Kentucky had another roster overhaul entering the season and, like the previous incarnations, expected to need a little time for the all newcomers to jell.
The Wildcats’ time may have come.
Rounding into form at just the right time, No. 8 Kentucky pulled off two impressive victories this week, beating No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 9 Kansas .
The Wildcats (16-3, 5-1 SEC) have won three straight games against AP Top 25 opponents after defeating No. 14 Auburn last weekend.
“Are you getting better individually and as a team? We are,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We are taking that gradual climb.”
Kentucky’s rise started after a big fall. The Wildcats opened the season with a 34-point blowout loss to Duke , dropping them from preseason No. 2 to No. 10 in the AP Top 25.
Kentucky remained inconsistent after that, following a seven-game winning streak with a loss to Seton Hall , then another loss to Alabama to open SEC play.
The Wildcats have been on a roll since then, stretching their winning streak to six games with their eight-point victory over Kansas in a matchup of college basketball’s two winningest programs.
“We’re winning right now,” said Kentucky’s PJ Washington, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Jayhawks. “We’re on a roll, and we’re just trying to keep it going and just win all of our next games.”
The last time Tennessee was No. 1 in the AP Top 25, it lost the next day to Vanderbilt.
History nearly repeated itself.
Back at No. 1 for the first time since 2008, the Vols again faced the Commodores in their first game. Tennessee trailed 76-70 with 1:22 left on Wednesday before Grant Williams rallied the Vols to tie it in regulation. They pulled out an 88-83 victory in overtime thanks to Williams, who made all his 23 free throws — the most without a miss in the NCAA since Oklahoma State’s Arlen Clark made 24 in 1959.
Tennessee again had some stumbles against West Virginia on Saturday, falling into its first double-digit deficit of the season before using a big run to beat the Mountaineers 83-66 . The Vols have won 14 straight, their longest streak since opening the 1922-23 season with 14 wins in a row.
BLUE DEVILS HUMMING
Tennessee’s struggles last week could lead to a few more first-place votes for No. 2 Duke in Monday’s poll.
The Blue Devils received 11 first-place votes last week — the Vols 48 — and rolled in their two games last week, beating Pittsburgh by 15 and Georgia Tech by 13.
Duke was No. 1 until losing to Syracuse at home on Jan. 14.
The loss of Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury has led to some inconsistent moments for Kansas.
Without Azubuike, the Jayhawks lack frontcourt depth and a big-body presence in the paint. Kentucky took advantage of Azubuike’s absence on Saturday, outrebounding Kansas 49-36 in a victory that could knock the Jayhawks out of the top 10.
The good news for Kansas: It was a nonconference game. Kansas is still tied atop the Big 12 standings with Kansas State at 5-2 in its bid for a 15th straight conference title.
BIG TEN SHAKEUP
A week after No. 5 Michigan suffered its first loss, the Big Ten race continues to remain tight.
No. 6 Michigan State won its first nine conference games before losing to Purdue on Sunday, putting the Spartans a half-game ahead of the Wolverines. The Boilermakers improved to 7-2 in Big Ten play, moving up to third after No. 13 Maryland lost to Michigan State and Illinois this week. The Terrapins are 7-3, a half-game ahead of Wisconsin.
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