By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky opens Southeastern Conference play Saturday by hosting Missouri and once again seems like the team to beat even though Auburn is the higher rated team and has played well in non-conference play.
Kentucky let SEC foes know what it could with a 78-70 overtime win over Louisville last week after having lost to Utah and Ohio State the week before in Las Vegas. For Kentucky coach John Calipari, it was just part of the process his teams often go through at UK.
“We go through this every year. There’s probably many people here that thought we were going to lose, and they wanted to be at this press conference hearing what I had to say when they could say it’s over,” Calipari said after the Louisville game.
“They’re not going to be in the NCAA tournament. They’re a NIT team. Look, I don’t buy any of the stuff when they say we’re great or they say we’re bad. I don’t. I coach my team.”
I’m not sure Calipari doesn’t pay more attention to critics, UK fans and media members than what he says but I also believe him when he says he’s most concerned with where his team can be by March.
“What if we lost on a half-court bank shot? Oh, we’re done. What? That’s a top — that (Louisville) may be the No. 1 team or Ohio State, No. 1 teams in the country, and you’re right there on the court with them and that means by losing, you stink, you’re not even in the NCAA tournament,” Calipari said.
“Wait a minute, maybe we’re 4 (in the country). If they’re 1 and 2, maybe we’re 4. 5. Well, you lost to this team. Yeah, but we, they’re that good, what are we? When we play good. So I don’t buy into any of that.”
Just like he doesn’t want anyone saying the season-opening win over Michigan State was not a good win because of the Spartans’ struggles since then.
“That’s a nothing win. What? Well, let’s see where they will be at the end of the year,” Calipari said last week. ” I mean, the whole thing is, is your team getting better? The thing about us is individuals have to get better.”
Kentucky did that against Louisville, especially Tyrese Maxey and Nick Richards — who both garnered national honors for their play.
“All I’m worried about is how do I help guys get better, and then get them to buy into this team. You’re so concerned about you, you can’t play for us. So then you look bad. Just worry about us and we’ll all worry about you. Then you’re going to have four guys on the court worried about you,” Calipari said.
“But if you’re out there — that’s all I’m doing. And this was a great win for us.”
Yes it was and now Calipari has had time to put his team through extra practices with school not in session.
“When you start doing the stuff that we’re doing, two-a-days and come back on Christmas Day, you got to have some reward or it’s like, why are we doing this? So that, for me, that’s what this was,” Calipari said.
But as nice as a reward as the Louisville win was, there’s a lot more rewards Calipari and his team want by the time this season ends.