Groundhog Day, the movie, hung in the air at the Craft Center as John Calipari spoke of Kentucky's game Saturday at South Carolina. As far as day-before-the-game news conferences go, Calipari had been there, done that. Twenty-five times, counting exhibitions.
His material seemed a bit threadbare. Or he was distracted. Or he needs new writers.
When asked about the Cats' development at this stage of the season, Calipari said, "February. We're playing like a February team. They're playing like a February team. What is this? Feb. 2?"
Told it was Feb. 3, Calipari said, "So they're playing like the 2nd of February."
With that, he shrugged.
Given what's come before and the dangers lurking ahead, it seemed like an understandable time for a brain freeze. With the rest of the regular season including two games with Florida, two more with Vanderbilt and a trip to Mississippi State, Calipari noted, "This schedule of games we've got coming up, we'll get hit in the mouth."
Calipari reminded reporters that the last time a No. 1 Kentucky team went to South Carolina, the result was a loss. Two years ago. Devan Downey led the Gamecocks to a 68-62 victory. Downey no longer plays for South Carolina, and the Gamecocks have won only once in the last month.
Still South Carolina apparently got Calipari's attention with its resolve in a 74-66 loss at No. 12 Florida on Thursday night.
"They shouldn't have been in the game," the UK coach said. "All of a sudden, you turn around, they've got the ball and it's a five-point game."
South Carolina's lone win since Jan. 3 came against Alabama on Jan. 25. The Gamecocks nearly won at Mississippi (losing 66-62).
"You see them moving in the right direction," Calipari said, "and I think they're going to start knocking people off. I just hope it's not us."
South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn noted the "opportunity" that comes with playing No. 1 Kentucky.
Job One for the Gamecocks will be dealing with a UK defense that leads the nation in blocks (9.3 per game) and opponents' shooting accuracy (36 percent). Horn stressed moving the ball and taking good shots.
"You take a bad shot and they're gone," he said of the Cats' transition offense.
But Horn, the Tates Creek High graduate, downplayed the notion of slowing the tempo. He noted the benefit of getting good scoring chances in transition before Kentucky's defense can get set.
Kentucky's last three opponents have scored 50 or fewer points, something that hadn't happened since 1950-51. An underwhelmed Calipari gave partial credit to UK slowing the tempo and milking the clock down the stretch of games.
"Grinding the crap out of the ball," he said before adding, "I don't know what it means. It means (voice trailed off). I don't know what it means. I don't really know what it means."
"Give me a minute. I'll figure out the answer. Right now, as I speak, I have no idea why."
Calipari seemed on surer ground in noting South Carolina's improvement. Sophomore Damontre Harris scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked six shots at Florida.
It was a performance Horn called "phenomenal." The South Carolina coach said Harris' "consistency was as good as anybody we've had."
Harris has blocked 15 shots in the four most recent games.
Point guard Bruce Ellington has made 12 of 32 three-point shots since going 1-for-8 from beyond the arc at Kentucky on Jan. 7.
"When he missed a few (at Rupp Arena), it led him to miss another and another," Calipari said. "He's not doing that now. He'll miss a shot, then come back and make one or two."
Time will tell if Kentucky's freshmen have hit the metaphorical wall. Calipari didn't think so.
"I think all four of them are doing great," he said. "Getting better. Learning. Attentive. Focused.
"They're the first ones (in the gym) because they're excited about playing. So, no, I don't think so."
But looking ahead to the challenges that will come fast and frequently in February, Calipari added, "They may."