By LARRY VAUGHT
When John Calipari was coaching at Memphis and Bruce Pearl was at Tennessee the two had some bitter, intense matchups.
So does going against Pearl, who is now at Auburn, mean more to Calipari than when Kentucky faces other teams?
“I think Cal wants to beat everybody he plays against. I think Cal respects Bruce Pearl. He’s a really good coach. He has a well-coached team,” Kentucky assisant coach Kenny Payne said Tuesday.
“Their team has come together through adversity, and it’s a tribute to him the way they’re playing. Coach Cal respects that, but with that being said, is there a difference between coaching against Rick Barnes (of Tennessee) and Bruce Pearl? Probably in the back of his mind, but at the end of the day he wants to beat all of them.”
Kentucky is a decided underdog at No. 10 Auburn tonight. The Cats have lost three straight time for the first time since Calipari came to Kentucky nine years ago.
However, Payne says those numbers only motivate Calipari.
“I think if you’ve been around Cal long enough, you realize opportunity. This is a great opportunity for us to go into a hostile environment – a bunch of young players, freshmen and sophomores – and go steal one. That’s the game plan – go take one from them,” Payne said.
“They’re not going to give it to us. Without a doubt, they’ve been one of the best teams in this conference. They only have two losses in conference. Everything will say we’ve got our hands full, so go prove people wrong.”
Saying that is one thing. Kentucky’s players have been better at talking often this season than going and proving opponents and critics wrong.
“We gotta play more desperate, really, and more aggressive. I think sometimes we (become) too much of a passive team, really. We stop being aggressive sometimes. We’ve gotta be passive and aggressive at the same time,” UK freshman point guard Quade Green said.
He certainly has to be more aggressive against Auburn’s dynamic guards that have made up for a lack of inside size.
“All of them are good, actually. They all can shoot deep, drive, pass to each other, create for each other. We’ve got our hands full with this team,” Green said.