Auburn likes to play at a fast pace. Kentucky, which has an average time of possession of 14.1 seconds, thrives on speed. The faster the pace the better, UK players repeatedly say.
So the question becomes: Should Auburn play its style even if that style brings out the best in a presumably superior opponent?
Yes, said a not-exactly impartial observer: Kentucky Coach John Calipari. Harkening back to his days at Massachusetts, Calipari said the question boils down to establishing a team identity.
“My whole thing is this is how we play,” he said Friday. “If you’re better than us (so be it).”
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Calipari recalled UMass playing its style, but struggling against top-shelf opponents because it had an undersized front line.
“Then I got a guy that they had: (Marcus) Camby,” he said. “Then we beat the crap out of Kentucky.”
Camby’s 32 points, nine rebounds and five blocks led UMass to a 92-82 victory over Kentucky in the second game of the 1995-96 season. UK won the rematch in the Final Four 81-74, although Camby had 25 points, eight rebounds and six blocks.
But recalling the pre-Camby coaching decisions and the approach Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl will take, Calipari said, “I wasn’t going to change (styles), and I don’t think he’ll change. They’re going to play how they play. Any time I keep switching game to game, it’s not good for my team. Never has been.”
Fox still learning
Calipari said he, rather than point guard De’Aaron Fox, called plays in the final minutes at Vanderbilt.
“I’m still young, a freshman,” Fox said. Calipari and sophomore Isaiah Briscoe directed play at Vandy.
“It’s something I need to learn to do,” Fox said.
Fox has made 26 of 42 shots in the last three games (62 percent accuracy). In the previous three games, he made 19 of 46 shots (41.3 percent).
Calipari attributed the better shooting to better preparation to shoot before catching the pass. That and spending more time shooting before, during and after practice.
Fox was philosophical.
“Even in high school, I had stretches where I made every shot,” he said, “and stretches where I missed a lot of shots. It’s just part of the game.”
As Malik Monk prepared to shoot free throws at the end of the game at Vanderbilt, chants of “overrated, overrated” could be heard. Monk leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring (21.7 ppg).
“In high school, everybody on this team has heard overrated a ton of times,” Fox said. “You can have 50 points, and be up 30, and they’re going to say, overrated.
“I don’t have anything to say about that.”
Auburn will be without freshman forward Danjel Purifoy, who sprained his left ankle against Ole Miss on Jan. 7. He ranks among the SEC leaders in eight statistical categories: fifth in three-point baskets (2.3 per game), fifth in defensive rebounds (4.9 per), sixth in free-throw percentage (87.3), eighth in three-point shooting (39.1 percent), ninth in steals (1.5 per), 16th in rebounding (5.8), 18th in scoring (13.7) and 18th in minutes (29.1).
Calipari downplayed the impact of Purifoy’s absence. “They won a game without him already,” he said of Auburn’s 77-72 victory at last-place Missouri on Tuesday.
Calipari suggested Purifoy’s absence will create more scoring opportunities for his teammates.
“Sometimes addition by subtraction,” he said.
When told of Calipari’s less-is-more take on Purifoy’s absence, Pearl laughed. Then he laughed a bit longer.
“I would hate to disagree with John because all it does is get me in hot water,” the Auburn coach said. Calipari is right about more shots for teammates, Pearl said, but Purifoy’s impact extends beyond numbers. He provides “a calming effect and confidence,” Pearl said.
Chris Lofton story
Maysville native Chris Lofton was the inspiration for a charity cause sponsored by Pearl, who coached him at Tennessee.
Before UT played in an NCAA Tournament regional in San Antonio, Lofton tested positive for a heightened level of testosterone. Pearl said there were three possible reasons why: 1. steroid use; 2. pregnancy; 3. testicular cancer.
Lofton, Kentucky’s 2004 Mr. Basketball, had cancer. Pearl launched an OUTLIVE program, which raised more than $1 million for local cancer treatment and awareness.
Pearl has taken the program to Auburn, where he renamed it AUTLIVE. The Tigers play an annual game for AUTLIVE. This year’s game is next Saturday against Alabama.
Donations can be made and T-shirts bought for $20 at AUTLIVE.com
▪ Calipari said his daughter, Megan, will marry in June.
▪ Tom Hart, Kara Lawson Barling and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung will call the game for ESPN.