Kentucky has already lost more games than it did last season in its run to the NCAA championship.
Which means nothing. These are still the UK Wildcats.
A good chunk of last year’s team is now scattered among NBA rosters, but coach John Calipari — the former coach at Memphis who is quite familiar with Marshall — has reloaded with more potential one-and-done freshmen.
The Herd is faced with the task of playing at famed Rupp Arena when it takes on the Wildcats at 4 p.m. Saturday. The game will air live on ESPN2.
A pair of players for Marshall (7-5) are from Kentucky, including one who knows all about playing on the Rupp hardwood.
Junior forward Elijah Pittman was on the team at Holmes High that won the 2009 Kentucky championship in Lexington. He has carried his success to Huntington, averaging 14.3 points per game.
Also from the Bluegrass State is freshman Tamron Manning, who started at point guard in Marshall’s 64-48 win over Savannah State. He was on Scott County’s runner-up team in 2011.
Marshall is coming off a win more important than it first appears. Savannah State is more than battle tested, playing at the likes of Florida, Ohio State and Marquette. The Herd led by two at the break but was able to pull away in the second half.
“Excellent win, but we have to get better,” said Marshall coach Tom Herrion, who wore a green jacket during the game as his tribute to shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “There’s no mistake about it. That was as consistent of 40 minutes we’ve played all season, in my opinion. ... A good win for our kids, coming out of exams.”
D.D. Scarver is Marshall’s leading scorer at 15.5 points per game.
Kentucky, meanwhile, is 7-3, a year after going 36-2 en route to its eight national championship and first under Calipari.
Things haven’t been quite as good for the Wildcats so far this season. Not only have they lost three games, one of them was a rare home loss, to Baylor. It snapped what at the time was a nation’s-best 54-game home winning streak.
Kentucky has won its last three games by an average of 32.6 points.
Calipari says the lack of success — relative to UK’s standards — is based on a lack of communication among the new players.
“It’s not good. I’ve had other teams that weren’t good, but they got better,” he said. “This team, they’ve got to understand they need each other. It’s a form of selfishness when you don’t talk; you’re worried about you. You’re worried about how you feel and you don’t understand the impact that has on your teammates.”
“A lot of times a player will think, ‘Well, I pass the ball, I’m not selfish.’ Yeah, but you don’t speak, you’re not doing anything to help your teammates.”
Leading the Wildcats are a pair of freshmen, guard Archie Goodwin, averaging 15.8 ppg, and forward Alex Poythres (15.0).
The teams have met 11 times, with UK winning them all. They last played in Cincinnati, with the Wildcats taking an 89-76 victory on Dec. 1, 2003.
Marshall will take a break for Christmas after today’s game before returning to action Jan. 2 at home against Delaware State.
Gary Fauber is assistant sports editor at The Register-Herald. E-mail him at email@example.com.