Calipari speaks optimistically about a deep NCAA tourney run
An often-repeated coaching maxim says that it’s wise to never look ahead. Play ‘em one at a time. Etc, etc.
But after the 66-55 victory at Alabama on Saturday night, Kentucky Coach John Calipari suggested that exceptions can be made. For instance, he said he looks ahead . . . always.
“My focus is on March,” he said. “It’s always been March.”
Calipari said he incessantly ponders how his team can advance in an NCAA Tournament.
“How are you able to play six games?” he said in reference to advancement to the national championship game.
“How can you get your team consistent enough that you don’t have any drop-off when you play? And that’s what my whole mindset is all the time.”
His friends and colleagues salute this Kentucky team’s competitive spirit and all-for-one approach, Calpari said.
Freshman Ty Washington cited a turning point. “Ever since that Kansas game, we’ve been locked in,” he said.
The needed consistency is a product of the confidence that comes with performance in games, Calipari said.
Kentucky should have a wealth of such experience. Six players have scored 20 or more points in a game. At Alabama, Daimion Collins joined two other players (Jacob Toppin and Dontaie Allen) who have scored double-digit points in a game.
“It’s not what I believe, it’s what they believe,” Calipari said. “. . . All of a sudden, you’ve got a lot of guys who can go and score and play defense. That’s what I like.”
‘I was excited’
In the four most recent games, TyTy Washington had missed all eight of his three-point shots and made just nine of 30 shots overall.
So, when he made a three-point shot with six-plus minutes left at Alabama, it got his attention.
“Once I just have one go through, I won’t say I was too happy,” he said. “But I was excited.”
Washington made six of 15 shots and led UK in scoring with 15 points.
Backcourt mate Sahvir Wheeler missed his four shots and went scoreless for only the second time this season. The first time was his injury-shortened four-plus minutes at LSU.
Calipari cited “overdoing it for a minute” as a factor in Wheeler’s four turnovers. He led UK with seven assists.
Fans love UK
Kellan Grady prefaced his take on the team being a fan favorite by noting that he’s in his first season playing for Kentucky. But he said he sensed UK fans embracing this season’s team.
“They seem very ecstatic with the team,” he said Friday. “I think they like the brand of basketball. I think they appreciate the character of the team.
“We have a sole purpose, and that is winning.”
Alabama’s record fell to 5-3 when playing teams ranked among The Associated Press top 25, with all eight games coming against teams ranked inside the top 15. Going into the weekend, Alabama’s five wins was tied for the second-most wins against ranked opponents in the country. Marquette had six while Texas Tech had five.
The Alabama program record for victories over ranked opponents in a season is six in 2017-18.
Degree of difficulty
In terms of difficulty, Alabama’s schedule ranks No. 1 in the nation in every major rating system including: Average Opponent NET Ranking, KenPom.com, ESPN BPI, Sagarin Rankings and RealTimeRPI.
Alabama is the only Division I team not to have played a Quad 4 game this season.
The challenges are not over for Alabama. Out of the Tide’s remaining eight regular-season contests, two will be against teams ranked among the NCAA NET top-10 (once against current No. 5 Kentucky and once against current No. 25 LSU).
Kentucky is 8-0 in Quad 4 games. Going into this weekend, only three other teams in the NET top 25 had played that many or more Quad 4 games: No. 1 Gonzaga (11-0), No. 10 Texas Tech (8-0) and No. 16 Texas (9-0).
No. 5 Kentucky was Alabama’s third straight opponent ranked in the top five by The Associated Press. UK followed games against then-No. 4 Baylor last weekend and No. 1 Auburn on Tuesday.
“We have the No. 1 strength of schedule in the country,” Alabama Coach Nate Oats said Friday. “I like to say it doesn’t have anything to do with some of the losses we’ve had against inferior opponents. But maybe it did with just having to be that on mentally every game.”
Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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