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Mark Mathis | December 30, 2015

Kentucky's big test ahead

  Kentucky Wildcats before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Barclays Center

It's good for both Kentucky and Louisville to have a no-game week break, an extended cooling off period from fierce competition, if you will, following their fantastic basketball game that really turned into so much more.

The University of Louisville was supposed to get some rest this week, that's the way Rick Pitino felt at least before UK survived 75-73.

The University of Kentucky went back to more work -- the team split up for a few days for Christmas break before the U of L game.

The Wildcats are in their so-called Camp Cal period, where they go two or three times a day to get ready for the Southeastern Conference, but mainly it's March they are aiming with this intensive week of practice before the start of SEC play.

John Calipari certainly took a close look at what allowed UK to make it out of Rupp Arena last Saturday with as heart-stopping a victory in the series as you could find.

Those details -- both the good they can build on, and what led to a double-digit lead melting away -- could be the foundation for the most vital two prep months for March that Calipari has gone through during his time in Lexington.

The Wildcats are ranked No. 10 and have gone through so far 10-2. The grind will start up Saturday when Ole Miss comes to Rupp Arena.

Challenges of continuing to improve, and for players to keep emerging or growing in their roles, could start for UK after a few weeks. February is one of the toughest months for any college basketball team to go through. It's sometimes tough for good teams to stay sharp, and teams that need improvement to find that motivation.

UK goes to No. 2 Kansas on Jan. 30 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. That game could be quite a springboard into February for UK, or it could draw a harsh microscope even closer in on where the Cats stand.

Getting past February to March, and keeping on top of the learning curve, will be most important for this set of UK players.

Beating U of L in the way they did it, the Wildcats now know outside shooting and the quality of their guards give them the best chance. Tyler Ulis leads them. Jamal Murray has the ability to give them a lot of offense. Isaiah Briscoe can score and be a defensive force. If one of them is having an off night, Dominique Hawkins seems to have emerged as a fourth option.

Alex Poythress has to decide to be unstoppable all the time.

If Skal Labissiere isn't going to be the answer inside until late in the season -- and that certainly looks to be a certainty -- then whatever post play UK gets will have to be some grouping of Labissiere, Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard.

What is clear now is that the glamour roles for the Wildcats are going to be from the guys in the backcourt. There won't be a lot of magnificent post play from this team.

UK will have to absorb some lessons with a few losses. UK has the clear talent advantage in the SEC, but it would be shocking if it rolled through the league unbeaten. Everybody watching knows the Cats aren't unstoppable. Going on the road could be difficult for UK.

There will be times in the next two months when this could turn into quite a grind for UK. But the Cats will have to overcome that, and keep improving, if they want to have a major impact in March.


This article was written by Mark Mathis from Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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