If Kentucky is to bounce back from another defeat against a Top 25 opponent, it must do so against a school that already accomplished something John Calipari's team couldn't achieve in its most recent contest.
The No. 19 Wildcats look to get back on track while facing pesky Belmont for the first time Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Complete with the nation's most talented freshmen class, Kentucky (8-3) was No. 1 in the preseason AP poll, but is now in danger of falling out of the rankings. Last Saturday's 82-77 loss at then-No. 18 North Carolina was the Wildcats' second in three games and dropped them to 0-3 against Top 25 opponents.
"Some of this is something we talked about from day one that we had to work on," said Calipari, who starts four freshman and a sophomore. "How they respond, body language and those sorts of things. The other thing you have going here is you have to focus on how do I help my team get better. It's something that we're still learning."
The lessons might not come any easier Saturday against Belmont (8-4), which has reached the NCAA tournament three straight seasons and won 83-80 at North Carolina - ranked 12th at the time - on Nov. 17.
"(Belmont's) Rick Byrd is one of the great coaches in our country," Calipari said. "His team won't come in here (with) anything less than 'Let's try and beat these guys.'"
After shooting 40.7 percent and committing 17 turnovers at UNC, the Wildcats would rather focus on themselves.
"We can't really worry about the opponent," freshman point guard Andrew Harrison said. "We have to worry about us. All we can do is practice hard and play as hard as we can to get better every day."
Harrison recorded season highs of 17 points and seven assists last weekend, but went 3 of 11 from the field and committed four turnovers.
Star Julius Randle averaged team highs of 17.8 points and 12.0 rebounds heading to Chapel Hill, but the 6-foot-9 freshman was held to 11 on 3-of-9 shooting and a season-low five boards. With four turnovers, he ran his team-leading total to 39.
After finishing 21-12 with a roster comprised of some talented freshmen last season, it remains to be seen if this group can better handle adversity.
"We'll find out," said 7-foot sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, who has totaled 19 points in three games after he averaged 13.8 in the previous four.
It's uncertain if Kentucky's other 6-9 freshman, Marcus Lee, will miss a third straight game with a back injury.
Looking for a 16th straight home win, Kentucky will also try to improve to 36-0 against teams from the Ohio Valley Conference.
Though Belmont snapped a 17-game skid against ranked opponents earlier this season, it's dropped two straight and three of four.
Point guard Reece Chamberlain (10.9 points, 4.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds per game) could miss a sixth straight game with an ankle injury. The Bruins have missed their floor leader while averaging 68.0 points and shooting 43.7 percent in the last four contests. They averaged 83.9 on 50.0 percent shooting in the seven games with Chamberlain.
Senior swingman J.J. Mann averages a team-leading 17.7 points but was held to six on 1-of-9 shooting during Belmont's 90-62 loss at Denver on Tuesday.
In the last two games, the Bruins allowed South Dakota State and Denver to score 175 points and shoot a combined 56.4 percent.
The Associated Press News Service
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