Kentucky can take sole possession of first place in the SEC tomorrow night with a win over Alabama. The Crimson Tide is 9-3 this season, 4-0 in league play, its most impressive win coming at No. 7 Tennessee back on Jan. 2. Kentucky is riding a three-game winning streak of its own, but Alabama presents the toughest challenge in league play yet, specifically on defense. The Crimson Tide leads the SEC in field goal percentage defense (37.9%) and three-point field goal percentage defense (27.2%), while ranking third in scoring defense (72.0) and steals (8.8).
Earlier today, Olivier Sarr and Isaiah Jackson said the Cats are ready for the challenge after Saturday’s win at Florida, their best performance of the season.
“It’s a great battle test,” Sarr said. “We’ve been good so far in the league and their team too. I think it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war. It’s going to be a great test for us.”
“I feel like it’s very important,” Jackson said of the game. “Every game that we’ve played this year was a war. So, it’ll continue on. This one is a war too. We’re preparing every day for practice and then practice to prepare for every team we face including Alabama. We’ll come in fighting.”
With Keion Brooks back in the lineup, Kentucky looked like a totally different team vs. Florida. The sophomore had 12 points on 6-8 shooting, six rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes, leading the team in efficiency with a plus-minus of +23. Jackson said Brooks’ energy was contagious.
“It was amazing, man. That’s my guy. He went through it at the beginning of the year and I know it was hard for him not playing and stuff. I mean, he came out and balled. He did his thing. That’s what we wanted. That’s what we needed, too. Like, that helped us a lot.”
“His maturity,” Jackson said of what Brooks brings to the team. “He’s very mature. Out on the court, it was during a game, like I was hyping him up and saying, ‘Do your thing.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to play every game like it’s my last.’ I felt that. Everything that he’s said, I feel like everything about him is mature. That’s what good leaders have, a maturity level that’s greater than everybody else’s.”
Sarr credited Kentucky’s winning streak to improved execution. Against Florida, Kentucky shot 55.6% from the floor, just a hair under its season high vs. Morehead State, and dished a season-high-tying 18 assists.
“I think everybody can see that we’re executing way better,” Sarr said. “Our offense is looking way better. We’re sharing the ball. We’re having fun out there and it makes a huge difference in the game.”
“It feels better, you know,” the senior said of winning. “It feels great. We stayed positive during the tough time, but you can feel guys are feeling more confident. We are all feeling more confident, more comfortable. It just feels great.”
“I think we’ve just all bought in,” Jackson said. “Like everybody was tired of losing and we’ve just been working everyday in practice. Everybody’s been working and everybody has just finally bought in. It’s clicked and this is where we’re at. It’s just going to keep getting better.”