UK vs. Kansas: It's showtime for Kentucky

Players want to make a statement, but Calipari says it's too early for that

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 15, 2011 

Kentucky forward Terrence Jones reacted to scoring in the Monday night game against Morehouse. In the first half, the Cats went on a spree of shooting while holding Morehouse to single digits.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

When asked about Kentucky playing Kansas Tuesday night, freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said a lot with a few words.

"Kansas in the Garden," he said. "So ..."

The silence said it all. No. 2 Kentucky versus No. 13 Kansas. College basketball's two winningest programs. A national television audience (ESPN). Madison Square Garden, which New Yorkers consider the world's most famous arena.

Sophomore Doron Lamb said the time is right for Kentucky to make a statement.

"We want to prove to everybody we're the best team in the country," he said.

But UK Coach John Calipari said that Kansas, not Kentucky, could make a statement. Seemingly trying to diminish expectations and any accompanying pressure, he reminded reporters that it was mid-November. It was much too early for a statement game, he suggested. The Cats, who once again count on several freshmen, only began talking about in-game strategies this past weekend.

"If we're in a close game and stuff doesn't go right, don't look at my players," Calipari said. "That's me. We just haven't had time. It's the middle of November. Let's not hope it's a one-point game and somebody has the ball late."

Rather than alert the basketball nation to Kentucky's worth, Calipari set a more modest objective.

"This is going to be a hard game," he said. "It'll be a hard game for us to win. All I told the team is, 'Let's be the best we can be for Nov. 15 with all young players. If that's not good enough, we're walking on."

Although Kansas started a senior and four juniors in its opening 100-54 victory over Towson, Coach Bill Self has suggested Kentucky is the older team.

"They'll be fired up, and they've got men," Self said of UK last week. "It will be interesting to see how our young guys react to that."

When a reporter noted that Kentucky played freshmen, Self replied, "That are men, OK?"

For Kidd-Gilchrist and Lamb, the game is a homecoming. Each acknowledged the excitement that comes with playing close to home.

"I can't wait," said Lamb, a native of Queens, N.Y.

Kidd-Gilchrist, who is from Somerdale, N.J., said he expected to have 30 or more relatives in attendance.

A Knicks fan since he was 8, Kidd-Gilchrist was asked whether he might be too eager.

"I'm an energy guy," he said, seemingly suggesting that added excitement can translate into more ball-hawking. "I don't really know. We'll have to wait and see."

As Self saw it, Kansas could use more energy. He lamented a lack of consistent effort in the opener. "We have a tendency to space out," he said.

Thomas Robinson, a Big 12 player of the year candidate, anchors Kansas inside. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor is the lone returning starter.

Calipari likened Kansas to the Kentucky team of last season: underappreciated.

"Everybody thought, 'They're not that good,'" the UK coach said. "I kept telling you all I like our team, and there's no one out there that ... scares me."

Robinson, a 6-10 junior, had 18 points and 11 rebounds against Towson.

"He got numbers but those numbers aren't real," Self said after the game. "He played his man after he caught it. I thought, defensively, a good player would foul him out fast."

By contrast, Calipari pondered the foul trouble that guarding Robinson could create. How much would UK want to have its conference player of the year candidate, Terrence Jones, defend Robinson?

Calipari said of Robinson, "He's probably too physical for a bunch of our guys."

The UK coach noted the overall "physicalness" of Kansas. He suggested that the Jayhawks will pound the ball inside.

If Calipari gets his wish, Kentucky will counter with its best mid-November effort.

"If that's not good enough," he said, "we'll come back and regroup."

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