Kentucky knows it has to compete harder and shoot better from distance. Ohio State realizes it must play better than its previous two games if it wants another signature victory.
Teams looking to answer questions about themselves will collide when the No. 5 Buckeyes (10-1) play sixth-ranked Kentucky (8-2) on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The Wildcats were upset 69-66 by Utah on Thursday in the same building after trailing by 17 points in the second half. They tied the score at 66 but couldn’t make the baskets when needed.
A major problem for Kentucky was shooting 2-for-17 (11.7 percent) from the 3-point line.
“I believe we’ve got good shooters,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said afterward. “We may just be timid right now, literally pulling up not close to the rim. We’ve got to fix some of that.”
The Buckeyes were sailing along with notable wins over Cincinnati (64-56), Villanova (76-51), North Carolina (74-49) and Penn State (106-74) before suffering their first defeat Sunday, 84-71 at Minnesota.
Ohio State followed with an uninspired first half, which included 13 turnovers, before putting away overmatched Southeast Missouri 80-48 on Tuesday.
“I think you always wonder with your group what’s the confidence level going to be after a loss,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I think you’re always as a coach trying to figure the psyche out of your group. I thought maybe at times we were pressing a little bit, but it’s good. We’ve got to get better in the area of ball handling and turnovers, and that’s a good thing that comes out of this game.”
Holtmann realizes that taking care of the ball is paramount vs. the Wildcats. Southeast Missouri converted the Buckeyes’ 21 turnovers in the game to only three points, but the Redhawks are not Kentucky.
The Wildcats turned 17 Utah turnovers into 20 points.
“We’re definitely more cautious of it now,” Ohio State senior forward Andre Wesson said of the turnovers.
Holtmann said that is the first step to resolving the matter.
“I’m frustrated with the turnovers,” he said. “I’m disappointed and frustrated, and we’ve got to figure out how to correct it. But I also recognize we had some youth out there too.”
Part of the problem has been the absence of sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. the past two games because of a rib injury. Holtmann said Thursday that Washington’s status for Kentucky is uncertain.
Kentucky has dealt with injuries to nine players and not been at full strength this season, but Calipari said that is not an excuse for the performance against Utah.
“We didn’t fight,” he said. “We had a couple of guys that didn’t fight the whole game. It’s hard for me to admit.”
Holtmann expects a different Kentucky team than the one against Utah.
“I know they lost (Wednesday), but at the end of the day, they’re going to be one of the better teams in the country,” he said.
–Field Level Media