By LARRY VAUGHT
Beating Tennessee, Kansas and North Carolina has not changed John Calipari’s mind about Auburn, a team Kentucky beat twice during the regular season. However, going into Sunday’s Midwest Region Elite Eight matchup, Auburn is riding an 11-game win streak and has not lost since falling at Rupp Arena in February.
“We know how good they are. We’ve had battles. We were lucky to win down there. They missed a layup. We played pretty good, and they missed shots they normally make at our place which led us to a pretty good win,” Calipari said.
“Look, we respect them. We respect their players and what they do and how they play and how hard they play. We’re a little different than them. They’re going to take 35, 40 3s. It’s what they do. We’re not going to shoot that many, but we’ll take them if they’re there, and, you know, it should be a good game. One good thing means that the SEC will have at least one team in the Final Four.”
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl and Calipari had battles when Pearl was at Tennessee and Calipari was at Memphis. But Pearl understands what a solid job Calipari has done this year.
“John has done a good a job as anybody this year with this group. As I have said before, I have a little more knowledge of those freshmen because I recruited a bunch of them real hard,” Pearl said. “He has talent and character and competitive toughness.
“I have been in the league with John a lot of times and this is as good a job as I have seen him do anywhere he’s been at. He always does a great job but has been really good with this group.”
Auburn senior Horace Spencer played with UK sophomore PJ Washington for one season at Findlay Prep. He knows what Washington’s presence means to UK as shown by what his return meant in Friday’s UK win over Houston.
“He is probably the biggest role player they have got. As a leader of the team, he could be the man if he wanted,” Spencer said. “I don’t really know for sure what all they count the most on from him but he’s really good at doing whatever they need.
“I just know he is the main focus, the main player they go to when they need it and he usually delivers like great players do.”
Which is exactly what Washington did with a field goal, two free throws and a blocked shot late Friday to get UK into the Elite Eight for the seventh time in 10 years.