NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Even though he didn’t watch Vanderbilt’s win over Arkansas on Thursday night, Kentucky coach John Calipari knows his team faces a difficult task in tonight’s Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
“Played them twice. They know us, we know them. They’ve won five out of their last six. Since we beat them, they win five of six, and the only game they lost was at Florida, where no one won. They make (12) 3’s today. We’re playing them in their hometown. We’ve got a challenge,” said Calipari late Thursday night at the UK team hotel.”
“They’re going to be fine. It’s the third night they start feeling it. The second night, you see Pitt got beat. I can go back through the line. People got beat that the other team played their second game, and (it is) your first game,” Calipari said.
Kentucky gave up big second-half leads in both close wins over Vanderbilt during the season.
“We broke down, both on offense and defense. We gave them three 3’s by just getting screened and not talking. And they’re a team that makes them, so all of the sudden they make their baskets and you come down and do something dumb,” Calipari said. “They’re going to take advantage of it. They’re a good basketball team. This is not a slouch team. We know how good they are.”
Calipari doesn’t want his team to worry about needing a win to make sure it gets into the NCAA Tournament. Instead, he just wants his team to play.
“Let’s play against ourselves. Let’s be the best we can be. Let’s have everybody show up and do their job. You don’t know. There are so many things out of our control,” Calipari said. “They’re going to shoot 30 3’s. Some of that’s out of our control. The way the game’s officiated. It’s out of our control. So there are so many things out of our control. Don’t worry about that. What we can control is us. Let’s worry about being at our best and let’s compete against ourselves.
“We’ve had three really good days of practice. I was probably as hard the last three days as I was at any point this season because I told them, ‘The toughest game you’re going to play is the first game in the tournament.’ After that, it starts going downhill a little bit. This first one will be a bear. So I’ve tried to be tough and rough, and they’ve responded. So we’ll see.”
Kentucky had a shootaround at Bridgestone Arena Thursday morning with no contact work.
“I just want them fresh and ready to play. But again, this is … Well how do you think they’ll play? Come on now, you’ve watched us all year. No one knows. Have no idea. This isn’t a team where I know, ‘OK, I don’t know how that other team is going to play, but I know how we’ll play.’ I have no idea,” Calipari said.
“So, hopefully we come out of the gate, we play well. But even if we don’t I just want to see us play for 40 minutes, play, compete, battle. Don’t hang your heads. Don’t droop your shoulders. Don’t jog back cause you’re embarrassed on how you’re playing. Play, battle, fight. That’s all we’ve been talking about.”