Although Kentucky has won 19 straight and rolls into Saturday's game against Vanderbilt as the No. 1 team in the country, Coach John Calipari noted the big question hovering over his program for a third straight season: Can a freshman-reliant team win a national championship?
"It's amazing how the freshmen are reacting the way they are," he said Friday of his team's regular-season dominance (27-1 record, impending Southeastern Conference championship). "But we still don't know in tournament play how they're going to react (to the reality of) when you lose, it's over. ... We think we know. But we really don't."
Former Duke star Jim Spanarkel, who is part of the CBS announcing team calling the Vandy game, echoed the sentiment. Regular-season success does not automatically translate to runs deep into an NCAA Tournament.
"The sense of urgency changes," he said. "... It's kind of like all bets are off because now there is something new and exciting and bigger than what we've experienced so far."
Never miss a local story.
Spanarkel noted how an NCAA Tournament game can change dramatically within 15 game minutes, much like UK's games at Vanderbilt two weeks ago (13-point halftime lead becomes four-point deficit entering the final eight minutes) or at Mississippi State earlier this week (13-point halftime deficit becomes one-point lead entering the final four minutes).
"It rattles teams every so often," Spanarkel said of these swings of momentum.
As for whether a freshmen-dependent team can win a national championship, Spanarkel could not say.
"How does the psyche work?" he said. "Will they all knock on the (championship) door together? Or will somebody be frazzled by the moment?
"That's the beauty of the sport."
Calipari seemed happy to apply UK perspective to his team extending the active home winning streak to 50 games. He said he was surprised, if not awed, to learn that UK's record for consecutive home victories is 129 games (or 12 years): Jan. 4, 1943, to Jan. 8, 1955.
Calipari noted that a fan could have been 12 years old when the record streak started and have two children of his or her own when it ended.
"So I'm not worried about it," he said, presumably meaning any pressure associated with the current streak. "We're not matching any record, I can tell you that. (So on to the) next game."
Never in Rupp
Vandy's seniors, who make up four-fifths of its starting lineup, have won at every SEC venue except Rupp Arena.
"We talk about that a lot," guard Brad Tinsley said. "It'd definitely be a big feat. ... It's a matter of trying to let everything hang out in that game. Don't be timid (or) passive."
Jeffery Taylor has scored less than 11 points only twice this season. The first time came Nov. 13 against Cleveland State. The second time came Wednesday when he made one of eight shots (0-for-5 from three-point range) in a four-point performance against South Carolina.
Taylor had made at least one three-pointer in 21 straight games (or since Nov. 25) until shooting blanks Wednesday.
"I fully expect Jeff Taylor to bounce back," said Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings, who noted several conversations with Taylor since the last game. "... Jeff's a great competitor. That was easily his worst game of the year, and he knows why. And I promise that won't happen again."
Cal defends Davis
Calipari questioned the technical foul on Anthony Davis at Mississippi State. Referee Doug Shows called a tech on Davis for hanging on the rim after a dunk. A State defender was nearby on the dunk.
"The option is the guy clips him, he lets go, breaks his head open, never to play basketball again," Calipari said in what sounded like a worst-case scenario. "If there's any doubt, you let it (the call) go."
Calipari noted the "great lesson" created by using game video to show Terrence Jones how his play improved in the second half after a dull first-half performance.
"Tape never lies," the UK coach said. "Stats indict. The tape convicts."
■ Lexington Catholic product Jordan Smart, a redshirt junior, is a Vandy reserve. He has twice made the SEC's Academic Honor Roll.
■ Ian Eagle and Spanarkel will call the game for CBS.