LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis is closing in on the school's all-time single-season blocking record — with nearly half this season to play.
The 6-foot-10 forward leads the nation with 78 blocks for the second-ranked Wildcats and needs five more to match the school record of 83. Melvin Turpin had 83 blocks during the 1982-83 season and Andre Riddick matched the mark in 1993-94.
"I think 100 percent of it is just instinct. It's all about timing," said Davis, who can also set the school's freshman record with two blocks to pass Jamaal Magloire's mark set in 1996-97. "You never know when a guy is going to shoot so you have to time it and use your instincts to go up and block it."
Kentucky coach John Calipari agrees Davis' knack of swatting shots could have come after he grew from a 6-foot-3 guard at the beginning of his junior year of high school into a 6-foot-10 post player before his freshman year in Lexington.
"A lot of times those bigger guys that have always been bigger don't have that (instinct)," Calipari said. "But those guys that grew from 6-3 to 6-10 have guard instincts and guard reaction to things — a quicker reaction, a quicker twitch."
Davis' ability to block shots has already saved Kentucky once. In the Wildcats' Dec. 3 victory over North Carolina he rejected John Henson's game-winning attempt. The blocks have also led to a lot of on-court chatter.
Davis said his favorite rejection so far was when South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington, in the midst of 3 for 13 performance, approached him.
"He was telling me, 'I don't know why my teammates keep going in there, they know you're going to block it.' That was really funny," Davis said. "He was talking to me, 'You're really long, you block everything. I've never played against anybody like that.' That's why he wasn't going to the hole and shooting all jumpers."
Never mind Davis blocked one of Ellington's 3-point attempts and has gotten a hand on six other shots from behind the arc this season in what's shaping up to be an impressive year.
"'Ant' is something else," teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Davis is aware that his defensive abilities are part of the reason Kentucky (16-1, 2-0) leads the nation in blocked shots (156) and is second in the nation in field goal defense (35.3 percent) behind Wisconsin. He's also averaging 12.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
"I know I make a lot of difference. When I'm out of the game I see a lot of guys driving to the hole, getting layups and coach Cal even said, 'He means a lot to us on defense,'" Davis said. "Now, they're shooting more jumpers, (there are) more rebounds that we can get and outlet the ball for fastbreak points.
"When I'm out of the game, they really try to drive and get easy layups."
It took Turpin 31 games to reach 83 blocks and Riddick 34. Davis is averaging 4.6 blocks per game, meaning he's on pace to block 156 shots if the Wildcats play as many games as Riddick's squad did.
The Wildcats also are on pace set the NCAA team record for blocks over Connecticut's 2004 title team that finished with 315. The NCAA first started counting blocks in 1985-86.
Davis' first chance at the school record comes Saturday at Tennessee, where the Wildcats have lost three out of the previous five meetings.
"Our approach won't change," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I think when you're dealing with shot blockers, I think you have to take the game to them. I think when you're hesitant with your playing, you're floating on the perimeter quite a bit against really good defenders, really good shot blockers and it can be a long night."
This year's Kentucky squad, which starts three freshmen and two sophomores, can match the number of conference road wins that last year's squad had with a victory against the Vols.
Tennessee (8-8, 1-1) has split their first two conference games by a combined five points, losing at Mississippi State late Thursday night before Saturday's matinee.
"It's real tough," Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon said. "We've got to refocus and we've got to get a different type of intensity up again because it's a home game. We've just got to get our focus back together."
AP Sports Writer Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn. contributed to this report.