December 11, 2015

Kentucky bounced back from its first regular-season loss in nearly 21 months with its highest-scoring performance of the season and second-best shooting effort earlier this week.

The fifth-ranked Wildcats did struggle again from 3-point range, but coach John Calipari is more concerned with his team's grit and fight as it gets set to host Arizona State on Saturday.

Kentucky (8-1) was the No. 1 team in the nation when it lost 87-77 at UCLA on Dec. 3, with Calipari saying after the game ''we got kicked, we got beat, we move on.''

The Wildcats did just that Wednesday by shooting 54.7 percent in an 88-67 win over Eastern Kentucky, their 26th straight at Rupp Arena.

Forward Alex Poythress, the only senior on the team, had season highs of 21 points and 13 rebounds in his second start, showing the type of energy Calipari is asking of his players.

''I'm just trying to play hard every time I'm out there,'' Poythress said. ''I'm just trying to give 100 percent out there.''

Poythress missed his two attempts from beyond the arc and Kentucky shot 4 of 19 on 3s, dropping its season percentage to 27.5. That ranks 327th out of 346 teams in the nation.

"Physical play ... that is our issue," Calipari said. "And you know what, by shooting poorly, it kind of shows he's not just saying it, we can see it. So I'm not worried. And again, we have good shooters not making shots right now. They're making them in practice. My concern is not that.

" ... Arizona State, perfect game for us. One, their inside guys are seniors and they're physical. Their best player (Savon Goodman) is a four and he's an active four. Their three man (Willie Atwood) is 6-foot-7. So they've got a big three. It's exactly what we need. They attack the glass. They play tough and physical. They will execute."

As Buffalo's coach last season, Bobby Hurley took his team into one of the most difficult environments in college basketball. The Bulls lost by 19 to Kentucky after leading by five at the half, but Hurley enjoyed the experience so much, he's taking his new team, Arizona State, to Lexington again.

''We want to try and go to the top of the mountain and see what it's like there,'' Hurley said. ''Sometimes it's not always good, but we're willing to go there and take the chances.''

Hurley said from the day of his introductory news conference that he will schedule tough nonconference games for the Sun Devils (6-2). He lined up games against Kentucky, Texas A&M, UNLV and Creighton. Three of those are on the road, marking the second time since 1989-90 that the Sun Devils will play three nonconference road games.

Arizona State won 79-77 at Creighton on Dec. 2 and knocked off then-No. 18 Texas A&M 67-54 last Saturday in Tempe, but the next step will be a big one.

''It goes to a different level there,'' Hurley said. ''The way people feel about basketball there and there's very few places in the world that can simulate that type of environment. I think that's why it's a real challenge.''

Arizona State stumbled out of the gate, losing to Sacramento State at home in its opener. Its other loss was to Marquette in overtime.

''I think we're just working a lot harder than we ever have,'' sophomore point guard Tra Holder said. ''We know what it takes to play at a high level. We're a different team now.''

Kentucky has won all three meetings in this series - at Rupp in 1991, in the regional semifinals of the 1995 NCAA Tournament and in Maui in 2002.

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