Ashton Hagans helps Kentucky apply defensive pressure. (Vicky Graff Photo)
By LARRY VAUGHT
What is making Kentucky’s defense so good recently after some early-season struggles?
Kentucky has won eight straight games and held six of the last seven teams to less than 40-percent shooting and held six of the teams to 63 or less points. Kentucky held Vanderbilt and Georgia both under 50 points in consecutive games.
Vanderbilt managed just 15 points in the first half recently in Nashville, Kansas had a season-low 20 points in the paint against UK and the Cats closed the game Saturday at Florida on a 34-12 run over the last 13 minutes.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin knows what has made the UK defense so good.
“They obviously have guys that care to defend,” Martin said. But that is Cal’s teams every year. The freshmen . . . Cal’s guys usually are better than who they play against in high school. They do not have to defend. They get to college and have to learn defend not just one on one but to play team defense.
“Hagans, Johnson, Herro all play with tremendous energy. Now they have an experienced front court to go with them.”
The Wildcats are limiting opponents to 59.2 points per game and 37.5 percent from the field during the winning streak
“I have said this since I have been in this league that the whole focus on Kentucky is one and done, and I get it. They recruit a special kid,” Martin said. “But nobody gives credit to how Cal’s teams always get better and better.
“Cal once again is playing with three freshmen guards starting. They are playing at a high level on offense and on defense. Couple that with PJ (Washington) and (Nick) Richards back for a second year, so they are vastly better. Reid Travis has got some experience. It’s a good combination.”