By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Tyler Herro still remembers one of the first things a Kentucky fan told him when he got to Lexington.
“One of the fans told us when we got here: You can lose every game just not the Louisville game,” Herro said.
Well, that Louisville game is Saturday at the Yum Center in Louisville in what will be UK’s first true road game of the season. The Cats have played three games at neutral sites — and lost two.
“I heard the atmosphere is crazy in Kentucky-Louisville. It’s going to be fun. Just going to approach that game like any other game and go out there and compete,” Herro said.
“Just go out there and take care of business. I think we’ll come out with the same mindset of just wanting to win. That’s what we do,” freshman Keldon Johnson said.
Kentucky fans had been more than a bit distraught after UK’s blowout loss to Duke and overtime loss to Seton Hall. Last week’s win over North Carolina helped ease the stress level for fans.
“The coaching staff does a good job of telling us to stay off social media in regards to reading what people say,” Herro said. “We just work hard in practice every day. We got our team that we stick to and we stick to each other and we work hard to get better every day in practice.”
Still, the players knew they needed a resume-building win like the 80-72 victory over North Carolina.
“It’s definitely a big win I think, but I mean, it was a great game. I think we came out and were very aggressive and just played all phases like in practice. It’s just a big-time win,” Johnson said.
Herro said the work UK has done in practice daily this month is showing.
“I think we’re seeing that pay off game by game. We’re getting better each game,” Herro said. “Defensively we still have to things to improve on but it’s getting better each and every game.”
Kentucky got to play at a much faster pace against North Carolina than it had in any game except the Duke loss. The Tar Heels wanted to play fast and coach John Calipari encouraged UK to do the same.
“I just think that with him trusting us more and more each and every day, we like to get out and run, and just get each other involved and pass the ball to each other and give great shots. I just think that obviously executing with that, I think he’ll let us play,” Johnson said.
The pace likely won’t be as fast against Louisville, a team that relies on intensity to wear down foes. But getting that “must win” over North Carolina should help UK.
“Just talking before the game at the hotel and stuff, at dinner a couple days before the game, this was a must-win for us. It’s a resumé win. It was important to finally see something pay off,” Herro said.