By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, not a favorite of some UK basketball fans, recently joined Paul Finebaum’s show on the SEC Network and the host asked Pearl about his relationship with Kentucky head coach John Calipari. The two went head to head when Pearl was at Tennessee and Calipari at Memphis and now in the SEC.
“I can’t control whether anyone likes me or not,” Pearl said. “For me, I have great respect for John Calipari, and the job he does. I hope he has respect for the job I do. He’s a great ambassador for our league. If you listen to him, he’s always giving the other team credit. He takes the high road.
“I feel like we have a good healthy relationship because we have respect for how difficult of a job we have and how well we’re both able to do it. Now, we’re both passionate. We’re different, but we both wear it on our sleeves pretty good.”
Pearl told Finebaum he still doesn’t believe there is a rivalry between the two programs. That was before UK lost at Auburn, it’s third straight loss to the Tigers, including one in the Elite Eight last year when Auburn advanced to its first Final Four.
“People ask, ‘Do you have a rivalry with Kentucky?’” Pearl said. “I say, ‘No, they’ve dominated the series for a long time, but if we can be competitive over the next few years, maybe we can develop a rivalry.’”
Auburn plays Kentucky again Feb. 29 in Rupp Arena.
“I am sure Kentucky will be great in that game like they always are,” Pearl told me back in December at the Marshall County Hoopfest. “I have unbelievable respect for that program. We have not played well in Rupp Arena in several years.
“Got to go back again this year. Kentucky basketball fans know their basketball. I always feel a level of of responsibility for playing good basketball when I take a team to Rupp because those fans respect and appreciate the game so much. Unfortunately we have not always done that.”