By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky will be making its 57th NCAA Tournament appearances — the most of any team in the country — on Thursday night when it plays Davidson in the South Region in Boise, Idaho.
UK is 45-10 in tournament openers and has won 24 of its last 25 first round tournament games. UK owns a 124-50 record all-time in NCAA action, with its .712 winning percentage the fifth-best in NCAA history.
This is Davidson’s 14th NCAA tourney berth and ninth under coach Bob McKillop. Davidson is 21-11 on the year and has won eight of its last nine games.
So does Kentucky’s tradition and legacy give UK an edge in Thursday’s game against Davidson, which lost to No. 1 Virginia and North Carolina earlier this season but beat NCAA participant New Mexico State?
“Well, if he were about 6-11 and could block shots, that guy tradition would be really good for us. If he was a great shooter, but since he – that’s more of an aura.,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Monday on the SEC coaches telenconference. “When you play a veteran team that has nothing to lose, I don’t think they’re looking at that.
“My team, I’m trying to tell them at times that name on the front of your jersey carries weight – if you let it. In other words, fight like heck for 40 minutes. Make it just difficult for the other team. This team had trouble figuring that out until the end of the year.
“By the time we wound it down, we started playing hard. We started competing and fighting, fighting for defense. I mean we’ve become a really good defensive team.”
Still, Calipari knows Davidson — which has been made only a 5 1/2 point underdog — is a capable foe. Davidson took two of three games from Rhode Island , a top 25 team most of the year. It averages 25 3-point shots per game and makes 10.5 per game.
“At this time of the year, everybody is zero and zero. There’s no one that has a record now and you just go play each game. You don’t look out ahead because it really doesn’t matter. You know you lose, you’re out. If you win, the team you think about may not be winning. So, it’s just stay in the moment,” Calipari said.
Translation: Calipari doesn’t want UK players even thinking about a possible second-round matchup with Arizona — which plays Buffalo Thursday.
“I’ve talked to these guys all year about the NCAA Tournament. I talked to them throughout the SEC Tournament about the NCAA Tournament. How everything is preparing us. How every experience is preparing us, especially when you start five freshmen,” Calipari said.
“When you start five freshmen, none of them have experienced anything so anything that happens is an experience that you can talk about and teach through.”