November 29, 2014

(AP) - Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes some blowout victories have prepared the Wildcats for an upcoming stretch of tougher opponents.

Sunday's home game against Providence (6-0) begins a challenging trek for the top-ranked Wildcats (6-0). Kentucky takes on No. 7 Texas in next Friday's SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

After that: Eastern Kentucky, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 22 UCLA in Chicago and rival and sixth-ranked Louisville.

Wins probably won't come easy during that gauntlet after Kentucky's talented platoons ran through the early tuneups. Even with slow starts against Buffalo and Boston University, the Wildcats have won by an average of 36.5 points and held their last three opponents below 30 percent shooting.

Calipari knows what lies ahead, though North Carolina and UCLA each has at least one loss already. Providence had a hard-earned 75-74 win over Notre Dame last Sunday and beat Yale 72-66 on Friday.

''Obviously, you're talking about (some) ranked opponents or were ranked and will be ranked again,'' Calipari said. ''This is an early-season (test).

''None of us are executing the way we want right now and you play a veteran team that doesn't have the name, and they come out and beat you. They make shots, make 3s, play with confidence, been there. That stuff happens.''

Still, Kentucky has had its share of early success.

The Wildcats have shot at least 50 percent in back-to-back games. Seven-foot sophomore center Dakari Johnson is coming off a career-best 12-of-14 free throw shooting in Tuesday's 92-44 win over Texas-Arlington, indicating his development there along with his willingness to draw contact from sagging defenses.

''You're not going to be in (games) late if you don't make free throws,'' Johnson said, ''so I just try to get that down pat because I want to be in late.''

After a slow start, freshman guard Devin Booker has found his shot with 37 combined points the past two games. He is 12 of 17 from behind the arc in his past three and scored a season-best 19 points Tuesday.

That's critical in drawing defenses outside and Calipari believes that sophomore guard Aaron Harrison (25 percent from long range) can help once he reclaims the accuracy that helped win back-to-back NCAA tournament games last spring.

''Aaron's gotta make more shots. Nothing else,'' Calipari said. ''Everything else is great. ... I don't care if he's shooting 12 percent, I'm going to him. I've seen it. I know it. I'm not testing the waters with other guys. Ain't happening.''

Calipari said he expects the Friars to press defensively along with playing man-to-man. They've held three opponents to less than 40 percent shooting.

Providence also features high-scoring senior forward LaDontae Henton, whose 24.3-point average ranks among the nation's best. He scored a career-high 38 points against Notre Dame, then had a game-high 29 against Yale.

Kentucky held Henton in check in a 79-65 victory last Dec. 1 at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, though, as he shot 1 of 4 from the field and scored seven points in 37 minutes.

The Friars shot 31.1 percent from the floor in that contest, but they seem prepared to give the Wildcats a tougher test in this matchup as they've hit at a 54.2 percent clip over their last four.

How Kentucky handles Providence and other challengers will say more about it than 40-point victories.

''What we need is just a hand-to-hand kind of game where a team is not afraid of us, that they make plays and continue to make them throughout,'' Calipari said.

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