Kentucky coach John Calipari was understanding of his team’s sloppy performance in its final game before Christmas.
He probably won’t be as tolerant of another one in the third-ranked Wildcats’ return from the holiday break.
In its final game before the schedule begins to get tougher, Kentucky will try to remain unbeaten Tuesday night against lowly Hartford, which arrives in Lexington with a seven-game losing streak.
After the Wildcats (13-0) won the program’s 2,000th game in an 88-44 blowout of Drexel on Dec. 21, they weren’t as sharp two days later against Long Beach State.
Kentucky was tied 37-37 with the 49ers at halftime before pulling out an 86-73 victory to extend the school’s best start since 1977-78. It can match that team, which opened 14-0 en route to a national championship, on Tuesday.
To do that, the Wildcats will try to avoid looking ahead to a few more anticipated dates on their schedule. They face in-state rival Louisville on Saturday before opening SEC play the following week.
Focus may have been an issue during the team’s sluggish start against Long Beach State.
“The game before Christmas following the 2,000th win where there is a celebration and people are going nuts, there is going to be a little bit of a letdown,” Calipari said.
“The good news was that at the end of the game we were able to grind it out and execute everything to a T down the stretch,” the coach added. “When we had to make plays, we did it, which was a good sign.”
Kentucky played much of the first half without DeMarcus Cousins, who went to the bench after earning a technical foul for an altercation two minutes into the game.
But Cousins, a 6-foot-11 freshman, returned in the second half and finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds in just 13 minutes. Calipari said he’s “still got a lot of growing up to do,” but also called Cousins “the best player on the floor.”
“When (Cousins) sets his mind to being a beast, you see what he can do,” Kentucky forward Ramon Harris said.
Cousins is part of Kentucky’s standout freshman class led by John Wall, who finished with 19 points to boost his team-leading average to 17.9 per game. Cousins, Wall and fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe are combining to average 42.9 points.
Patrick Patterson, a junior, had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and continues to rank in the top 10 nationally in field goal percentage (62.5).
Kentucky’s stars shouldn’t encounter much resistance from Hartford, which is 0-6 on the road and has not won anywhere since beating Fordham on Nov. 21. The Hawks (2-9) have had more than two weeks off since a 76-65 home loss to Sacred Heart on Dec. 11.
Hartford, which finished last in the America East Conference last season, is led offensively by junior guard Joe Zeglinski, who had 25 points and was 7 of 13 from 3-point range against Sacred Heart.
This will be the first meeting between the schools.