No. 1 Kentucky energized for home matchup vs. Evansville

Field Level Media

Kentucky, the newly anointed No. 1 team in the nation in the latest Associated Press Top 25, will look to defend that ranking on Tuesday night when Evansville visits Lexington, Ky.

It is the first time the Wildcats have been ranked at the top since 2016.

Kentucky moved from No. 2 to the top spot after a 69-62 victory over previous No. 1 Michigan State in the Champions Classic in New York, then followed with a 91-49 rout of Eastern Kentucky on Friday.

Evansville is 1-0 following a 79-75 victory over Ball State on Saturday. The Aces raced to a 40-18 halftime lead and held off the Cardinals' rally in the second half. DeAndre Williams, a 6-9 sophomore, paced Evansville in all areas with 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting to go with nine rebounds and three assists in just 28 minutes.

The Aces are coached by Walter McCarty, a standout member of Kentucky's 1996 NCAA championship team. A first-round draft pick, McCarty spent 10 seasons in the NBA, most with the Boston Celtics.

It will be McCarty's first return to Rupp Arena as a coach and the first ever meeting between Kentucky and Evansville.

The Aces will be facing a Kentucky defense that has smothered two opponents. UK held Michigan State to 39.3 percent, including 19.2 from 3-point range with 16 turnovers. Against Eastern Kentucky, it was 25 percent overall and 24.2 from deep with 21 turnovers.

"I think they are the best team in the country," Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said afterward. "They beat Michigan State for a reason and they're going to continue to win."

Eastern Kentucky fell behind 14-0 at the start.

"We started the game and we were in shock," Hamilton said. "You know we were just shocked, we had the shock face. We didn't respond, we did not handle adversity and we dug too big of a hole."

Even Kentucky coach John Calipari is having a hard time containing his excitement in early November.

"What I saw defensively for this early -- this is my 11th year -- I'm not sure if there's a couple of teams that were better defensively at this point," Calipari said.

The reason is this is a different kind of Kentucky team. Instead of a compete roster turnover with five new freshmen in the starting lineup, the Wildcats have four sophomores and a graduate transfer to go with five rookies.

Offensively, Kentucky has shown balance in two wins. Freshman guard Tyrese Maxey paced the Michigan State win with 26 points, the most ever for a freshman debut. Against Eastern Kentucky, 7-foot junior Nick Richards led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

"If he plays like that, Kentucky is probably going to win the national championship," Hamilton said of Richards. "That's what I think."

"Nick, so much better than a year ago," Calipari said. "Then you say, 'Well, you must be really pumping him up, saying great things.' No. He's in the greatest shape he's ever been in and he's built his own confidence now. He still has a way to go but he's way better."

Kentucky looks to be in good position to hold on to its No. 1 ranking for some time. The Wildcats play Evansville, Utah Valley, Mount St. Mary's, Lamar, Alabama-Birmingham, Fairleigh Dickinson and Georgia Tech between now and Dec. 14, and all seven games are at home.

--Field Level Media

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