No. 23 Kentucky is suddenly soaring and owns the longest active winning streak in the Southeastern Conference.
The Wildcats (20-9, 11-5 SEC) will seek to record a season-best fifth consecutive win on Wednesday when they entertain Vanderbilt in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky has moved into third place in the SEC due to its third four-game winning streak of the campaign. Big man Oscar Tshiebwe has played a huge part by averaging 20.3 points and 9.8 rebounds during the stretch.
Over the past two games, Tshiebwe has been blazing by making 20 of 23 shots (87 percent) while averaging 23.5 points in wins over Florida and Auburn.
Earlier this month, the reigning national player of the year averaged 5.5 points on 5-of-20 shooting over a two-game span.
Wildcats coach John Calipari said Tshiebwe has regained his confidence, and the big man agreed.
“This is the time of the year, everything we went through was just to build my confidence and be prepared for the time about to come — March Madness and the SEC tournament,” Tshiebwe said after Saturday’s 86-54 rout of Auburn. “For me now, I have no distractions. I’m just in the gym, focused, locked in. …
“I came back to win a championship. I’m pretty confident right now with this team and where we’re going.”
Tshiebwe registered 22 points and 17 rebounds in the Auburn defeat and increased his team-best season averages to 16.4 points and 12.8 rebounds.
Kentucky shot 56.1 percent from the field and held a 41-23 rebounding edge against the Tigers in one of the Wildcats’ best all-around performances of the season.
“Refuse to lose. Doesn’t mean you’re winning every game,” Calipari said. “It means your mentality of how you’re playing. You never stop. The clock may run out on you but you just keep coming. And these guys are embodying that right now.”
The Wildcats, who are 14-3 at home, also will be looking to continue their mastery of the Commodores (16-13, 9-7).
Kentucky has beaten Vanderbilt 14 straight times, including a 69-53 win in Nashville on Jan. 24. Antonio Reeves scored 16 points and Tshiebwe had 15 points and 13 rebounds.
The Commodores are also on a hot streak as they have won six of their past seven games.
Liam Robbins led the way in Saturday’s 88-72 home win over Florida with 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.
Robbins leads the team in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.1) and ranks third in school history with 82 blocked shots. Luke Kornet (84 in 2015-16) and Festus Ezeli (87 in 2010-11) are the only players with more in a single season.
The Commodores’ recent run of success follows a stretch in which they dropped six of eight games.
“We’ve been knocked down a few times this season, and I think we’ve always came out together as a group and just had the mentality to come out punching every time,” Vanderbilt forward Myles Stute said after Saturday’s win. “We never really took a step back.”
Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse is looking for his club to continue the momentum this week against the Wildcats and in Saturday’s home game against Mississippi State to close the regular season.
“Now we’re focused on Kentucky, going into a tough environment against a team that’s playing well,” Stackhouse said. “But I’m confident in my group that we can go in there and get another one and hopefully get back home and close out our season the right way.”
–Field Level Media