Kentucky men's and women's basketball teams aren't afraid to rib — and root for — each other

The Craft Center is big enough for the two of them, but just barely

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 3, 2012 

  • 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
  • Women's SEC Tournament

    Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt/Missouri winner
    When: 6 p.m. Friday
    TV/Radio: SportsSouth/WLAP-AM 630
  • Cats vs. Cats

    Season statistics for UK's men's and women's basketball teams this season:

     Men Women
    Overall record 22-1 21-2
    SEC record 8-0 10-0
    Rank (AP poll) 1 6
    Scoring avg. 77.8 78.3
    Opponents' scoring 57.9 56.4
    Turnovers +/- +18 +276
    FG pct. 48.5 40.8
    Opponents' FG pct. 36.0 39.6
    3-pt. pct. 36.7 31.9
    Opponents' 3-pt. pct. 30.9 29.5
    FT pct. 71.4 67.3

The belly of the Joe Craft Center is divided into two distinct sides. The men's basketball team is on the right, and the women's is on the left.

There's a small common area between the gyms where players from the two teams run into each other daily.

They share the same training rooms and make jokes at one another's expense.

But by and large, the two teams — one ranked No. 1 in the country this season, the other ranked No. 6 — easily could coexist without spending much time thinking about the other.

Just upstairs, the same could be said for the respective Cats coaches.

They have their own office suites across a wide hall from each other, men's coach John Calipari on the right and women's coach Matthew Mitchell on the left.

The two coaches could go more than a few days without running into each other.

But neither coach wants it that way.

"I'll stop in the office; he'll stop in my office," Calipari said of Mitchell after the top-rated men's team topped Tennessee this week. "I'll stop in his practice; he'll stop in my practice."

Mitchell said it's been a good atmosphere of camaraderie between him and Calipari.

"It's a real credit to John because he walked through the door with that kind of attitude," Mitchell said. "He's a terrific guy, and I've learned a lot from him. He's been a huge supporter of our program."

At every Memorial Coliseum women's game this season, there is a collection of men's basketball players taking in the action.

"My players love watching them play," Calipari said.

He understands why.

"They're really good; like, they're really good," Calipari said of Mitchell's Cats, who are unbeaten at home this season and sit atop the Southeastern Conference. "They're fun to watch."

Maybe too much fun to watch?

Calipari claims that from time to time, his players have come to him and asked: "Coach, why don't we play a little like them, let us go a little bit?"

Specifically on the defensive end, where Calipari tends to play a little more cautiously than the UK women, who are eighth in the nation in steals, averaging 13.3 a game. The men have a less gambling style of defense, averaging just 6.7 steals a game (sixth in the SEC).

When Mitchell was told of the men's desire to play the way the women do, he laughed.

"The guys may be jealous for a while, but tell the guys it's not all it's cracked up to be," he said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. "I'm not sure how much they'd enjoy it after all. The practices are pretty tough."

For fun this week, Mitchell's players were asked whether they thought the men's players could play their brand of basketball with its pressing and trapping for a full 40 minutes.

"It's not easy," said Samarie Walker, who transferred in from Connecticut, not exactly a slouch in women's basketball circles. "It was tough for me when I first came in to get used to this. I don't think (the men's players) could. I don't want to take anything away from them, but I don't think they could."

Following up on Walker's only semiserious assessment, freshman Bria Goss added: "I know Marquis (Teague) personally, and I don't think he can," she said.

Goss and Teague, both from Indianapolis, have worked out together with the same trainer for many years. Their families are close. The UK women's guard pulled back on her statement slightly on Friday.

"He plays really good defense," she said with a sly smile, "when he wants to."

Doron Lamb was caught a little off guard Friday when he was told of the women's playful assessment the night before.

With a grin, he said: "We'd beat the girls' team by 100 points if we played them in a game. There's no way. We'll give them 20 points and still beat them by 100."

Probably luckily for players on both sides of the belly of the Joe Craft Center, Lamb's theory will never be tested.

The coaches said the teams are just trying to enjoy their successes thus far.

Kentucky is one of only two programs in the country for which both the men's and women's basketball teams are unbeaten in conference play. The only other program is Middle Tennessee of the Sun Belt.

In fact, UK is one of just three schools in the nation to have both its men's and women's teams ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press polls (Baylor and Duke are the others).

That's made this season a little more special, Calipari said:

"It's been a unique experience in that there are other programs that have had (two good) teams like this, but I just don't know if they've gotten along like our two teams have."

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