Calipari bleeds blah for SEC tourney, 'but we'll be there'

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 6, 2012 

UK coach John Calipari smiled after a discussion with a referee as the the University of Kentucky played the University of Florida in the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fl., Sunday, March 04, 2012. This is second half men's college basketball action. UK won 74-59. Charles Bertram | Staff

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While Kentucky overwhelmed the Southeastern Conference this season, the league tournament underwhelms John Calipari.

"Three games in three days doesn't prepare you for anything," Calipari said Tuesday as UK began preparations for the SEC Tournament later in the week. "We just played a whole league schedule."Calipari, who has long made no secret of his lukewarm, at best, attitude about league tournaments, acknowledged how the SEC Tournament (Thursday through Sunday in New Orleans) appeals to UK fans who can't attend a game in Rupp Arena.

"Fans spend their vacation money, their rent money, their cigarette money, and they go to this tournament," Calipari said. "... You almost feel an obligation. Let's go play."

Senior Darius Miller suggested the league tournament holds value for Kentucky, which won the regular-season championship by a record-tying six games. UK's national championship team of 1995-96 is the only other team to win the league title by six games.

When asked why he thought Kentucky could benefit from beating the same teams again, Miller said, "Because it's a tournament. All quick turnarounds against good teams."

Plus, the Cats can get a taste for tournament atmosphere, he added.

Maybe, but Calipari worked up little anticipation for the SEC Tournament in speaking to reporters. As on several occasions, he said the NCAA Tournament is the prime — and only — objective.

"Prepare for our run," the UK coach said in describing it. "... All is prelude to that."

In downplaying the SEC Tournament as an irrelevance, Calipari noted that the Sunday afternoon championship game ends only a few hours before the selection committee announces its NCAA Tournament draw. Clearly, UK's No. 4 seed last year despite winning the SEC Tournament title game by 16 points continues to gnaw at Calipari.

"For our league, it has no bearing on seeding," he said. "We proved that last year. ...

"Maybe one team can play in, (but) they had all season to play in."

Calipari scoffed at the notion of the league event providing a taste of tournament atmosphere.

"Three games in three days is like nothing," he said. "It's like playing in Maui (Invitational Thanksgiving week). It wears you out."

As for television exposure, Kentucky gets plenty of that without having to play in the SEC Tournament, he said before adding:

"But we'll be there."

Calipari has been consistent in his attitude of barely tolerating the SEC Tournament.

Before the Senior Night game against Georgia last week, he said, "I'm not a big tournament guy, don't like tournaments before the NCAA Tournament. I don't like three games in a row. But, guess what, we'll be there with bells on and ready to go."

On a teleconference Monday, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings suggested the SEC Tournament held value.

"It's a momentum opportunity," he said. "It's a confidence opportunity."

But Stallings acknowledged that Vandy had relatively little to gain from the SEC Tournament this year.

"The tournament itself might not have as much implication for us as it does for others ... " he said. "While it's not an end-all, I don't think it precludes you from playing well in the NCAA if you don't play well in the conference tournament.

"It can certainly be a springboard."

With Kentucky becoming only the third team since 1956 to go through an SEC regular-season schedule unbeaten, no one contends the Cats are not heavily favored.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant had a telling answer when asked Monday about a formula to beat UK.

Noting UK's 16-0 record, he concluded, "So none of us have figured that out."

Florida Coach Billy Donovan saluted UK's concentration on competing and winning, which to hear Calipari might get tested in New Orleans.

"They just seem consumed with winning," Donovan said. "And that's it."

Miller agreed.

"We want to win every game," he said. "We want to win a national championship. We feel we have an opportunity to do that. ...

"No one looks ahead to their future careers. Every game meant something to us, and we approached it that way."

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

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