Rick Barnes says Cats “most underrated and under-appreciated team” in country

Rick Barnes (Jeff Houchin Photo)

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON — Kentucky has secured the Southeastern Conference title and will be the top seed in the league tournament but the Wildcats have plenty to play for during the final week of the regular season.

Kentucky, which climbed to No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, hosts Tennessee Tuesday and closes out the regular season at Florida Saturday in Gainesville. The Wildcats still have plenty to play for and will be looking to improve its seeding for the NCAA Tournament during the next two weeks.

“We need to get better,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said Monday. “I don’t think the narrative has switched at all for us.”

Justus said Kentucky coach John Calipari reminded the team that each game “whether it’s in March or November — even playing Evansville — you try to get better each time you step out on the court.”

“I don’t think that changes this week and I don’t think it changes when we head to Nashville for one, two, three games,” Justus said. “Our goal is to get better and for individuals to get better and for our team to ultimately become better.”

The Wildcats (24-5, 14-2) have won a season-high eight straight games and defeated the Volunteers (16-13, 8-8) 77-64 in the first meeting between the two schools on Feb. 8 in Knoxville.

Like Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has been impressed with the Wildcats this season.

“I think Kentucky is the most underrated and under-appreciated team in the country right now,” he said. “I think them, and Kansas are the two best teams in the country. They (Kentucky) haven’t lost since their game at Auburn, and Kansas I don’t think has lost since their game at home against Baylor. Right now, those are the two best teams in college basketball.”

Tennessee ended a two-game losing streak with a 63-58 win over Florida last Saturday and has lost five of its past nine games.

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Gametracker: Tennessee at Kentucky, Tuesday, 9 p.m. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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