Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The 18th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will tip off a two-game homestand at Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon when they take on the LSU Tigers in an SEC showdown.
LSU had lost three of its previous four games prior to its Wednesday night bout with Mississippi State, winning 92-81 to improve to 16-9 overall and 7-6 in the SEC. The Tigers have struggled on the road this season, winning just two of eight matchups away from Baton Rouge.
Kentucky has impressed all season long at 20-6 and has won five of its last six contests, most recently claiming a strong road win at Ole Miss on Tuesday night, 84-70. The Wildcats are an outstanding 14-1 at Rupp Arena and stand alone in second place in the SEC at 10-3, although they are still three games behind Florida for first place with just five regular-season bouts left.
LSU claimed its best win of the season back on Jan. 28 when it downed Kentucky in Baton Rouge, 87-82, although the Wildcats still have a firm handle on the all-time series with the Tigers, 83-25.
The Tigers never trailed in their contest versus Mississippi State earlier in the week, as they opened up an 11-points halftime lead and cruised from that point forward. They shot 50.8 percent from the field, including 9-of-21 from 3-point range, and pacing five players in double figure was Jarnell Martin with 20 points to go with eight rebounds. Jordan Mickey netted 19 points on 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, Shavon Coleman added 18 points and four steals and Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey netted 14 and 13 points, respectively.
LSU has put up high point totals with regularity this season, as it shoots 45.2 percent from the field for 77.8 ppg, and it's a good thing too considering its lackluster play on the defensive end of the court (72.6 ppg). The squad earns a +4.2 rebounding advantage, which helps mask a disappointing free-throw percentage (.675). Johnny O'Bryant III paces the squad with 15.4 ppg and 7.6 rpg, and Mickey joins him for an imposing frontcourt duo, tallying 13.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 3.4 bpg while shooting 56.1 percent from the field. Rounding out a balanced scoring attack are Stringer (12.0 ppg), Martin (9.9 ppg), Coleman (9.2 ppg) and Hickey (9.1 ppg).
The Wildcats set the tone early on in their latest contest, running out to a commanding 17-point lead at the half at Ole Miss, and their advantage never dipped below six points in the second stanza. They outshot the Rebels from the field in the triumph, 52.1 percent to 38.7 percent, and had an outstanding 27- of-30 showing from the free-throw line. Julius Randle was excellent with 25 points and 13 rebounds, knocking down 13-of-14 at the line in the process. Aaron Harrison poured in 17 points, James Young posted 16 points, six rebounds and five assists and Andrew Harrison chipped in 10 points.
The Wildcats have displayed excellence on both ends of the court this season, shooting 47 percent from the field for 78.3 ppg while allowing 66.5 ppg on just 39.6 percent shooting. They also have the nation's second-best rebounding margin (+10.2), but they're not without weakness, as they shoot just 32.7 percent from beyond the arc and 68.2 percent at the free-throw while also sporting a -1.3 turnover margin. Randle has been one of the best power forwards in the nation during his freshman campaign with 16.0 ppg and 10.1 rpg. Fellow first-year players Young (14.3 ppg), Aaron Harrison (13.5 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (11.3 ppg) have been stellar as well, and Willie Cauley-Stein (7.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a strong defender with 3.0 bpg and 1.1 spg.