Cal says Cats are ready for late run

Published 7:10 am Wednesday, February 15, 2023

BY KEITH TAYLOR

Kentucky Today

Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t given up hope on the season just yet.

The Wildcats coach pointed to North Carolina’s surprising run to the Final Four last season under first-year Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis. the Tar Heels advanced to the NCAA finals before losing to eventual national champion Kansas.

“North Carolina was in the same position we’re in with five games to go (last year),” Calipari said. “North Carolina went on a little mini-run at the end. With five games to go they were done. We don’t have to win every game out. But we got to win a bunch of these.”

Kentucky assistant coach Chin Coleman said Tuesday the Wildcats are aware of what needs to happen  to make a late run and slide into the Big Dance.

“I think our guys’ mindset is, they have a sense of urgency,” Coleman said. “I think they know that we’ve got to get ourselves together again right now, as we move down the stretch of the season. We want to finish strong in the conference, have a good showing in the conference tournament and, after that, the tournament if we take care of those things step by step.”

Despite the late struggles, which includes a two-game losing streak, Coleman said misteps aren’t rare this time of the year for successful and struggling teams.

“I think that, around this time of year, no matter what the circumstances or the situation is, there’s a sense of urgency,” Coleman said. “You’re nearing the conference tournament, postseason play all of that stuff is starting to play a factor.”

Calipari’s squad has two crucial games this weekend that likely will determine the team’s postseason fate. The Wildcats (16-9, 7-5 Southeastrn Conference) will take on surging Mississippi State on Wednesday in Starkville, followed by a home encounter against No. 10 Tennessee Saturday at Rupp Arena. The Bulldogs (17-8, 5-7) have have won five straight games, including a 70-64 win at Arkansas Saturday.

“Every year, you’ve always got raised eyebrows wondering, ‘How is this team going to come together?’ Because you never know,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. “People throw [the words] chemistry around and camaraderie. You do what you do as a coach to have a hand in [creating] it. But at the end of the day, it’s about the time they’re spending together when I’m not around. What are those relationships like?”

Calipari has been impressed by Mississippi State’s ability to recover after losing seven of their first eight league games by reeling off five straight victories to get back into contention for a postseason NCAA Tournament bid.

“They’re physical (and) they’re big,” Calipari said. “They are a team that will offensive rebound. They post it a ton. They’ll fly up and down the court if they have an opportunity and run into highball screens and stuff like that,” Calipari said. “But the stuff I watched today, 90 percent is man-to-man. They’ll play a little 2-3 (zone), they’ll mess around with a little bit of a press, but defensively they’re up on your guards. So they’ll space the court and you’ll have a spread floor. Yet they collapse if you try to drive.”

Coleman agreed.

“They force a lot of turnovers and they score off of turnovers,” he said. “And they’re offensive rebounding at a high rate. Their defense can cause offense.”