LEXINGTON, Ky. — Nerlens Noel isn’t getting many RSVP’s to his block parties.
In fact, opponents prefer to avoid the Kentucky freshman when making a trip to the basket.
Noel has been dominating defensively since SEC play began, blocking 49 shots in seven league games. His 12 rejections in Tuesday night’s 87-74 victory over No. 16 Mississippi set a school record — he had half of the blocks while playing with four fouls.
Kentucky (14-6, 5-2) enters today’s game at Texas A&M (13-7, 3-4) with the 6-foot-10 forward leading the nation in blocked shots at 4.8 per game. Noel has 95 swats, more than halfway to Anthony Davis’ record of 186 during Kentucky’s championship run last season.
Noel downplays comparisons to the former All-American, though he wants to break Davis’ mark.
“My focus was to be a complete basketball player and I know shot-blocking was one of my specialties,” said Noel, who is averaging 10.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
“Blocking shots has been in me from a young age. I always took pride in it and have always thought to build on it. It’s probably the best thing I’ve done.”
Noel loves it so much that he didn’t worry about fouling out on Tuesday against Ole Miss. His only concern was doing what he could to stop the Rebels from going ahead after scoring 16 straight points to close within 73-72 with 4:32 remaining.
Mississippi started that scoring run with Noel on the bench, but he returned to lock down the inside, blocking six shots and altering several others. Kentucky came away with its first victory over a ranked team this season and will embark on avenging last month’s home loss to the Aggies.
Already considered the Wildcats’ best all-around athlete — his steals and rebounds rank 16th and 32nd respectively — he has learned to stay on his feet longer and that has allowed him to time his blocks better.
Though Tuesday night was another example of Noel’s tendency to get into foul trouble, his late block of Irmo native Murphy Holloway without drawing a fifth foul showed the strides Noel has made.
“I was going to ride him out because I know he’s the one guy with the will to win on this team that you’ve got to have on the floor or you can’t win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday of Noel’s finish.