John Calipari is far from satisfied with his team’s defense, but Kentucky’s first-year coach saw progress in the Wildcats’ last game.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats look to improve to 5-0 for the first time in six seasons when they face Cleveland State in the Cancun Challenge on Tuesday.
After allowing 33 3-pointers in wins over Miami of Ohio and Sam Houston State, Kentucky held Rider to 31.0 percent shooting and 4 of 17 from beyond the arc in a 92-63 home victory Saturday. The Wildcats also had a season-high 10 steals and 10 blocks.
“We are just so far from where we need to be,” said Calipari, whose team is trying to open 5-0 for the first time since it was 7-0 in 2003-04. “But we were focused. They were more concerned about their teammates than themselves. We’re making strides.”
One of the players doing so is guard John Wall, who was named SEC freshman of the week Monday after averaging 20.3 points, 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 steals in his first three games.
Wall, who hit the winning jumper in his first collegiate game - a 72-70 victory over Miami of Ohio on Nov. 16 - had 21 points and a season-high 11 assists Saturday for his first double-double. Wall’s assist total was the highest by a Wildcats player since Rajon Rondo had 12 on Feb. 22, 2006, and the third best by a freshman in program history.
Kentucky has also gotten strong play down low from forward Patrick Patterson, named SEC player of the week Monday.
Patterson, a junior, scored 19 points and matched a career high with 18 boards versus Rider. He is averaging 19.0 points and is among the nation’s leaders with 12.3 rebounds per game.
Patterson has 24 double-doubles and needs one to move past Pat Riley for 10th place in school history.
Freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton could also give Cleveland State problems in the paint. Cousins is averaging 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds while Orton added season highs of 14 points and six boards against Rider.
Cleveland State (3-1) arrives in Cancun following Saturday’s 80-65 victory over Sam Houston State in a second-round game.
Coming off a career-high 38-point effort in a 78-64 win over Florida A&M on Thursday, junior guard Norris Cole had 24 points with six assists as the Vikings won their third in a row.
Cleveland State, which shot 9 of 13 from 3-point range, scored the game’s first 12 points and led 20-4 before the Bearkats pulled within seven at halftime.
“We came out ready to play this game tonight,” Vikings coach Gary Waters told the school’s official Web site. “But the thing we have to do is be more consistent and close out teams. We know teams are going to make runs, we just have to do a good job of sustaining them, but we will learn that as the season goes on.”
Tuesday’s winner will face Virginia or Stanford on Wednesday night.
This will be the first meeting between Kentucky and Cleveland State.