The Wildcats, coming off a 75-53 win at Auburn, will continue a stretch that features four road trips in the next five games, against Alabama in a 9 p.m. tipoff in Tuscaloosa. Kentucky (12-5, 3-1) split its first two Southeastern Conference games, including an 83-71 loss to Texas A&M at Rupp¿Arena, but has rebounded to win two straight including Saturday’s blowout performance against the Tigers.
“The team is making progress.” Calipari said Monday. “That is all I can ask. I keep coming back to wins and losses come and go, but these kids will not be defined by those things. They are going to be defined by how they play. Ten years from now when people look, it is going to be, ‘Man that team played hard and they scrambled and they covered for each other, what great effort.’ Or, it’s not going to be the case. It is going to be, ‘Man, no sense of urgency. Look like they don’t care as much, blah blah blah.’ Wins and losses. This team is all about sustaining effort.”
According to Calipari, that effort has been better on the road than at home since the Cats began conference play earlier this month. The Wildcats lost a pair of non-conference games on the road — at Notre Dame and Louisville — and split a pair of contests on neutral sites, one of which was a 75-68 loss to top-ranked Duke on Nov. 13 at the Georgia Dome. Since a double-digit loss to the Irish on Nov. 29, Kentucky has fared better away from home. Two of Kentucky’s league victories were at Vanderbilt and Auburn.
“We are playing better on the road than we are at home,” Calipari admitted. “I thought the Vanderbilt game we hit seven or eight minutes where we got tentative, but short of that I thought we played excellent. Every game we play, it is an advantage for us because the teams we are playing against very rarely is it (stepping into a hostile environment) happening to them. For us, it is every single game we play, home or on the road, is some specialty day. Either retiring a jersey, giving away cups, shirt night, bat night, family night, McDonalds hamburger night, I don’t know but it is something. It is what it is.”
Although two of the three league victories went down to the wire, the Cats used a big second-half run in the rout over the Tigers, signifying the team is capable of delivering a proverbial knockout punch to the opposition.
“We just competed hard for 40 minutes,” Kentucky junior guard Jarrod Polson said. “We got on a run in the second half and I think it made us have a lot of fun. When we are hitting shots like that it makes the game a lot easier. We were just competing hard and kind of blew it open in the second half which was a lot of fun.”
Polson knows the Crimson Tide (11-6, 3-1) will be another test for the Cats in a hostile environment.
“They are pretty much a typical SEC school. They have really good guards. Coach Calipari says it will be a big test for our guards. Their bigs are physical, so we have to be physical and come out and compete for 40 minutes."