home,” said UK senior guard Jarrod Polson of Ole Miss. “Going into their house, we know it’s going to be hard, but I think we’re mentally prepared for it.”
But Robic said the Wildcats also feel a sense of urgency.
“These guys understand that we only have six regular-season games left,” Robic said. “Our goals are the same regardless of Saturday’s outcome.”
Kentucky returns home to play LSU Saturday at 4 on ESPN.
The Wildcats lost to LSU, 87-82, Jan. 28.