Sports

After lopsided wins, top-ranked Kentucky begins tough stretch of games with Providence

  • Kentucky's Dakari Johnson (44) and Montana State's Marcus Colbert (2) battle for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

    Kentucky's Dakari Johnson (44) and Montana State's Marcus Colbert (2) battle for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)  (The Associated Press)

  • Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant (22) drives past Providence’s LaDontae Henton during the second half of Providence's 75-74 victory in an NCAA college basketball game in Uncasville, Conn., on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Grant scored a team-high 20 points in the loss. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

    Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant (22) drives past Providence’s LaDontae Henton during the second half of Providence's 75-74 victory in an NCAA college basketball game in Uncasville, Conn., on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Grant scored a team-high 20 points in the loss. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)  (The Associated Press)

  • Providence’s LaDontae Henton, right, and Jalen Lindsey celebrate after their 75-74 victory over Notre Dame in an NCAA college basketball game in Uncasville, Conn., Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Henton scored a career-high 38 points in the victory. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

    Providence’s LaDontae Henton, right, and Jalen Lindsey celebrate after their 75-74 victory over Notre Dame in an NCAA college basketball game in Uncasville, Conn., Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Henton scored a career-high 38 points in the victory. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)  (The Associated Press)

Kentucky coach John Calipari hopes those blowout victories have prepared the Wildcats for an upcoming stretch of tougher opponents.

Sunday's home game against Providence (5-0) begins a challenging trek for the top-ranked Wildcats (6-0). Kentucky takes on No. 7 Texas in next Friday's SEC/Big 12 Challenge. After that: Eastern Kentucky, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 22 UCLA in Chicago and rival and sixth-ranked Louisville.

Wins probably won't come easy during that gauntlet after Kentucky's talented platoons ran through the early tuneups. Even with slow starts against Buffalo and Boston University, the Wildcats have won by an average margin of 36.5 points and held their last three opponents below 30 percent shooting.

Calipari knows what lies ahead, though North Carolina and UCLA each has at least one loss already. Providence had a hard-earned 75-74 win over Notre Dame on Sunday.

"Obviously, you're talking about all ranked opponents or were ranked and will be ranked again," the coach said Friday. "This is an early-season (test).

"None of us are executing the way we want right now and you play a veteran team that doesn't have the name, and they come out and beat you. They make shots, make 3s, play with confidence, been there. That stuff happens."

Still, Kentucky has had its share of early success.

The Wildcats have shot at least 50 percent in back-to-back games. Seven-foot sophomore center Dakari Johnson is coming off a career-best 10-of-12 free throw shooting against Texas-Arlington, indicating his development there along with his willingness to draw contact from sagging defenses.

"You're not going to be in (games) late if you don't make free throws," Johnson said, "so I just try to get that down pat because I want to be in late."

After a slow start, freshman guard Devin Booker has found his shot with 37 combined points the past two games. He is 12 of 17 from behind the arc in his past three.

That's critical in drawing defenses outside and Calipari believes that sophomore guard Aaron Harrison (25 percent from long range) can help once he reclaims the accuracy that helped win back-to-back NCAA tournament games last spring.

"Aaron's gotta make more shots. Nothing else," Calipari said. "Everything else is great. ... I don't care if he's shooting 12 percent; I'm going to him. I've seen it. I know it. I'm not testing the waters with other guys. Ain't happening."

Calipari said he expects the Friars to press defensively along with playing man-to-man. Providence also features high-scoring senior forward LaDontae Henton (23.5 points per game), who scored a career-best 38 against Notre Dame.

How the Wildcats handle Providence and other challengers will say more about them than 40-point victories.

Said Calipari, "What we need is just a hand-to-hand kind of game where a team is not afraid of us, that they make plays and continue to make them throughout."

NOTES: Calipari said the program is discussing a two-year, home-and-home series with UCLA starting next season at Pauley Pavilion. Those games would likely fill the scheduling gap formerly held by North Carolina, which faces Kentucky in Las Vegas in 2016-17 before resuming a home-and-home series.