John Calipari downplays UK's possible SEC perfection

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 13, 2012 

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari yelled at his team as #1 Kentucky played #7 Florida on Tuesday February 7, 2012 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • 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

Since 1956, it's only been done twice. Only two teams have been undefeated Southeastern Conference men's basketball champions: Kentucky in 1995-96 and 2002-03.

Kentucky has a chance to do it again this season.

"I think it's very difficult. Very, very, very difficult, actually," Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said Monday of UK's possible 16-0 league record. " ... Because of the way they defend, they'll have a chance to do it."

During his turn on the SEC coaches' teleconference, Florida Coach Billy Donovan echoed the sentiment. A capability of winning in varied ways makes Kentucky a candidate to win its 16 SEC games, he said.

"When one of the ways (of winning) is not working for you, you can rely on something else," Donovan said. " ... What makes a really, really special team is when you have a variety of ways to win. (The Cats) can win almost any kind of situation they're in."

UK Coach John Calipari downplayed the fast-forward notion of five more victories to complete a 16-0 league record.

"We're not talking in those terms," he said. "It might happen. It might not happen."

Calipari noted "very, very difficult" remaining games at Florida (March 4) and Mississippi State (Feb. 21), plus the Feb. 25 home game against Vandy. Georgia (March 1) is playing better, he said, plus Mississippi (Saturday) has enough size to create matchup questions.

"My concern is, are we improving as a team?" Calipari said. "What I'm seeing right now is we are."

The UK coach again repeated the idea that the objective is playing well in the NCAA Tournament, not regular-season championships.

"It's not about running the table," he said. "What it's about is putting us in the best position at the end of the year to make a run."

The talk of a 16-0 record led to questions about comparing this Kentucky team with its predecessors.

"I think this Kentucky team is as good as a lot of their really, really good teams (and) great teams I've seen in the league," Stallings said. "I would expect they'll do very well and have a chance to make a run for a national championship."

Without saying the current Cats would have to take a back seat to anyone, Donovan noted UK's national championship team of 1995-96. He also mentioned Calipari's UK team of two seasons ago that featured five eventual first-round NBA Draft picks: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton.

"Depth-wise, talent-wise, John's first team may have been as talented as any team that's been there," Donovan said.

The next coach standing in the way of an unbeaten UK league record is Mississippi's Andy Kennedy. The Rebels play at UK on Saturday.

"Scary good," he said. "When you look for holes that maybe you'll have the opportunity exploit," they're not there.

'Incredible' Miller

Donovan gushed about the contributions of UK senior Darius Miller.

"I love him," the Florida coach said. "I've always loved him. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him because of just what he's been through."

Donovan noted how Miller played as a freshman for Billy Gillispie. Then he accepted a background role to one stellar UK freshman class after another the past three seasons.

"He's a steady Eddie," Donovan said. "He's an incredible core glue guy."

The Florida coach lauded Miller's intelligent play, selfless leadership and multi-faceted contributions.

"I always just see him do whatever he has to do to help his team win," Donovan said. "I just don't think on any team you can have enough of those guys."

Calipari noted how Miller did not let a foul-plagued first half prevent him from making key plays down the stretch to help UK win at Vandy last weekend.

"He basically won the game," Calipari said. " ... In a way, he's as important as anybody we have on this team."

Hail, Wiltjer

Calipari suggested reserve Kyle Wiltjer can make Kentucky a better team.

"His ability to score makes us totally different," the UK coach said. Wiltjer can join Doron Lamb and Miller to give the Cats three credible three-point shooters with which to spread defenses.

Thursday-Saturday

After beating in-state rival Mississippi last Thursday, Mississippi State came out "flat" in a home loss against Georgia, Bulldogs Coach Rick Stansbury said.

When asked if the made-for-TV Thursday-Saturday tandem of games affected the Mississippi State, Stansbury said, "I'm probably the wrong guy to ask that question right now."

A moment later, he added, "It was a huge impact."

Mississippi, which has three Thursday-Saturday tandems this season, plays host to Vanderbilt on Thursday night (9 p.m. EST tip) before playing at Kentucky on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. EST tip).

Mississippi Coach Andy Kennedy noted the benefit that comes with exposure and suggested players prefer games to practice.

As for the short preparation time for UK, Kennedy said, "You could give me a month heading into Rupp. I don't know how much that it would help."

Teague SEC's top freshman

Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague was voted the SEC Freshman of the Week, the league announced Monday.

Teague averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in wins over eighth-ranked Florida and at Vanderbilt. The award is Teague's first this season and the seventh for the Wildcats this season.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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