Fifth-ranked Kentucky starts to live up to its expectations

Year to year, few teams in the nation can say they live with higher expectations than the Kentucky Wildcats.

This year, it was no different.

The Wildcats opened as the No. 2 team in the nation in the Associated Press preseason poll, but after Kentucky debuted with a 118-84 loss to Duke, some started to wonder.

In coming weeks, the skepticism expanded with two more losses, one to Seton Hall, and another to Alabama.

The latter left Kentucky with a 10-3 overall record just as it moved into into the Southestern Conference phase of its schedule.

As it turns out, Kentucky may very well be a Final Four contender, after all.

After back-to-back defensive gems against Vanderbilt and Florida last week, the Wildcats have moved up to No. 5 in the AP poll.

Against Florida, Kentucky trailed by 11 with 13 minutes remaining in Gainesville and rallied to win, 65-54.

“There’s nothing really to say,” forward PJ Washington told the AP in Florida. “We know that we have to come together. You’re down 11 on the road. We just have to come together and have each other’s back and definitely just lock down on defense. We just had to dig down deep, come out and get it done.

“We didn’t want to lose.”

With an 18-3 overall record and an eight-game winning streak, the Wildcats have started to build an impressive body of work on the season.

Even though they got blown out by the Blue Devils early, they have defeated North Carolina and Kansas in two high-profile, non-conference tests.

How good are they?

Good enough for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Well, Washington is an emerging as a star, averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his last four games.

As a team, the Wildcats have held opponents to 59.2 points on 37.5 percent shooting during the eight-game streak.

Let’s just say, we’ll know more by the first week of March.

On Feb. 16, the Wildcats host the No. 1-ranked Tennessee Vols. On March 2, they play the Vols on the road in Knoxville.

AP Top 25
1. Tennessee 20-1 SE
2. Duke 19-2 ACC
3. Virginia 20-1 ACC
4. Gonzaga 21-2 West Coast
5. Kentucky 18-3 SEC
6. Nevada 21-1 Mountain West
7. Michigan 20-2 Big Ten
8. North Carolina 17-4 ACC
9. Michigan State 18-4 Big Ten
10. Marquette 19-3 Big East
11. Virginia Tech 18-3 ACC
12. Houston 21-1 American
13. Kansas 17-5 Big 12
14. Villanova 18-4 Big East
15. Purdue 16-6 Big Ten
16. Louisville 16-6 ACC
17. Iowa State 17-5 Big 2
18. Texas Tech 17-5 Big 12
19. Wisconsin 16-6 Big Ten
20. Iowa 17-5 Big Ten
21. LSU 17-4 SEC
22. Florida State 16-5 ACC
23. Buffalo 19-3 Mid-American
24. Maryland 17-6 ACC
25. Cincinnati 19-3 American