When Vanderbilt arrives at Rupp Arena on Saturday night, they will find a Kentucky team playing its own version of "Fear Factor."
The 18th-ranked Wildcats (11-3, 1-1 SEC) were blown out by Duke to open the season, rebounded to beat North Carolina and Louisville, only to lose its SEC opener at Alabama. Kentucky was good, but not great, in Tuesday's win over Texas A&M.
"We started becoming a team, I think, out of fear. We had two games that we're like, 'Oh my gosh, we can't win either one of these.' And out of fear, I think they went like this," coach John Calipari said, interlocking his fingers to show a team coming together as one.
But after those two good wins to end December, Calipari said Kentucky let its guard down and reverted to being more worried about individual stats instead of team results.
"If they started separating and I didn't see it, that's on me," Calipari said.
"Obviously that's what's happened. Not as-willing passers, not as much help on defense on the weak side and not as much fight possession to possession. But we'll get there. Building is what the whole season is about, the whole season."
Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew has his own challenges.
The Commodores (9-5, 0-2) were pegged as a potential surprise team in the SEC, thanks, in part, to the arrival of Nashville's own Darius Garland, the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2018.
But Garland tore the meniscus in his left knee early in the Nov. 27 game against Kent State. Vandy was 4-0 at that point with Garland averaging nearly 20 points a game. Since the season-ending surgery, the Commodores are 5-5.
"Him being out on our court was electrifying for our fans, for our city," Drew said. "When he went down, it was obviously a big blow in a lot of ways. We had to do kind of a 180 and change some things up in the last month."
In SEC play, Vanderbilt has an 81-71 home loss to Ole Miss and an 82-63 loss at Georgia, a team picked to finish near the bottom of the league.
Sophomore Saben Lee, who took over Garland's point guard duties, is averaging 12.2 points per game, with 52 assists vs. 34 turnovers. Simisola Shittu, the other top-10 ranked incoming freshman, leads the team at 14.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Joe Toye checks in at 10.6 points, and Matt Ryan at 10.2.
Kentucky lost 77-75 at Alabama and won 85-74 over Texas A&M, also picked as one of the SEC's bottom feeders.
"We had some guys that got outworked. Just got outworked and think it's OK. Like what's the big deal, you know who I am," Calipari said after the A&M win.
"We're breaking down execution right now and it's driving me crazy. That's the kind of stuff that we've got to clean up and it's just not acceptable if we are going to be any good. You cannot play that way."
Keldon Johnson leads Kentucky at 15.6 points per game. Next comes Tyler Herro and Reid Travis at 13.8, and PJ Washington at 12.5.
--Field Level Media