By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky has now won nine straight games and eight straight in Southeastern Conference play as it gets closer and closer to a national showdown with No. 1 Tennessee on Feb. 16 in Rupp Arena.
Once again the hype train has full steam in Kentucky and Big Blue fans are again talking Final Four/national title just as they were after UK’s exhibition play in the Bahamas before that eye-opening 34-point loss to Duke to start the season.
“My major job now is making sure these guys stay hungry and humble,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We don’t need any arrogance right now. We need guys coming in and trying to get better every day.
“This has been great but I have a job, which is keep guys in the right frame of mind as the plane bounces around. It’s not easy playing here. You have to steady the ship. We are getting better. You want the results to be wins. I would rather learn from a close win than a loss but sometimes you have to get smacked in the mouth by 30.
“It was good for us (to lose to Duke) and good for you fans. I know some of you were wanting me out and wondering who would be the next coach. But it doesn’t matter what is being thrown at me. I have a job to do and care about them (the players) and keeping them in the right place. If anybody doesn’t like it, I really don’t care. It won’t bother me.”
Calipari felt his team had some “slippage” in its comeback win at Florida but knew not to mess with too much.
“You can’t get away from what is working. You don’t mess with happiness. When things are going good and you are playing well, don’t mess with it. Just ride it and get better. You just play to your strengths. I am getting a better feel for what we do offensively. We are not there yet,” the UK coach said.
Calipari says players have to stay “engaged” like they have recently with each other. He says every season young players press for individual results.
“People around them talking to them, how they got to play. They press. They’re uptight about their individual performance,” Calipari said. “Well, when you are, you cannot be engaged with your team because you’re thinking about your own performance. As it goes on and you realize, If I worry more about my team, the game becomes easier and I play better and score more. How does this work? I don’t know, but that’s how it works.
“It just takes some time to trust. I tell them, ‘You got to shut down the clutter. You got people telling you how you need to play or how you’re being evaluated and they’re wrong. So why would you listen?'”