Cats taking pride in defense, brace for surging LSU

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Kentucky is finally starting to turn the corner on the defensive end of the court and it’s beginning to show going into the stretch run of the regular season.

The No. 17 Wildcats (18-7, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) surrendered only 59 and 63 points in the past two games against strong opponents (Auburn and Ole Miss).

Kentucky assistant coach John Welch said the team’s recent success on defense didn’t happen overnight.

Email newsletter signup

“I think we’ve been hammering on the defense for months now,” Welch said Tuesday. “Right from the beginning, we thought our offense was ahead of our defense, so defense has been an emphasis for a couple of months and it’s starting to show.

“Then we picked our pressure up some, our pickup point is higher. Also, getting D.J. (Wagner) back. We felt that set the tone. How hard he plays, how well he guards the ball is a big difference.”

The players also have embraced the added emphasis on defense, Welch said.

“I think the players are learning,” Welch said. “We’re working on it constantly. I think the hard work is starting to show. D.J.’s pressure on the ball makes a difference and the harder he plays makes other guys want to play harder, too.”

That, Welch said, has led to the Wildcats taking enjoyment on defense.

“I think they’re developing a pride in their defense,” he said. “I think they took it personal, what was being said about them.”

On his radio show Monday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari liked the way his squad practiced coming off the impressive win over Auburn on Saturday.

“(Monday) was a great practice — like, wow!” Calipari said. “I even cut it short, they were so good. We (had) one (Tuesday) and then we travel and play at LSU. They’re playing really good. This is gonna be a hard game.”

LSU (13-12, 5-7) is coming off a 64-63 win over South Carolina and Welch agreed with Calipari’s assessment.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Welch said. “Hopefully, we can play well. LSU is a very good team. They’re a very good offensive team. They have great spacing, they move the ball. It’s going to be another great challenge for our defense.”

Kentucky forward Tre Mitchell, who missed Saturday’s game at Auburn because of a shoulder injury, didn’t practice on Monday, but Calipari said Mitchell is improving daily.