With the regular season in its final two weeks, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said he's eased off the physical and mental demands.
"Fresh legs and fresh minds," he said of his coaching objective now. "... I'm coaching their minds right now."
Calipari acknowledged that coaches can be successful in varying ways: increasing the physical demands late in the season, concentrating solely on conditioning or any number of variations.
Calipari credited his "mentor," Hall of Famer Larry Brown, for the approach of easing off. The two talk regularly, he said.
"His thing is you've got to be their cheerleader at the end," the UK coach said. "That's his thing to me all the time. You're not changing them now. They are what they are. Cheer them on."
UK reserve Twany Beckham began his college career at Mississippi State. He said he was eager to play against the Bulldogs.
"I can't wait," he said. "I'm hyped right now."
Beckham, who has played one minute in the last three games, said he texts regularly with Bulldogs guard Dee Bost and assistant coach Phil Cunningham.
Two years ago at Mississippi State, UK rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes and then won in overtime. Beckham was a Bulldog.
"It was devastating," he said.
UK has worked more on zone offense and/or defense than in the rest of the years of Calipari's coaching career combined, he said.
"We've got to get prepared for the tournament (and the possibility of facing) 40 minutes of zone," he said.
Calipari did not mention Syracuse by name.
He predicted that State will play zone about 60 percent of the game.
UK may work to improve its full-court pressure, Calipari said.
The coach took the blame for the press not being as effective as he'd like so far this season. The Cats simply haven't worked enough on the press.
"It stinks right now," Calipari said. "I don't think they have a mental picture of what I'm looking for."
Trying too hard?
Calipari suggested Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's motor might be running a bit too hot.
"I told Michael, 'You're too hard on yourself, kid,'" Calipari said. "When guys are looking at me when they're missing shots, I said, 'Why are you looking at me?'"
Kidd-Gilchrist has made two of eight shots in the last two games, eight of 23 in the last four. He's made one of 12 three-point shots in SEC play.
Sidney to return?
Back spasms sidelined Renardo Sidney at Auburn last weekend.
"We missed him a lot, especially on the offensive end because he's a big body and he can score," freshman Rodney Hood said. "It probably would have been a better game, but he didn't play so it's time to move forward."
Bost seemed to suggest that Sidney, who is listed at 6-10 and 285, will play against UK.
"They are 26-1 for a reason," he said. "We have to try to go in to Sidney and let him use his body against Anthony Davis to take advantage of our inside play."
Bulldogs Coach Rick Stansbury said his team could use Sidney to help with front-court depth.
"Against Kentucky, you need every guy you can possibly get," he said.
Mississippi State has lost its last three games. Stansbury took little solace in the first two losses coming in overtime.
"It doesn't say 'L and not a drubbing,' " he said. "It just says an 'L.' "
While noting that a three-game losing streak is not the best way to go into a game against Kentucky, Stansbury said, "But against Kentucky, you could have the best mindset in the world, and they're a very difficult challenge. ... When you're playing Kentucky, you've got to hit on all cylinders."
Hood suggested that the three-game losing streak showed that State must be "tougher mentally."
Calipari dismissed the importance of the Bulldogs' recent losses to Georgia, LSU and Auburn.
"I don't even like watching those game tapes," he said, "because they won't play like that against us. They're going to have their best effort."
Mississippi State made only five of 22 three-point shots at Auburn. Hood was one of eight, and Bost one of six.
Stansbury denied that perimeter shooting is key against Kentucky. But Hood suggested it was.
"It's very important because they are one of the best defensive teams because of Anthony Davis cleaning up a lot of their mistakes," the freshman said.
Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and sideline reporter Shannon Spake will call the game for ESPN.
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com